The Boy and The Heron Review: A Messy Swansong

It is difficult to try to review a film that has been out in other parts of the world for a few months already, and even more so when that film just won an Oscar. Making things even more difficult is the fact that it may indeed be the last film the director actually makes.

This, however, is the task that lies ahead of us, as we recently saw a local screening of Hayao Miyazaki’s 2023 Academy Award Winner for Best Animated Film, The Boy and The Heron.

It is slated to hit local cinemas on 19th April, and we got to see the original Japanese version with English subtitles. So here are our spoiler-free thoughts on The Boy and The Heron – potentially Hayao Miyazaki’s final ever film.

You’re gonna carry that weight

This movie is heavy, both in terms of its subject matter and the events surrounding its release.

Much has been made of the fervour surrounding Studio Ghibli films in the past, and for good reason, as they have long set the standard in terms of Japanese feature-length animated films. That said, the movies do seem to get a pass and placed into iconic status fairly quickly, regardless of critical or commercial success.

After watching The Boy and The Heron, we cannot help but feel reputation and the narrative around Miyazaki calling it quits after this film, is what has garnered it so many plaudits.

There are several ideas in the film that never fully mature. We start with our protagonist, a 12-year old boy named Mahito. The opening scene of the film sees him awaken to tragedy as a fire rages through parts of Tokyo prior to World War II.

Mahito’s tragedy is designed to mirror that of Japan’s as both are engulfed in a new existence. For Mahito it involves moving to a new town and trying to start life anew, all while struggling with his personal loss amid strange new surroundings he does not fully comprehend, nor wants to.

In fact, his inability to reflect on loss and confront it leads to him acting out in personally harmful ways, as he would rather deal with physical pain instead of the emotional one.

The opening few stanzas of the film therefore present some interesting concepts, but by the end, they are not quite developed in a meaningful way that audiences can connect to, and at points feel a little force-fed.

We can see the outline of what Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli try to convey, but there is not the usual care that the animation house is known for in terms of fleshing out ideas, helping to guide viewers along the way, or making you truly feel for the characters on screen.

As much as we wanted to get engrossed in the world building of The Boy and The Heron, it simply does not grab you in the same way that previous efforts have like Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, or Princess Mononoke.

We understand that each film should be viewed in its own right, but as mentioned, a Ghibli film carries certain weight, and when you think that this movie won an Oscar while others did not, it becomes quite puzzling.

A Ghibli retrospective

What is undeniable, however, are the visuals that are presented.

The aforementioned fire raging through Tokyo for example sticks with you in terms of how visceral it feels both for Mahito and the audience. In usual Ghibli fashion, both the real world and fantasy world have beautiful little quirks that only Ghibli can do, and there were more than a few vistas that you could simply watch for hours.

In many ways, the visual style of The Boy and The Heron is peak Ghibli, giving viewers a few elements from past films. The character design is reminiscent of The Wind Rises (another one of Miyazaki’s supposedly final movies), food is akin to Howl’s Moving Castle, the fantasy world could have been an extension of Tales from Earthsea, and the soundtrack is similar to that of Spirited Away.

While it seems to borrow from past works, The Boy and The Heron never feels complete, and at the end, you may not have the satisfying finish you were hoping for, as it feels like the final 20 minutes of the movie is rushed and a little sloppy at times.

If this indeed to be the last Miyazaki film, it does not do his legacy justice in our opinion, and when you look back at his works a decade from now, will likely figure in the bottom half in terms of quality.

The iconic director may have picked up an Oscar for this film, but we think other past efforts are far more deserving than this one.

We don’t want to come across as sour, but given how much build-up there was surrounding The Boy and The Heron, it simply did not deliver in the satisfying way we hoped it would.



About Author


Related News