The Boy and the Heron

Directed By Hayao Miyazaki

Starring – Christian Bale, Dave Bautista, Gemma Chan

The Plot – A young boy named Mahito (Soma Santoki), yearning for his mother, ventures into a world shared by the living and the dead. There, death comes to an end, and life finds a new beginning. A semi-autobiographical fantasy about life, death, and creation, in tribute to friendship, from the mind of Hayao Miyazaki.

Rated PG-13 for some violent content involving bloody imagery, and smoking

THE BOY AND THE HERON | Official English Trailer – YouTube


In what has been rumored as Miyazaki’s final film in an otherwise iconic career, the veteran director remains true to himself in an unflinching approach that combines the pageatry of the fantastical with the realism of emotions that each of us face at one time or another in our lives. In being a slice of autobiographical life from Hayao, he imbeds so much meaning and emotion to these characters in ways that feel refreshingly original for animated films of the contemporary age, with none of the marketing desire to sell toys, but all of the thematic heft that take it in some truly gripping and occasionally terrifying territories. This is certainly nothing new for Miyazaki, who has built a career imbedding social commentary into the concepts of his films, but here that commentary pertaining to everything from grief to self-evaluation leads to an endearing exploration that touches on profound without being heavily metaphorical, leaving it approachable for audiences of all ages, despite an edginess in imagery that tapped into the lack of restrain from child films of my youth. With a two hour run time, Miyazaki is able to take his time earning every emotion or theme into the context of the script’s complexity, with an opening act that fleshes out the conflict, a middle that introduces us to this magical outerworld, and a climax that comes full circle with Mahito’s overwhelming grief, and while the film is consistently sedated in its storytelling, I never found myself bored or uninterested by what it was continuously throwing at me, nor was I confused with the abstract intention that it was casually painting. For the movie’s visuals, Miyazaki once more serves as the key that unlocks our imagination, with mesmerizing beauty in nostalgic two-dimensional animation that vividly paints a dreamy canvas full of intoxicating visuals. Between detailed landscapes full of glowing grandeur and an abundance of expressive wildlife, Mayazaki has conjured a world of magical exuberrance, and one that utilizes animation in ways that are rarely realized anymore. Combine this with longtime Miyazaki collaborator Joe Hisaishi’s somberly stirring musical score, as well as absorbingly defining sound designs, which immerse us with three-dimensional tangibilities into each setting, and you have a lived-in brand of animated filmmaking, whose ingredients stir something scintillating to the integrity of each sequence. It’s also the first time where I recommend the English dubbed version of a Mayazaki film, as the production assembles one incredible dream team of an ensemble who each dazzle in the depths of their respective characters. Christian Bale, Mark Hammill, Gemma Chan, Dave Bautista, Florence Pugh, Willem Dafoe, and Karen Fukuhara each hand in stoically scintillating turns, but it’s ultimately Robert Pattinson who is the primary bread winner here, handing in the most audibly obscure work of his career, with eccentric energy and deviating vocal ranges that frequently made me forget he was voicing the titular Heron.


Despite so much aforementioned depth in corresponding themes that the movie explores with meaning and emotion, one such familiar avenue of emphasis from Mayazaki felt a bit unearned and unnecessary in this particular installment. For my money, “The Boy and the Heron” is best when it digs deep into the seams of overwhelming grief and how to live with loss, so when it becomes a commentary on the protecting the Earth’s vulnerabilities, the second half starts to become convoluted in ways that obscure the focus from its previous sentiments, in turn removing some of the emotional impulses that impacted so effectively during a superior first half. Considering Mayazaki already has at least four or five films pertaining to urgencies about protecting the place we live, its inclusion here borders on redundancy in ways that don’t feel as personal or compelling as the relationship that Mahito or Mayazaki share for their respective deceased Mother’s, and while I can commend him for attempting to teach responsibility to the next generation, it’s just not threaded naturally into the film in ways that feel earned. Beyond this, I also found Mahito a bit underwhelming as a primary protagonist, especially since the opening act spends more time on what happened to him, rather than who he is. If I had to write even a one hundred word essay on everything I learned about Mahito in this film, I would find myself creatively tapped to muster it, especially since we essentially don’t experience Mahito before the untimely loss, so we never come to understand just how much he has changed, leaving me only invested in him from an empathetic standpoint, instead of an interesting one, which I wish found more time and detailing into the finished draft of this script.

“The Boy and the Heron” is a fitting final chapter in the career of Hayao Miyazaki, animated’s most iconic filmmaker, in that it’s a heavy-hearted, beautifully rendered fantastical frenzy of autobiographical storytelling that the audience unanimously can relate to. While not as monumental as some of the biggest of Miyazaki’s works, the dream team ensemble and picture-perfect technical components earn him his wings to fly away from a world in which he has left an indisputable mark.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

One thought on “The Boy and the Heron

  1. As a huge Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli fan I was immensely excited for this and I would say that it mostly lived up to my expectations. Between the staggering animation, abundant creativity, and deeper themes, this is definitely a strong addition to Miyazaki’s filmography. That said, I still found myself disconnected emotionally from the film and viewing it more as the director reflecting on his legacy rather than an exploration of grief even though I can see the latter. I just wasn’t as invested as I wanted to be, though that might be because I’m comparing it to his absolute best movies like Spirited Away which is one of my favorite animated movies of all time. A great movie by all accounts, just not amongst my favorites from him. Excellent review though!

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