Arts, Movies, Review

‘The Boy and The Heron’ Deals With Life and Despair in a Beautiful, Magical World


After nine years without a Studio Ghibli movie to astonish the world of animation, The Boy and the Heron returned to take audiences’ breath away. 

Hayao Miyazaki, the co-founder of Studio Ghibli, is dedicated to creating striking visuals and reflective storylines that go beyond what films can describe. He does not disappoint Studio Ghibli fans, as The Boy and the Heron presents the astonishing adventure of a lifetime.

The Boy and the Heron follows a young boy, Mahito Maki (Soma Santoki), struggling to maintain a simple life in the countryside of Japan after his mother’s death. Once a mysterious and haughty heron (Masaki Suda) appears, calling out Mahito’s name, the adventure really begins.

The movie is based on a Japanese book called How Do You Live?, which is a rumination on youth, humanity, and freedom. Though Miyazaki emphasizes these themes in the movie, he also took inspiration from his own experiences with his family and friends. The film transforms Miyazaki’s life into a meticulously crafted fantasy world.

The snarky, talking heron, the adorable marshmallow-looking creatures, and other fantasy elements create an interpretation of an afterlife. Traveling through Miyazaki’s version of the world of the dead becomes magical rather than dreadful.  

The landscape of the intense blue ocean, the repeated imagery of fire, and the portrayal of the entirety of the universe are all signature Ghibli designs, which push the norms of animation. As Mahito travels through the land of the unknown, he meets strange creatures and valiant characters that cause both him and the audience to lose track of what the world could be.

Miyazaki creates the world as layers of his life. Every time Mahito travels to a new stage of life, he sinks into the ground like liquid. The whirlwind of events—war, chaos, friendship, and death—are the moments that shape Mahito’s experience in the land of the dead.

The depth of mystery and ambiguity which goes into this film is beyond the imagination of Miyazaki’s previous movies, and the complexity of the undead world as a reflection of Miyazaki’s life is fairly specific to him. 

The core mystery of the plot is a mission to find Mahito’s mother. The heron dubiously proposes the knowledge of the mother’s whereabouts in this unknown world, which is what originally tempts Mahito to step into the hidden world.

Mahito symbolizes bravery and loyalty, but given that he is a 12-year-old child, he also represents impulse and temptation. The idea of maternal love comes into play when he risks everything to help his mother and sick aunt Natsuko (Yoshino Kimura).

The Boy and the Heron takes on a more philosophical lens when dealing with the stages of life, but Miyazaki still manages to color the world of the dead with the beauty of family bond—a familiar and relatable motif that appears in most of his movies. 

Unlike some of Miyazaki’s other movies, The Boy and the Heron lacks clear plot substance. Miyazaki rather constructs a vision of his own lifetime, which is overall a more interpretative and less direct story. 

Given the near decade-long process of the movie’s creation, The Boy and the Heron was instantly able to reach a global audience. The English dubbing of the film has the interesting addition of some Hollywood voice actors like Robert Pattinson, Christian Bale, and Florence Pugh. With such stardom, the excitement elevates.

The scores are conducted by Miyazaki’s musical counterpart, Joe Hisaishi. The music is a masterful addition to the intensity and awe of the art. Hisaishi’s soft, yet thrilling, musical ambience complements Miyazaki’s heavenly visuals. 

The Boy and the Heron is an adventure which passes through obscure periods of life. From wars to rescue missions, Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron keeps the audience guessing and reveals an introspective adventure from start to finish.  

December 10, 2023