‘The Boy and the Heron’ is a weird and thoughtful fantasy movie

Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki's latest creation is equal parts strange, dreamlike fantasy and thought-provoking character drama, just like the best Ghibli films.


Studio Ghibli and its auteur filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki need no introduction. So many great works have been produced under the banner of Ghibli: Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and My Neighbour Totoro, just to name a few of this writer’s favourites. So it is with no little amount of anticipation that audiences have been awaiting the latest release from the famous director: The Boy and the Heron.

A semi-autobiographical story that features emotional elements from Miyazaki’s own childhood, this movie tells the story of Mahito, who lived during the Second World War. After Mahito’s mother is killed in a fire in Tokyo, he and his father move to the countryside and move in with a new family member, Natsuko, Mahito’s aunt who has married Mahito’s father after the death of her sister.

Mahito is withdrawn and cold to the people around him, and his relationship with Natsuko remains frigid. Mahito is also stalked by a strange grey heron, who talks to him and taunts him about his mother’s death. One day, Natsuko disappears. In search of her, Mahito follows the creepy heron to an abandoned, overgrown old tower. In true Ghibli fashion, once Mahito and an elderly caretaker, Kiriko, enter the tower, they are transported to another world where magic and fantastic creatures like wizards and burly humanoid parakeets exist. Mahito even encounters a fire witch who may have some connection to his late mother…

Like Spirited Away, this movie explores a fantastical and deeply creative magical world, but as is typical for Miyazaki’s world, contains its fair share of layers and themes. For example, one of the themes Miyazaki often explores, and one that he revisits in this movie, is that of moving past violence to a more peaceful future. The Boy and the Heron asserts its belief that the younger generation can create a world that is better than the old one. Mahito must also learn to grow as a person and to bond with those around him.

Parents should note that despite being an animated movie, The Boy and the Heron is not so much intended for children. The pacing is slow and thoughtful, basking in the quiet moments. Also, some imagery in the movie can be downright frightening for children. There is blood and violence. In some moments of body horror, the titular grey heron manifests body parts like human teeth and an engorged nose under its beak. If you have seen Princess Momonoke or Spirited Away, you may know what to expect. Nevertheless, The Boy and the Heron is worth a watch for those interested in a pensive and wildly creative fantasy movie.

Catch The Boy and The Heron in cinemas near you, playing now!

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