The Boy and the Heron

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5   MUST must see SEE

The Boy and the Heron
dir-scr Hayao Miyazaki
prd Toshio Suzuki
voices Soma Santoki, Masaki Suda, Takuya Kimura, Aimyon, Kou Shibasaki, Yoshino Kimura, Shohei Hino, Jun Kunimura
English voices Luca Padovan, Robert Pattinson, Christian Bale, Karen Fukuhara, Florence Pugh, Gemma Chan, Mark Hamill, Dave Bautista
release US 22.Nov.23,
UK 26.Dec.23
23/Japan Gibli 2h04

pattinson bale pugh
london film fest

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The Boy and the Heron
At age 82, Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki has made yet another gorgeously imaginative adventure. Every frame of this odyssey looks spectacular, as the film refreshingly refuses to fit into any expected boxes, finding wonderfully surprising textures and rhythms in each scene. And the animation itself is also fiercely creative, combining various formats and forms to continually dazzle the audience, even as the story moves us deeply.
At the end of World War II, young Mahito (Santoki) loses his mother in a hospital fire, then moves to the country with his father (Kimura), who marries his mother's sister Natsuko (Kimura). As he settles into his new home, a large grey heron (Suda) begins to taunt him, luring him to an overgrown old tower on the grounds. When he sees Natsuko disappear inside, Mahito goes after her, entering a strange portal to a magical parallel realm where he has a series of incredible encounters that redefine his identity and alter his future.
Intriguingly, the original Japanese title translates as "How Do You Live?" This reflects Miyazaki's ambitious approach to narrative, which always takes surreal routes that resist logical explanation, requiring the audience to let its moods wash over us. He artfully devises imagery and ideas that nudge the viewer to creatively internalise the story. So we find our own surprising connections along the way. And this movie is a feast for the eyes and the soul, touching on the rich theme of how we relate to history.

Even the most outrageous characters have a grounded quality to them, which informs Mahito's matter-of-fact reaction to, for example, a grizzled man living inside a heron. Or flocks of marauding pelicans or hungry, giant parakeets. There's also swashbuckling sailor Kiriko (Shibasaki), who helps Mahito navigate this fantastical otherworld, the young princess Himi (Aimyon), who teams up with him, and his mysterious grand-uncle (Hino), the lord of this mystical tower.

Visually, the animation is often breathtaking, using backgrounds that look like watercolours or oils, augmented by dazzling effects. Miyazaki's inventive approach to both storytelling and imagery continually catches us off guard, refusing to allow us to passively observe Mahito's odyssey. So scenes ripple with ideas that push us to look at ourselves in relation to our society and our communal past. And even more importantly, it gently nudges us to take responsibility for our collective future.

cert pg themes, violence, language 15.Nov.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall