Movie Review: ‘The Boy And The Heron’ Blu-ray

by | Jul 7, 2024 | Movie Reviews, Movies | 0 comments

Review by James Lindorf

After beginning his career at Toei Animation in 1963, famed writer and director Hayao Miyazaki co-founded Studio Ghibli in 1985, one year before the release of “Castle in the Sky.” Over the following 38 years, he has directed nine classic films and announced his retirement anywhere between three and seven times, depending on who you ask. The last came in 2013 after the release of “The Wind Rises.” Now, just weeks from his 83rd birthday, Miyazaki is back with his 10th Studio Ghibli film loosely inspired by personal experiences and the popular 1937 novel “How Do You Live?” by Genzaburo Yoshino. The film was initially released in Japan on July 14th under the same name but with shockingly little promotion. There were no trailers, no official synopsis, just a single poster, and the power of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s brand recognition to attract audiences. That changed with the release of a popular trailer in preparation for the movie’s wide theatrical run around the US on December 8th, but that wasn’t the only change. The film has also been renamed “The Boy and the Heron” by GKIDS, who purchased the rights to a North American release. Fans can buy a ticket for either subtitled or dubbed versions of the film, each featuring a loaded cast of actors.

“The Boy and the Heron” is set in 1943 during the Pacific War and follows the adventures of 12-year-old Mahito (Soma Santoki or Luca Padovan). One year ago, Mahito’s mother was killed after a Tokyo bombing resulted in a fire at the hospital where she worked. Now he and his father, Shoichi (Takuya Kimura or Christian Bale), have relocated to the countryside estate of his late wife’s younger sister Natsuko (Yoshino Kimura or Gemma Chan), whom Shoichi plans to marry and is pregnant with his child. Sharing the estate are several older women, including Kiriko (Ko Shibasaki or Florence Pugh) and a mysterious gray heron that seems fascinated with Mahito. Struggling with his grief and the pressures of the move, Mahito fights with his classmates and is cold and distant towards Natsuko, choosing to spend most of his time alone in his room. One day, while chasing the bothersome heron, Mahito discovers a ruined tower that can transport him to a world filled with swarms of gluttonous pelicans and bloodthirsty parakeets, where life and death aren’t so cut and dry.

In classic Studio Ghibli fashion, “The Boy and the Heron” features hand-drawn animation where images are created by layering hand-painted images on celluloid over painted backdrops. In addition to the art style, the film features familiar character designs found in all of Miyazaki’s films. All that is to say that, as expected, “The Boy and the Heron” is visually both gorgeous and grotesque. Some scenes are bloody, scary, or downright gross, particularly in the transformation of the heron and the design of the older women. As far as I know, there has never been an explanation for the look of these characters. They are often short, hunched, and have prominent bulbous features compared to their younger selves and elderly male counterparts. Without that explanation, it feels a bit mean-spirited to single them out as a group to receive an exaggerated or unnatural design. Beyond that, the film looks fantastic, especially in its landscapes and the impressionistic style of the opening sequence.

“The Boy and the Heron” has a run time of 124 minutes, but due to a failure in either story design or editing, it feels dramatically longer, particularly during the first act. It feels overly drawn out and repetitive as Mahito fights against everyone and is repeatedly pestered by the heron. Things become much more frenzied and enjoyable once he enters the other world. Of course, there is the actual climax, but there are two different points where it feels that it may have reached a satisfying conclusion only to push on, much like the film’s central theme.

“How Do You Live” is a much better title for the film’s spirit, even if it is not as descriptive of what we will see. Life should be long but often cut short, and it can have moments of triumph and tragedy. It is about how you choose to live. Miyazaki wants to know if at the end of your life, given the opportunity, would you choose to live again. Would you change your fate or push on down the same path knowing what you know now. “The Boy and the Heron” explores grief at all stages of life, asking its audience to contemplate life-altering questions and beliefs, but its impact is dulled by its poor editing and can only earn a 3.5 out of 5.

Rating: PG-13
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Anime
Original Language: Japanese
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Producer: Toshio Suzuki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Production Co: Studio Ghibli, Toho Company, Hakuhodo DY Media Partners, Nippon Television Network