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“The Boy and the Heron” finds Miyazaki at his most conceptual, but it’s still Ghibli magic

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Hayao Miyazaki came out of retirement in 2018 to make The boy and the heron (whose literal and best translation is How do you live? in reference to the 1937 novel of the same name by Genzaburō Yoshino, who plays a role in the film). It’s good that he did because his 12th feature film couldn’t seem more relevant.

In a Japan at war, Mahito Maki, a 12-year-old boy who lost his mother in a hospital fire, moves to the countryside to live with his new stepmother when a disturbing gray heron begins to contact him with the promise of meeting and resurrecting his dead. mother. Mahito, who is having trouble coping with his grief and all the changes in his life, follows the mysterious animal to a tower in the woods. When his stepmother disappears into these same woods, Mahito plunges into a volatile and epic underworld for an odyssey that will change him forever. What follows is as fantastical as Miyazaki ever was, combining familiar motifs with what appears to be an unprecedented boldness in animation and storytelling in the director’s work.

Screenshot via GKIDS

The main theme of the work of the brilliant Japanese filmmaker has always been the conscientious choice that we must make every day to keep alive our childhood hope in the face of the horrors and the ugly side of the human experience, or, in other words terms, the act of growing up and doing it well. Although reducing The boy and the heron this message would be simplistic, given its almost overwhelming density and complexity, it is also true that this is its most relevant aspect.

There are two equally fundamental sides to this coin. One concerns the medium of the film and the other the world that receives it. At a time when great authors are preparing to pass on their legacies to younger generations, the world must face the dark future of cinema and storytelling. The boy and the heronthrough the allegory of a young boy who must save an imaginary world by succeeding his great-uncle to the throne, is as much a reminder of the impending death of well-intentioned creativity and the opportunity it It remains for us all to save it.

In a much broader sense, however, Mahito’s journey in Miyazaki’s 2023 film is about letting go of the fantasy of living in the real world. Having the courage to see reality as it is, while retaining the infinite creative freedom that only a child’s imagination provides and which will be the ultimate key to keeping the world afloat.

Which is quite scary The boy and the heronHowever, just as Miyazaki’s time is running out, so is our innocence. The man behind some of the most illuminating stories of the better part of the last 50 years leaves us with a reality that is shrinking in compassion and reaching a dangerous, uncontrollable state of entropy, much like the end of the pod’s days of Great-Uncle. world. The pieces that once held everything together no longer hold together, crumbling under the weight of bad choices.

The boy and the heron
Image via Studio Ghibli

Still, it wouldn’t be a Miyazaki film if it didn’t bring a little light into the darkness. The director’s trust in future generations to make the right choices has defined his work and he may well reach its peak in The boy and the heron, where he seems to speak directly to viewers, telling them to never forget the spark that once made them dream. At the same time, he warns that most people forget. At its most basic, the epic fantasy adventure is a call to action, courage, and unrelenting hope.

Despite its breathtaking animation, striking music and sound design, and an adventure of such magnitude that it’s impossible not to eagerly follow, The boy and the heron also attempts to juggle too many plot points at once, lacking the clarity of the director’s previous works. At times the film seems like an attempt to incorporate as many concepts as possible, from allusions to other Ghibli films and a brush with the multiverse, to environmentalist admonitions and a group of surreal creatures, including a man in a heron, murderous. parakeets and sylvan organisms called warawara that eventually become human children. It’s a lot.

Image via Studio Ghibli

The convolution can distract and distance the viewer from the film on several occasions, but it is also most present in the fantasy world visited by Mahito, who is in a declared state of chaos and disarray, and which he is tasked with saving. The creatures that the great-uncle had brought to this plane evolved in unexpected, unpredictable ways, beyond the control of their creator. The pelicans, with no normal fish to eat, attacked the warawara, and the parakeets, who had formed their own inner society, attempted a coup.

As overwhelming as all this information was to receive, it was not free, complex for the sake of it. It was simply a reflection of the inability to control the growing life of your creation after bringing it into the world, much like the main emotional conflict of the protagonist Jiro Horikoshi, the builder of the WWII fighter planes, in the years 2013. The wind picks up. And a challenge that every artist must take on.

The boy and the heron is almost like every other major Miyazaki film molded into one and therein lies both its awesomeness and its waste. Nonetheless, it is easy to predict his longevity as the years and trajectory of the rest of Miyazaki’s career will undeniably shed new light on young Mahito’s whirlwind expedition through the land of dreams, imagination and childhood.


Hayao Miyazaki’s 12th and perhaps final feature film couldn’t be more relevant as a call to action, courage, and the relentless hope of childhood.

The boy and the heron


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