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The Boy and The Heron

Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki
Movie poster for the new Studio Ghibli film, “The Boy and The Heron”. Also the last Hayao Miyazaki film he will produce.

One of the most famous artists of all time had a new film on Dec. 8 2023, an unexpected fantasy from a man most people thought was done with filmmaking a decade ago. 2013’s “The Wind Rises,” Undeniably felt like a final act. Still, Hayao Miyazaki had something else to say. Working some of his own life, art and interests into the masterpiece “The Boy and the Heron,” a mesmerizing fable that felt even more like a summary of the artist’s career. It was a film that somehow played as both a child’s heroic journey and an old man’s wistful goodbye simultaneously, a dream-like vision that reasserted Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s voice and international relevance. It was gorgeous, ruminative and mesmerizing, one of the best movies of 2023.
“The Boy and the Heron” was the story of a 12-year-old boy named Mahito Maki, whose mother died in a hospital fire in Tokyo, sending him to the countryside with a distant father named Shoichi and a new, pregnant mother named Natsuko, the sister of Mahito’s late mother. Mahito understandably operated from a place of grief and anger. He dreamed of the mother he couldn’t save from the flames and even wounded himself with a rock in a moment of startling self-harm. It has been said that “The Boy and the Heron,” was about a young man who learned not to operate from a place of selfishness, but I also saw it as learning that the beauty of the world also comes with pain.
This lesson started with a heron, a bird that started to tease Mahito about his mother, telling him that his “presence was requested.” When Natsuko went missing, Mahito followed the heron to a nearby tower, the last place that anyone saw Mahito’s great-granduncle before he disappeared.
Just before the hour mark of “The Boy and the Heron,” a film often played like a standard coming-of-age drama, dived headfirst into fantasy as Mahito entered his own Wonderland. An alternate reality with swarms of pelicans, violent parakeets, and adorable little creatures called warawara. Here’s where “The Boy and the Heron” split from traditional plotting to something that worked in a different register. Due to the fact that Hayao Miyazaki will be retiring from “Studio Ghibli”, he poured more emotion into this film for the fact than the main character
Of course, most people expected a Ghibli film to look stunning, but Miyazaki found some of his most striking compositions here. The first viewing favored the creative landscapes of the fantasy world, the ships on a horizon lit by sunset, the bright colors of the parakeets chasing the heron and the flames of Mahito’s ally Himi, but there was stunning artistry in the first half of the film too, capturing a young man who looked small against a country. All of the visions there were enhanced greatly by a gorgeous score by Joe Hisaishi, who is my favorite of the year.
“The Boy and the Heron” took some patience. The first hour was arguably a bit too long, repeating some plot points more than it needed to before thrusting Mahito into his true journey. There were times even in the second half when it felt like Miyazaki the writer spun his wheels, but the patience there was rewarded by final scenes that landed emotionally. Without spoiling, Mahito was given a chance to rule a fantasy world, but he chose the pain of the real one. That’s the lesson of adulthood, the awareness that we can’t live in lands of made-up characters and fantasy versions of those we’ve lost.

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About the Contributor
Arturo Esparza Cruz
Arturo Esparza Cruz, Writer/Photographer

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