movie reviews
The Boy and the Heron

The Boy and the Heron

Master Hayao Miyazaki is finally back from retirement with his most cryptic film ever.

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How do you live?

This is the title of a book that the main character Mahito finds in his new bedroom, which has been dedicated to him by his mother, who passed away in a terrible accident. This was also the working title of the newly released The Boy and the Heron, which may well be master Hayao Miyazaki's last film. It's a very direct question that is asked, with no easy answers. The Boy and the Heron is Miyazaki's answer to that question and it has no easy answers for his fans either.

Those expecting a new Spirited Away adventure can rather expect a kind of therapeutic dive into Miyazaki's innermost world, a subconscious dream world lined with fairy-tale characters and reflections on death. What does Miyazaki leave behind when he, God forbid, departs this earthly life? Do films today have any meaning anymore? Has he lived his life to the fullest? The Boy and the Heron is a feverish and dreamy breakdown of his life, his career and his magical world that has touched millions of people to this day. In many ways this is his most personal film yet, but also his most frustrating.

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It is a cryptic journey that begins very slowly. The first act feels numb with emotion, probably because that's how it feels when someone close to you suddenly dies. You become like an empty shell, you just rush forward and don't really live. It all starts very quietly, with the main character Mahito behaving formally and just going back to an old rhythm, not keeping up with the new melody of life. How do you really live when nothing seems to make sense in this strange world anymore?

The Boy and the Heron

Miyazaki puts a lid on the first half hour of the film, where characters survive rather than live. Mahito becomes Miyazaki's avatar as the boy is then guided by a highly antagonistic heron into a kind of limbo, where life and death do not necessarily follow the rules of our reality. Once the second act begins, the viewer can finally take a breath and let the Ghibelline views and dreamy environments cool them down. Life returns in the company of the dead. The pieces of the puzzle don't fit together yet, but you realise how much you actually enjoy this feverish wandering. It's not always understandable, but it's hypnotising. Enchanting.

And you can't talk about a Miyazaki film without mentioning the incredible animation. It takes your breath away, from the first to the last second. Technically, The Boy and the Heron is the studio's most impressive work, because this is downright dazzling. Frighteningly well polished. This is perhaps the closest viewers get to someone's dream world: everything from gestures to bird flapping feels even more real in animated form.

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As a narrative, the film can feel disjointed. New characters and conflicts are constantly introduced, and the parallel world follows a kind of dream logic where you mostly just have to shrug your shoulders and accept how strange it all is. But that's how Miyazaki's storytelling works and has done so for the majority of his career. He doesn't rely on classic narrative tricks, he dreams things up at whatever pace he wants and feels like. He wraps his reflections and philosophies in his unique Miyazaki mythology, in his unprecedentedly detailed animation, to master that dreamy cinematic language he has been honing for so many years. The story in The Boy and the Heron therefore becomes more of an imaginative rumination on one's own existence than a structured fairy tale, and if that sounds more like your cup of tea, the film will suit you just fine.

The Boy and the Heron

On the other hand, if you're not an serious fan of Miyazaki's unique storytelling style, The Boy and the Heron can be very difficult to grasp. I can definitely understand critics who think that the film ends a bit too abruptly and that Mahito is a bit too passive to be the main character. At the same time, The Boy and the Heron is more of a meditative experience that is meant to stick around long after the credits have rolled. It's the kind of film that catches you off guard after you've digested it all, let it marinate while you sleep, and one day pinch your heart a little. The Boy and the Heron hits you, eventually, one way or another.

How do you live? Yes, you. As you may have noticed, The Boy and the Heron makes for a lot of discussion and reflection. It's a Ghiblish little riddle, wrapped in classic Miyazaki crunch, dripping with mystery and life lessons. A little hard to chew at times, but also tasteful, imaginative and Miyazakian to the very end.

08 Gamereactor UK
8 / 10
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

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