REVIEW: From the Mind of Miyazaki: The Boy and The Heron

The Boy and the Heron. STILL: STUDIO GHIBLI
‘The Boy and the Heron’. STILL: STUDIO GHIBLI
Studio Ghibli

Before you read: The actors/actresses listed are the English cast for this film. CW for minor mentions of self-harm, smoking and bloody images. Minor spoilers.

Studio Ghibli has done it again. The studio’s newest movie from legendary director Hayao Miyazaki is “The Boy and The Heron.”

There is no good way to simply describe this movie, and do it justice at the same time. The easiest (and spoiler-free) way to describe this movie would be:

Mahito Maki (Luca Padovan) is a twelve-year-old boy who loses his mother in a tragic accident. Shortly after, he and his father Shoichi Maki (Christian Bale) move into the estate of Natsuko (Gemma Chan), Shoichi’s new wife. During Mahito’s stay at his new home, he encounters many strange things. The strangest thing being the local grey heron (Robert Pattinson). Chaos and whimsy ensue as Mahito and his strange companion travel through a strange and completely different world in search of Natsuko.

Someone had described this movie as, “existential.” I have to agree. It was also said that this could be Ghibli’s darkest movie, and after watching it, these theories were not incorrect. From the rating of the movie alone, PG-13 for smoking, scenes of self-harm, and bloody images. This alone differs from the ratings of other Ghibli movies, and is what piqued the interest of many.

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I had not heard much about the film, which was the case for majority of people. Very little information was available, as this was Miyazaki’s plan. What caught my attention was the English cast of the film, which included big-name actors like: Christian Bale, Florence Pugh, William Defoe, David Bautista, Mark Hamill, and Robert Pattinson. This was an excellent cast, and I was extremely excited to see all these actors in the same movie together, especially in a Ghibli movie.

My favorite aspect of the film was Mahito’s character overall. His determination was such a great part of his character, along with his resourcefulness, kindness and respectfulness.

The best part of his character was the classic, “tough on the outside but soft on the inside“ trope. However, it was executed so well. He started out not seeing Natsuko as his mother (as he was still mourning his mothers’ death), despite telling her he was fine with her being his new mother, to then fighting for Natsuko. Or, when he gave a noble pelican (William DaFoe) who had murdered many warawara (the classic Ghibli “weird little guys” (The Vulture)) a funeral after hearing everything the pelicans have gone through.

Another of my favorite parts that showed Mahito’s development was when Mahito and Lady Himi (Karen Fukuhara), finally get to Natsuko’s delivery room (as she is pregnant, and is about to go into labour). Mahito has committed a major transgression by entering this room, and when incredibly strong forces urge him out, he fights to stay by his mother’s side.

He calls out for her and stays by her side the best he can, despite her telling him the moment before that she hates him, and wants him gone. This scene shows just how much he has grown to care about Natsuko, and shows to what lengths he would go to get her back, despite her “not wanting to go back home.”

After Mahito is offered power, and a chance to create a more just world, a world without malice, he refuses. He acknowledges his own malice (a detail from earlier on in the film), and goes back home to be with his family. This was the last big act that showed Mahito’s character, and his development. Had he been offered this chance at the beginning of the movie, there is a good chance that Mahito would have taken it.

The characters of The Boy and the Heron weren’t the only aspect that made it great. While this isn’t anything new, it has to be said. The backgrounds and scenery for the movie were so wonderfully animated, and looked like one of the prettiest, most serene paintings you’ve ever seen. The most notable (to me at least), was Lady Himi’s house. Ghibli has not failed to once again deliver the most gorgeous of scenery and animation.

Still from “The Boy and the Heron” (Studio Ghibli)

Speaking of classic Ghibli, the food prepared in these movies is in fact legally required to be discussed. Again, Ghibli has animated food that looks incredibly delicious, as they do. Along with the food, the little creatures are a must to discuss. The warawara were adorable, and once you find out what they really are, they are both mind-blowing and saddening.

The soundtrack for the movie, written by Joe Hisaishi, was brilliant, as his work always is. The main theme however, was not written by Hisaishi. “Spinning Globe,” written and performed by Kenshi Yonezu, was a masterpiece. Everyone who saw this movie (at the theater I saw this movie at) stayed for the full duration of the credits just for this song.

My only issue, while it is not really a big one, is how abruptly the story was ended. I still have a few questions, but I think the open-ended storyline works well. This movie gives you a lot to think about. The biggest plot twist was hiding right under our noses the entire time, it was handled so beautifully.

With beautiful and genius storytelling, an amazing soundtrack and scenery, interesting and wonderful characters, and of course incredible voice talents, why wouldn’t you go see Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and The Heron?


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