The Boy and the Heron
The Boy and the Heron is a majestic piece of animation from renowned Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki. It follows Mahito, a boy who loses his mother to a hospital fire during World War II. Moving to the countryside, Mahito’s father plans to marry Natsuko, his late mother’s younger sister. Upon arriving, a mysterious grey heron follows him around. In the woods nearby, there’s a tower said to be built by Mahito’s great uncle. The heron leads him to it and he discovers a world under the sea, learning more about his deceased mother and the legacy his great uncle built. The Boy and the Heron is a bittersweet look into a young boy’s processing of grief, acceptance of the life changes and the destruction of a societal cycle that takes from its people more than it gives.
A visual choice that works well here is using still paintings for backdrops of the scenes in the real world. It’s a grounding presence against the chaos happening all around Mahito: the war, the bullying he endures in his new school and the constant fussing of Natsuko, the helpers of the house and his father. The art splendidly depicts the peace of nature and the countryside. In contrast, the world inside the tower is full of constant movement, amplified by vibrant colours and unique character designs for everyone Mahito meets throughout his adventure. The grey heron in particular has one of the most astounding looks to it, embodying both entrancing beauty with a disturbing and funny twist.
Animation has come a long way since Miyazaki’s last film ten years ago. The Boy and the Heron is like a combination of Frozen 2, In This Corner of the World and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World story-wise, and in how the film animates the fantasy world of the tower. While Studio Ghibli rarely fails in the visuals of its works, there are some minute and concerning details here. There are inconsistencies in the shadowed silhouette of some characters, specifically the ones that are not fully revealed until later on, as though continuity was sacrificed for the sake of mystery. There’s also some poor character movement animation, especially from a faraway perspective, which can be quite distracting.
In terms of its narrative, The Boy and the Heron is perhaps one of the weaker Studio Ghibli films. While there’s a lot of potential in the script, and the emotional beats are there, something’s lacking in the execution of ideas. The ending is also underwhelmingly abrupt, almost doing a disservice to the film’s attempt at closure. Still, anyone who can relate to the themes presented – of moving on from a legacy and starting anew, of accepting new family members without truly forgetting long-dead ones and the departure of short friendships that make an impact – will find themselves in tears as the final goodbyes between the characters are said.
The Boy and the Heron does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for The Boy and the Heron here: