8 Dec 2023

Movie review: The Boy and the Heron

From Afternoons, 2:10 pm on 8 December 2023
The Boy and the Heron.

The Boy and the Heron. Photo: SUPPLIED

'The Boy and the Heron' is the latest film from Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki, the legendary filmmaker and animator behind Spirited Away, Princess Mononke, My Neighbour Totoro, and many more.

He had actually announced his retirement with his last film - 'The Wind Rises' - in 2013, but back tracked to make this.

As with any Miyazaki film it's sort of tricky to sum it up in a simple plot synopsis, but to outline the basics, we follow a young boy - Mahito - who is grieving the sudden, tragic death of his mother.

A few years later he moves from Tokyo to a rural spot with his father and new stepmother, who he has no interest in bonding with.

Then he spies a grey heron who seems to have taken a special interest in him, and eventually leads him to an abandoned tower, and once he enters we follow him into a typically magical Miyazaki world where a much grander story starts to unfold.

So, what to say about this?

First of all, I know it will come as no surprise to anyone who's seen a Studio Ghibli movie before, but the animation, the design work is as fine and detailed as ever.

I sort of lament the loss of 2D, hand-drawn animation in Western animation, so it felt so special to go and see a hand-drawn animated film of this quality in a cinema.
For context, he started the animation work on this movie in 2016, apparently working at the rate of about one minute of animation per month.

So that should speak to the amount of care and attention to detail that went into every frame of this movie.

At this stage it seems uncertain whether Miyazaki will make another movie, and if this is his last it makes for a beautiful swan song.

Like most of his movies there's a surface layer of beautiful, colourful imagery and whimsical worldbuilding, and underneath that there's some really poignant messages - in this case about grief, mourning, the balance between keeping someone's spirit alive and allowing yourself to move forward with your own life.

And it's also interesting that Miyazaki supposedly made this film as a dedication to his grandson, so it feels very self-contemplative as well, like he's saying a lot about he looks at life now that he's in his 80s.

It's worth noting too, I saw this in Japanese with subtitles, but the English dubbed version is also in cinemas.

Uusally even the word "dubbing" makes me shiver, but Studio Ghibli s the exception to the rule.

There's so much effort put into the English version, and to rattle off some of the voice cast you've got Robert Pattinson, Christian Bale, Mark Hamill, Christian Bale, Florence Pugh, Willem Dafoe, the list goes on.

So Japanese was just my preference, but if you see the English version don't worry you won't be getting a lesser experience in any way.

Overall, I thought this was creative, emotional, thought provoking, and a must-see.

The Boy and the Heron is in cinemas now.