Movie Review: The Boy and the Heron

Spoilers Ahead, brief mention of self-harm

      	Coming out of retirement once again, Miyazaki’s latest film The Boy and the Heron is wonderfully filled with themes of love, grief, and accepting change. Fans of Studio Ghibli are no stranger to different film’s use of vibrant colors and mystical elements, as seen in Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro, and Spirited Away just to name a few. As with much of his work, Miyazaki’s own life inspired parts of The Boy and the Heron. We follow the story of Mahito Maki after an unexpected event sends him away from Tokyo into the countryside during war. Once at his new home, a gray heron flies close to him as if it were welcoming him, something out of the ordinary. Struggling with the abrupt changes in his life, Mahito injures himself, taking a rock to his head. Unbeknownst to him, this sets off his adventure. With the heron by his side, Mahito traverses across new lands and meets all sorts of characters: the cute Warawara that look like marshmallows with arms and feet, Himi, a girl with magical fire powers, and human-sized carnivorous parakeets just to name a few. But his adventure isn’t without purpose. Mahito’s on the search to find his mother.

As the movie progresses, we see Mahito’s character embrace one of the crucial themes of the movie: how one lives. In the beginning, Mahito’s grief is obvious and as a result, leads to him being distant from his new environment. It’s difficult for him to accept his new reality, even more so when he’s thrown into a realm of magic. His character’s defensiveness and wariness of others he meets makes it difficult for him to navigate a new world. But as he searches for his mother, he’s inevitably forced to work with those by his side, eventually forming friendships. Though these bonds were formed out of necessity, a genuine connection is evident. Moreover, Mahito transforms from a reserved person to someone bold, brave, and certain of his choices.

Setting aside the themes, the movie’s visuals are dreamlike. Human-sized carnivorous parakeets, a half-man half-heron, a world balanced on a few building blocks, and magical stones felt like watching a dream awake. Everything happened all at once somehow, and yet, it made sense. The movie does a wonderful job guiding the viewer from an ordinary world to a world that's just so nonsensical at times.

If you have about two hours to spare, want something intriguing, and don’t mind weird visuals, The Boy and the Heron is a great watch.