Hayao Miyazaki is back with what is reportedly his final film in the recently released, The Boy and the Heron. I had the privilege of checking out this film for myself, so let’s dive into the beauty of Studio Ghibli’s latest addition and see what makes this a worthwhile venture.
The story follows our protagonist Mahito Maki as he journeys into a magical world, guided by a talking heron, and learning about himself along the way. ‘How do you Live’ was the original translated title in Japan and having read this name, I feel that it says a lot more about what this film intends than the somewhat ambiguous Western released title. This film is not your easy going, fun adventure such as Kiki’s Delivery Service, another Ghibli classic, but rather something that holds far more weight, looking at parents, and even Miyazaki’s career and development. The hero almost acts as a representation of Miyazaki himself and dives into personal elements of his history, replacing imagery with that of a more fantastical element. We weave Miyazaki’s autobiographical persona through Mahito and that is just so well achieved.
This is a film that is best watched with little to no knowledge of the plot. It’s better to just go into it and follow the journey, seeing the breathtaking hand-drawn animation for yourself. In Japan, only a poster was released, and so, a blind viewing was almost a given. We do have trailers here in the west, but again, it’s best to avoid them, because discovering the fantastical world(s) of The Boy and the Heron for yourself is one of the film’s many joys.
In typical Ghibli fashion, the character designs and fluidity of motion is just gorgeous, with some really excellent stand out scenes, both dramatic and heartfelt and comedic and silly.
The film references a 1937 novel by Genzaburo Yoshino, yet takes on a new world of its own. Thematically, it challenges our emotions, looking at life and death, the natural journey of self-discovery and a reflection on the uncertainty of the world around us. The film is deeply complex in its structure, despite often feeling like a thrown together series of encounters between the characters. I was shocked by how much this film spoke to me and made me think about myself and for that, I really have to applaud it.
This brings me to the music, and a score by Joe Hisaishi, known for his long-standing collaboration with Miyazaki. The music manages to capture and complement the beauty of the animation whilst also giving a strong sense of wonder to help the fantastical points. There is a clear symbiosis between the audio and video that act as a means of support to one another.
In recent times we have seen a surge in 3D, stop-motion-esque animations in the west, styled like Spider-Verse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and last year’s Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. This success has sparked a renaissance in the medium, yet 2D hand-drawn animation is almost a thing of the past. Looking at how well The Boy and the Heron has done at the Japanese box office might perhaps offer some support for the traditional animated arts on this side of the world. Only time will tell.
That said, in closing, should you check out this new Studio Ghibli feature? Due to the sheer stunning display featured on screen, and the worlds that it takes us to, I would have to say, yes. Just make sure that you are ready to be challenged, because this film really knows how to make you think.