BY JACK RANSOM JANUARY 2, 2024
Maybe this wasn’t quite the right starting point for my first Miyazaki feature, as this feels like it could truly be his swan song or epilogue picture (10 years after The Wind Rises, where he initially announced his retirement). This is also actually only the second Ghibli production that I have seen (with the excellently sombre Grave of the Fireflies).
The Boy and the Heron sees a young boy named Mahito 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.
I really wanted to love this more than I did, as I found the ideas and world presentation on display here fascinating and the rural estate that Mahito is relocated to a quaint, immersive and eerie little pre-adventure purgatory. However, once Mahito’s journey progressed I found myself lacking engagement and really feeling the slower burn to the pacing, especially with the (I’m assuming) intentionally dreamlike lack of structure and contextual details to the narrative. Yes, there are themes of grief, responsibility and the attempting of an escape from the horrors of World War II, but these were more effectively conveyed in Grave of the Fireflies.
Where the film excels is in its visuals, as much as I wasn’t wholly invested in the story that has been spun, I am glad that this received a wide cinema release to be witnessed on the big screen. The fantastical, otherworldly imagery excels here: from chanting fish and frogs, hordes of vibrantly coloured parakeets, the distorted dreamworld reality of the other world and the unnerving titular heron itself. The score is also superb and regularly adds to the atmosphere of the feature.
The Boy and the Heron may please those fans of Miyazaki’s previous works and Ghibli aficionados, however I found its floaty structure and slow pacing hard to become invested in. The ideas on display in The Boy and the Heron are interesting and the animation is stunning, amusing and unique throughout. Maybe this is one that is a due a revisit later down the line.