The Boy and The Heron

The new Hayao Miyazaki film is an extraordinary experience.

To this day, I still remember the first time I watched a Hayao Miyazaki film. It was the early 2000s, and I was already in college. I came across the DVD, and the image and the NY Post quote, “The ‘Star Wars’ of animated series.” couldn’t convince me more than I had to see that Princess Mononoke anime movie, and I had to see it immediately. Whether it was the animation, the character design, or the subject matter, I loved everything about Miyazaki’s masterpiece. That night, I became a Studio Ghibli fan. 

Today, I’ve had several of his films on DVD. I got Kodamas tattooed on my right arm. Along with Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, they’re three of my favorite movies ever. Of course, I would see Miyazaki’s new (and most likely his last) The Boy and the Heron. 

What is it about?

In The Boy and the Heron, we witness Mahito. A teenage boy who loses his mother tragically during World War II. After moving to the country near his father’s aerospace (you guessed it if you’re a Miyazaki fan) factory. Some old ladies live with him, as well as his new stepmother. 

The first act of this film is grounded in reality, like The Wind Rises. We see the teenage kid with the typical struggles of being a stepson, going to a new school, and not-so-typical selling favors from cigarettes to the people working at home. That changes once we meet the second title character, the heron. 

Property of GKIDS

Now that the two characters are together, things are going full Spirited Away’s wild imagination. His inventive, surrealistic, and amusing works are at their best. Mahito meets fascinating and strange characters, from some pirate lady protecting little creatures called warawara to gluttonic human-eating parakeets. All while he has to save his pregnant stepmother and come back home on time with him. 

The Voice Acting

If your local theater only has the dubbed version, do not worry. GKIDS made sure the English version we’re seeing is top-notch. Thanks to them, we live in a world where Dave Bautista is the voice of a parakeet and Willem Dafoe of a noble pelican. The other studios should take notes about casting voice actors. 

An Extraordinary Experience

Among the Miyazaki themes are World War II, nature, Japanese folklore, and family. It’s scary, and it gets weird. Yet this story feels so deeply personal that we can assume the director illustrated his dreams in the storyboard. There is a lot to unpack as it gets mind-bending in the third act. I’ll have to read about it and research to get it. For example, herons in Japanese art are not something new

This one feels like a towering puzzle that’s challenging me to keep it standing, and that is nerdtastic and intellectual fun that I don’t mind having. To say I understood all the philosophical aspects of the film would be a lie. But one thing for sure is that, once again, a Miyazaki film can make me think about the world we’re living in and that we are lucky to be in it. We owe a lot to our surroundings, not the other way around.

And for that, I am grateful to have his movies, to dive into his fantastic worlds and escape in them for two hours. The Boy and the Heron is an astonishing addition to these immersive, often haunting, revitalizing dimensions.

After watching what the world believes to be Miyazaki’s final film, it’s not his best work. Though it is definitely one of this year’s best ones. Neither does it feel like a Greatest Hits, as there’s more than that. And this is why I’ll never forget the first time I saw Princess Mononoke. His films talk to me in ways few other filmmakers’ works can. 

Also, those warawaras are as pretty as the kodamas. I’m going to get a new tattoo soon.

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