The Boy and the Heron
During WWII Mahito's mother is apparently killed in a hospital fire. His father remarries- a woman named Natsuko, this time- and they move to the country. But the taunting of a strange heron leads Mahito to an abandoned tower- and when Natsuko disappears, the heron insists Mahito must go into the tower if he wants to rescue her.
"He read too many books, and went mad" - line from the film’s dialogue
Obviously, the efforts in the U.S. to ban books must be to protect the sanity of children. (Actually, that DOES seem to be pretty much what book banners argue; whether they actually BELIEVE it, I have no idea.) I must also be mad myself, since I've read quite a few in my time.
Sorry, I couldn't help myself. The Snark was with me. (It's like the Force, but much less useful.) But we're not here for this nonsense; we're here to discuss the Return of the Master, AKA Hayao Miyazaki.
My initial impression of The Boy and the Heron is that it's kind of a compendium of Miyazaki's favorite visual and story ideas. The whole scenario- of the lead protagonist (male, this time) entering an alternate (and frankly hallucinatory) reality is one we know well from Spirited Away. (My wife, who'd also seen Spirited Away, accompanied me on this viewing too; she insists that Miyazaki must be "on drugs" when he creates his works.) Miyazaki's obsession with grotesque characters is on full display, especially grotesque elderly women. (We well remember Yubaba from Spirited Away, but here the gratuitously hideous old ladies are actually among the good characters.) There's also his equal affection for cute creatures. (Somewhat formless entities called the Warawara are the new ones here, but there are also birds in the cast. LOTS of birds.) At one point a character whose fellows are doing a wicked deed pleads that it is necessary for their survival, so here we've nuance in apparent evil, a theme also explored with Lady Eboshi in Princess Mononoke. (Lady Eboshi, it will be recalled, was providing employment for outcasts who could otherwise not survive- but that employment was in making weapons of war.) Even Miyazaki's love of aircraft gets a nod here. I think the idea of choosing an imperfect world over an attempt to create a "perfect" one was a theme of Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (in Miyazaki's manga version certainly; the film version was severely abridged), though the interdimensional world of The Boy and the Heron seems already pretty corrupted, being MUCH too infested with bloodthirsty... well, I won't say WHAT.
Now, my contention that much of this seemed to me re-use of Miyazaki's Greatest Hits is not meant to disparage this; for the Greatest Hits of the Master are STILL the Master's, and are therefore STILL pretty damn impressive.
I did notice one thing here that I didn't specifically remember from Miyazaki's other films (though Grampa's memory is kind of unreliable); in fact, it's an idea I remember most plainly from Robin Williams' life-after-death movie What Dreams May Come. Here, as in that movie, friends (or even family) may show up basically "in disguise", looking entirely different than they do in the "real" world. (Well, in one case, a fisherwoman named Kiriko, it may be more like the reality that Mahito entered has an equivalent rather than that it was the actual person from his world herself- but as for Lady Himi, a fire-wielding young girl who becomes Mahito's closest friend and supporter, that's a little different...)
The movie's background art- remember, the "real world" setting here is a lush rural landscape- is fine, though maybe not quite as beautiful as, say, that of Makoto Shinkai's films. But Miyazaki has a gift for mixing his more surreal visions with comedy, and that's always been one of his greatest strengths.
I've a few other, very minor, complaints as well. The film does a good job of depicting Mahito's initial coolness toward his new stepmom, but maybe not as much on his growing affection for her- to the point that he's willing to risk his life to bring her back. And I was expecting a coda- or at least a less abrupt ending than we got.
Miyazaki came out of retirement to do this project; I guess he really wanted to convey some special message with it. Maybe I'm missing something, since, as I've said, most of this seems his familiar territory. It's a fine show, though- like Spirited Away, it kind of comes across as a Japanese Alice in Wonderland (though here mixed with maybe a little sci-fi.) Even my wife was able to stay awake through it, and, given that (1) she falls asleep easily, (2) she usually doesn't like anime that much, and (3) it was a late-night showing, I can't think of higher praise. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Rated PG-13. Some violence, and intense scenes.
Version(s) Viewed: Theatrical Release
Review Status: Full (1/1)
The Boy and the Heron © 2023 Studio Ghibli
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