The Boy and the Heron Review

The Boy and the Heron premieres in theaters on December 8. This review is based on a screening at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.

Hayao Miyazaki Returns with “The Boy and the Heron”

When Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement after The Wind Rises in 2013, it was a fitting end to a remarkable career. However, his return to filmmaking with The Boy and the Heron has raised expectations. Can this film serve as a better conclusion to Miyazaki’s legacy than The Wind Rises? And does Miyazaki still have something new to offer?

The Return to Form

The Boy and the Heron feels like a return to Miyazaki’s earlier works, specifically My Neighbor Totoro, in terms of tone and subject matter. The story revolves around a young protagonist who escapes into fantasy as a means of avoiding harsh realities. Although there are similarities, Miyazaki brings a fresh perspective. With years of experience under his belt, the film is infused with his maturity. It balances humor and whimsy while examining the world through a more nuanced lens. The portrayal of a boy’s desperate attempt to skip school by self-inflicting injury is a poignant example of how Miyazaki explores the weight of choices.

An Utterly Gorgeous Film

One thing is undeniable about The Boy and the Heron – it is visually stunning. This is Miyazaki’s most visually complex and impressive movie to date. The set pieces and worldbuilding are breathtaking, drawing viewers into a mesmerizing experience. The film often relies on imagery rather than dialogue, utilizing silence and slow movements to create a sense of emptiness (“ma”) that is both original and aesthetically pleasing. It is a testament to the unmatched artistic prowess of Miyazaki and the animation industry as a whole.

A Poignant Reflection on Mortality

Aside from its visual brilliance, The Boy and the Heron offers a deep reflection on mortality and legacy. Miyazaki crafted the film as a way to prepare his grandson for his eventual passing, resulting in a profoundly emotional narrative. The original Japanese title, “How Do You Live?”, encapsulates the film’s exploration of grief and loss. The emotional depth is further enhanced by Joe Hisaishi’s hauntingly beautiful score, evoking the same sense of playfulness and devastation found in the opening sequence of Pixar’s “Up.”

Miyazaki’s Legacy and Its Themes

The Boy and the Heron is a film that embodies Hayao Miyazaki’s essence. It delves into his personal experiences and draws parallels to his earlier works, such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke. The backdrop of war and its impact on daily life is also prominent, demonstrating Miyazaki’s ability to weave profound stories within fantastical worlds. Ultimately, the film serves as a final statement from the legendary director, urging younger generations to face reality rather than dwell in fantasies. It is both a warning and a challenge to aspiring filmmakers to surpass their predecessors.

If this is truly Miyazaki’s final film, it echoes the sentiment from My Hero Academia – “Next, it’s your turn.” The Boy and the Heron imparts a powerful message, encouraging future filmmakers to carry on the torch and strive for greater achievements.