The Boy and the Heron is Hayao Miyazaki through and through. Partly inspired by the legendary filmmaker’s childhood experiences, this strange, sweeping, and poignant epic is yet another reflection of his fondness – and aptitude – for telling big-hearted stories in the most compelling, emotionally resonant ways. It doesn’t reach the creative or emotional heights of, say, My Neighbor Totoro or Princess Mononoke, but it does carve out its own place in the director’s filmography.
It certainly isn’t his tightest script, but it isn’t trying to be. Miyazaki has lots to say here, and while The Boy and the Heron doesn’t always pack the punch it undoubtedly intends, it stands as yet another stunning testament to the writer/director’s knack for offbeat fantasy.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper Miyazaki flick without a smattering of visceral imagery to offset its rampant whimsy. An angry red nose poking out of the heron’s beak? Disturbing, but totally on-brand. More fascinatingly, it subverts the world-building rule ‘early and often’ by keeping its magic system mostly nebulous. The film only divulges aspects of its magic system that feel relevant to the characters and their respective journeys, presenting Miyazaki with plenty of opportunities to throw ideas at the wall without worrying whether or not they’ll stick. Some of them don’t. But the depth and earnestness undergirding nearly every moment make Miyazaki’s swan song (?) a worthwhile addition to Studio Ghibli’s library.
THE BOY AND THE HERON opens in US cinemas on December 8th, followed by a UK release on the 26th