The Boy And The Heron

君たちはどう生きるか | The Boy & The Heron

Reviewed by   |  Apr 8, 2024

If this is to be Miyazaki’s final film then ‘The Boy And The Heron’ is a good one to bow out on for the illustrious animator. While its own dreamlike logic and need to move from one fantastical element to the next may render it somewhat confusing, the film is nevertheless a moving look into the mind of Miyazaki.

A bombing during World War 2 takes the life of the mother of young Mahito. Relocating to the countryside to be with his father and new stepmother, Mahito is understandably scarred by the loss of his mother. Having difficulty accepting his new family and adapting to his new life, a nosy heron begins pestering him about how Mahito has been expected and is required to enter a mysterious structure close to his new home. When his stepmother suddenly vanishes and thinking she has been taken to said structure, Mahito follows the heron’s request and ventures into the ominous edifice, propelled into a land full of wonderment, fantastical creatures, and danger as he attempts to locate his missing stepmother.

Beginning somewhat sombre and low key before exploding into a cavalcade of colour and crazy (talking) creatures, ‘The Boy And The Heron’ is pure unbridled Miyazaki. Incredible, rich, and fluid 2D animation brings the story and the fantastical world to vivid life and, if you are into Miyazaki’s brand of animation, it feels like a comfortable blanket being thrown over you. The flick turns into a full-on adventure as visual wonders and fantastical creatures are thrown at us as Mahito makes his way through this new world. It feels a little ‘Spirited Away’ mixed with ‘Princess Mononoke’ but with its own sombre, grief-stricken identity.

In fact, it may feel all a little too familiar and coupled with a narrative and world building that becomes more confusing as the adventure continues it feels Miyazaki is maybe hitting his greatest hits rather than creating a new classic. That’s unfair, as a craftsman who came out of retirement (at an age of eighty plus years old) to deliver an animated film such as ‘The Boy And The Heron’ is an incredible feat. Even if it doesn’t live up to some Miyazaki’s renowned classics, ‘The Boy And The Heron’ is still a hell of swansong (if it is in fact to be his final picture) and despite any flaws in narrative logic is still a fantastic and entertaining success in animation and creative expression.

A journey through one young man’s grief as well as through a fantastical land, ‘The Boy And The Heron’ is often complex and confusing (a second viewing may be needed to fully appreciate!) but always visually enthralling and excitingly creative. And the squad of elderly maids that aid Mahito in settling into his new life may just be some of Miyazaki’s best creations: give them a film of their own!

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