The Boy and the Heron Review: Miyazaki delivers a beautiful, haunting new adventure

As a living legend and widely acclaimed creator of animation, Hayao Miyazaki releasing a film is a cause for celebration for all cinephiles. Films like Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, And The wind is getting stronger have not only been praised by critics, but have also become beloved by audiences around the world and have inspired countless artists – including Guillermo Del Torowho presented the film at its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In Miyazaki’s distinctive hand-drawn style, he meticulously combines the real and recognizable with the surreal and uncanny. Through this, this sensational storyteller creates worlds based on the familiar – like the wild running of a small child – but where the sky knows no bounds, full of broom-riding witches, a pig piloting airplanes, a floating Totoro, etc. with a moody shapeshifter great hair.

With his latest, The Boy and the HeronIn “Miyazaki,” the familiar once again collides with the impossible to spin a yarn of fantasy and tragedy that leaves the audience open-mouthed in awe, a little heartbroken, yet empowered by beauty and radiant empathy.


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What’s going on there? The Boy and the Heron?

A boy and a girl hug each other "The Boy and the Heron."

Photo credit: TIFF

The film opened in Japan this summer with a bold marketing plan. Studio Ghibli has not released any trailers or stills. And since the plot was inspired by a 1937 novel rather than directly adapted, viewers had little idea what to expect. Far from the studio burying the film with a lack of promotion, only a single poster was released because Ghibli believed Miyazaki’s name was the only selling point they needed. Your faith has paid off. The Boy and the Heron‘S Opening box office on the weekend in Japan was the largest the studio had ever seen and exceeded The walking castle‘s record.

Part of this could be pent-up excitement, like Miyazaki’s last film (The wind is getting stronger) came out a decade ago, followed by his announced retirement. With The Boy and the HeronThe 82-year-old visionary made a comeback that many fans would not have expected, and he did it with reliable aplomb. (As I write this, the film boasts of the praised 100% on Rotten Tomatoes – although as vulture recently pointed out This may be a biased measure of success.)

Still, don’t call this his “last film.”

Speaking to CBC Radio (via Gizmodo), Studio Ghibli executive Junichi Nishioka said of Miyazaki: “He’s currently working on ideas for a new film. He comes to his office every day and does this. This time he won’t announce his film. “He continues to work as always.”

Admittedly, it is tempting to paint such a picture The Boy and the Heron is Miyazaki’s swan song – especially because its story includes themes of mortality, legacy, and getting lost in work (and, yes, birds). Still, it’s not necessarily necessary to romanticize the making of the film in order to appreciate or celebrate it.


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what is The Boy and the Heron around?

A disgusting white heron with mottled feathers

Photo credit: TIFF

Inspired by Genzaburo Yoshino’s novel How do you live?, The Boy and the Heron It focuses on Mahito Maki (voiced by Soma Santoki), a child affected by the loss of his mother in a fire in Tokyo during World War II. To move on, his father (Takuya Kimura) moves both of them to their hometown, where the boy is told that his aunt (Yoshino Kimura) will be his “new mother.” Shaken by all the loss and change, Mahito finds himself drawn to a strange heron and a strange tower that is said to be cursed.

Miyazaki turns the struggle against grief into an external struggle, propelling his young protagonist into a slippery world of fantasy and horror where Mahito is challenged to save his mother from her cruel demise. So it’s a search. And this boy is his noble knight, much more willing to risk his life in the hope of fantasy than face the reality that awaits him at home.

The Boy and the Heron is visually lush and haunting.

A pirate with a red bandana, in a still from an anime film

Photo credit: TIFF

While Studio Ghibli commercials emphasize the whimsy of his films, Miyazaki has long been drawn to stories of loss that center on children in danger. Similar to Spirited Away, The Boy and The Heron takes its child hero – who can be cold or aggressive rather than an always brave and precocious dwarf – into a world full of vicious and inexplicable creatures. Here that journey begins with a heron, its mouth opening to reveal bulging eyes and a long, bulbous nose, as if a snarling gnome was hiding in its gullet. From then on, the images become increasingly wild, reveling in feathers and slippery shapes and treating time as a child’s toy.

Inside is a sea of ​​captivating and stunning images The Boy and the Heron. But what impressed me most was how Miyazaki portrayed fire and water. In the movie first US trailer, you see a bit of both. Amid a field of silent adults, the fleet-footed Mahito races through fluttering orange stripes symbolizing disaster and flames. The hand-drawn lines of his face flicker in and out of existence, suggesting the haze created by the heat that distorts the image. This animation not only shows you fire, it also lets you feel the heat. Even though Mahito will not witness his mother’s death, he will imagine it in a terrible yet beautiful way – not as if she were burning, but as if she would become the flames.

Later, in the tower, he is presented with a version of her, whole and dormant. It’s a fantastic twist on how a child confronts death for the first time. At funeral viewings, the body is laid out in splendor, makeup adds a blush to graying cheeks, hair is carefully styled, and clothing is ironed and polished. They are there and not there, real and somehow not. When Mahito reaches out to touch his mother, she slowly, gracefully, and horribly turns into water. It’s this image that I can’t shake because that’s what grief feels like to me.


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It’s a slippery cruelty that sometimes makes it seem like the person who left is still here – like they’re just sleeping in the next room. But you can’t turn around to look for them, because then the absence becomes real. They slip away. Touching the dream makes him cry, tears that cannot be stopped from shedding.

Hayao Miyazaki enjoys the memory The Boy and the Heron.

Mahito's aunt and a gaggle of grandmas.

Photo credit: TIFF

Such powerful images could take your breath away, as it did for me. But this film isn’t a relentless barrage of sad metaphors. In the tower, Mahito finds an unexpected way to connect with the mother he lost. There is joy in that. Miyazaki juxtaposes this defiantly stoic little boy with a supporting cast of female characters who are brave, feisty, growling, goofy and, above all, loving.

Perhaps the greatest of these is the grumbling of grannies swarming a strange package like funny pigs on a trough. But a grinning daredevil (Ko Shibasaki) and a little adventurer (Aimyon) make for exciting additions. They challenge the hero to see his family not only as they are now, but also as they once were. In this way he is given a view of life as a journey. He may be stuck in this moment – emotionally or in a tower of threat and wonder – but there is a way forward, you just have to find the door.

An exhilarating exploration of grief and acceptance, The Boy and the Heron could surprise those fans who are hoping for a colorful romp with cuddly animal colleagues. (The animals here are colorful – but not so cuddly!) Although the title is modeled on such a concept – the Japanese publication kept the novel’s name – this adaptation is about much more than just a boy and a heron. But together, these two are an extraordinary starting point for a film that is lovingly layered, visually arresting and brutally honest.

The Boy and the Heron Its international premiere was reviewed at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film opens in US cinemas on December 8th.

Chrissy Callahan

Chrissy Callahan is a Worldtimetodays U.S. News Reporter based in Canada. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Chrissy Callahan joined Worldtimetodays in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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