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Film Review: The Boy And The Heron – A Journey of Wonder from a Masterful Animator

Published on: 8 Jan, 2024
Updated on: 8 Jan, 2024

By Mark Kitchen

In his swansong to end a legendary career, masterful animator Hayao Miyazaki draws us into another fantastical universe for one last adventure.

Despite announcing that 2013’s The Wind Rises would be his last film, Miyazaki decided to step out of retirement and spoil us all with the magnificent The Boy and the Heron.

This week it was announced that the film has won Miyazaki his first Golden Globe Award – and deservedly so.

Set in Japan during World War II, the film centres on 12-year-old Mahito, who leaves Tokyo for the countryside after his mother is tragically killed in an air raid.

After moving in with his stepmother and settling into his new life, Mahito encounters a mysterious heron who tells him that his birth mother is still alive. In his quest to be reunited with her, Mahito is drawn into a parallel world full of mysterious activity and anthropomorphic animals that Studio Ghibli films are so renowned for.

The Boy and the Heron deals with the difficult themes of grief and coming-of-age but counterbalances this with a sense of wonder and amusing lightheartedness. We see Mahito struggling to deal with loss but then in the next scene we see parakeets marching in military attire.

This is typical of Miyazaki’s work, which often explores deeper or darker themes while also giving us cute characters and heartwarming relationships.

While the first half of the film is fairly slow and lets us sit with Mahito’s grief, the second half is where we really get absorbed into an extraordinary place where creativity knows no limits.

Bizarre creatures, magical powers and dreamlike logic provide wondrous immersion that leave the viewer fascinated as to where they will be taken next. The film does a fantastic job of carrying you through ever-changing settings while still telling a coherent story that is gripping throughout.

As with any other Studio Ghibli film, the score is beautifully imperative to evoking the emotions that the film seeks to convey. The soft piano pieces and gentle string arrangements accompany some of the more powerful scenes, which simply wouldn’t be powerful without them.

The Boy and the Heron is the perfect send-off for Hayao Miyazaki, who is now 83 years old. It features everything that his fans will recognise as his signature style and delivers a story and animation that sit alongside some of his best work. While this may not be the most accessible Ghibli film for newcomers, I am sure it will delight those who are open to it.

Duration: 2 hours 4 mins

The Boy and the Heron is showing at the Guildford Odeon

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