top of page
  • Colin Fraser


FOUR STARS A boy hopes to save his dead mother with the help of a grey heron.

DRAMA Animation JAPAN In English or Subtitled #THEBOYANDTHEHERON

Starring Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe

It’s been a decade between drinks for the Oscar winning Hayao Miyazaki, celebrated for anime masterpieces like HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE or THE WIND RISES. One of his most personal stories this might also be the last for the founder of legendary Studio Ghibli. He’s now 82 and THE BOY AND THE HERON shows him in a thoughtful, reflective, often sober mood.

This soaring film is a Miyazaki feature through and through, one that’s stuffed with his signature style, rich artwork and evocative characters. Like so much of his work, familiarity with the director’s own story certainly helps you decipher events on screen. THE BOY AND THE HERON is dense, layered and not always that easy to follow yet charm, humanity and heart are always on standby to guide you through any narrative cul-de-sacs. Sometimes you just need to let go.

Which is one of the lessons young Mahito comes to learn. It’s wartime in Japan and the boy’s mother has recently died in a horrific fire. His father moves out of the city where Mahito’s aunt Natsuko, now his step-mother, lives. She takes care of the boy as best she can, but unsurprisingly he retreats inside himself, finding solace exploring an abandoned tower in the nearby woods.

Being a Miyazaki film, the tower is a portal to another world, another dimension really, and a mischievous talking heron has the key to the door. The same heron tells Mahito that his mother isn’t really dead, and leads the boy on a quest to learn the truth. It’s also a rescue mission because Natsuko has been drawn into the tower and it’s incumbent upon the boy to lead the pregnant woman back safely to his father.

Being a Miyazaki film, the world inside the tower is populated with singing frogs and fascist parakeets, an overlord who may or may not be his father, and a young girl who may or may not be his mother. Familial connections are rife, a staple of Ghibili films and a point of profound importance to the director. THE BOY AND THE HERON is dedicated to his grandson, a connection that can be felt rather than freely understood. The same can be said of the narrative which more often relies on a feeling or an emotion than straightforward narrative points.

Although these connections feel a little underbaked to pull off the emotional resonance the film is aiming for (at least they did to this non-Japanese viewer), it makes up for any loss with a surplus of heart and generosity. And there’s always Miyazaki’s truly inspired animation to fall back on; compelling when it’s not stunning. A superb score by Joe Hisaishi gives every scene added heft as does a star-studded voice cast (for the subbed, not dubbed, version).

While THE BOY AND THE HERON doesn’t quite land with the same heart-wrenching impact as some of Miyazaki’s earlier films, it stands tall in a field dominated with by-the-numbers animation. Mature yet playful, intimate yet worldly, this is storytelling at its finest, even when it doesn't always make sense. Sometimes you just need to let go.



bottom of page