The boy and the heron

The boy and the heron
Original title:Kimi-tachi wa Dō Ikiru ka
Director:Hayao Miyazaki
Running time:124 minutes
Release date:06 december 2023
After his mother disappears in a fire, Mahito, an 11-year-old boy, has to leave Tokyo to live in the countryside in the village where she grew up. He settles with his father in an old manor house on a huge estate, where he meets a grey heron who gradually becomes his guide and helps him, as he discovers and questions, to understand the world around him and unravel the mysteries of life.

Mulder's Review

Animation maestro Hayao Miyazaki has once again graced audiences with his transcendent storytelling and visually enchanting world in The Boy and the Heron. This cinematic masterpiece marks Miyazaki's return after a decade's absence. It offers not only a captivating narrative, but also a profound meditation on life, mourning and the never-ending quest for truth.

Set against the backdrop of the Second World War, the film introduces us to Mahito, a young boy confronted with the profound loss of his mother during an air raid in Tokyo. His father, an important figure in an aviation factory, takes refuge in a rural estate inherited from Mahito's late mother. As they try to find stability amid the remnants of war, the film subtly explores the complexities of family dynamics and the repercussions of trying to rebuild shattered lives.

Miyazaki's meticulous attention to detail is evident from the outset, with every frame executed with precision, bringing to life a world that seems remarkably inhabited. The animation is a visual feast, showcasing Ghibli's signature style while introducing new elements that elevate the film to unparalleled heights.

The story takes a fantastic turn when Mahito encounters a mysterious grey heron who becomes both a guide and an enigma, leading him to an ancient tower with the power to cross different eras and dimensions. The transition between the harsh realities of war and the fantasy realms of Miyazaki's imagination is seamless, inviting the audience on a journey that transcends the boundaries of time and space.

One of the film's most remarkable features is its musical score, composed by the brilliant Joe Hisaishi. Dramatic, echoing piano chords reinforce the emotional resonance of the story, underscoring the grandiose nature of Mahito's quest and the cosmic nature of the challenges he faces. Hisaishi's score serves as a narrative force, guiding the audience through the film's ups and downs in a symphony of emotions.

The Boy and the Heron weaves in humor, a trademark of Miyazaki's storytelling. The anthropomorphized animals, especially the heron who ends up transforming himself, provide moments of levity, while the parakeets, despite their frightening appearance, provoke unexpected laughter thanks to their singular antics with oversized kitchen utensils.

In true Miyazaki tradition, the film introduces a heart-warming new creature: the warawara. These ingeniously adorable beings not only contribute to the film's visual charm, but also play a poignant role in the unfolding story, adding another layer to Miyazaki's rich tapestry of fantasy worlds.

Beneath the surface of fantasy and wonder, The Boy and the Heron tackles the weighty themes of life, death and creation. In a semi-autobiographical fantasy, Miyazaki offers a profound exploration of maturation in the face of relentless grief and conflict. The film hints at the possibility that this may be the 82-year-old director's last film, imbuing every frame with a sense of finality that weighs heavily on the narrative.

The depth of the story is reinforced by Miyazaki's masterful use of metaphors and symbols. The tower, an ancient structure linked to a man driven mad by an insatiable thirst for knowledge, becomes a symbol of the delicate balance between creation and chaos. Mahito's journey through this fantastic realm, encountering the shadow people, the pelicans and the enigmatic warawara, mirrors our own collective journey through the complexities of existence.

As the film progresses, it becomes clear that The Boy and the Heron is not just a whimsical fantasy, but a contemplative exploration of Miyazaki's creative legacy. Confronted with the spectre of his own mortality, the director reflects on the imperfections inherent in both fantasy and reality. The tower, built by a man consumed by knowledge, becomes a metaphor for the isolation and complexity of a creative mind.

The film's tone, while embracing the imaginative abstraction in which Miyazaki excels, never loses sight of its deep-rooted emotional core. The ending, wrapped in metaphor, takes the viewer further into Mahito's journey, leaving room for interpretation while conveying a palpable sense of finality. The choices Mahito makes to shape his future resonate with the audience, mirroring our own existential contemplations.

Beyond the fantastical elements and weighty themes, The Boy and the Heron is imbued with Miyazaki's characteristic charm. The film pays homage to Miyazaki's legacy of memorable creature animation, introducing the warawara as a new favorite among Studio Ghibli's beloved characters. The grunting of the grannies, reminiscent of the dwarfs in Snow White, adds a touch of warmth and familiarity to the story.

In the film's second act, Miyazaki deftly navigates temporal displacement, introducing rules that remain just out of reach, creating a sense of unpredictability and enchantment. The world-building reaches its climax, populated by aerial species vying for supremacy, including the inspired creation of a fascist army of parakeets led by a Mussolini-like king. Miyazaki masterfully links these fantastical elements to broader metaphysical and existential questions, inviting audiences to question their own place in the world.

The Boy and the Heron also presents a meta-commentary on the nature of storytelling and the burden of creativity. Mahito, navigating a tapestry of family history and personal destiny, becomes a vessel for Miyazaki to explore the responsibilities of creators in shaping the worlds they bring to life. The film, with its complex narrative layers, provokes reflection on the interconnectedness of storytelling and the profound impact it can have on both creators and audiences.

As The Boy and the Heron draws to a close, the film's final moments linger in the mind, leaving an indelible mark on the viewer's heart. The themes of mortality, legacy and the enduring power of stories resonate long after the credits have rolled. Miyazaki's potential farewell to cinema is imbued with hope, suggesting that the Earth will persist long after the storytellers are gone, leaving behind a legacy that transcends time and space.

The Boy and the Heron is a testament to Miyazaki's unrivalled artistic talent. The film is a blend of familiarity and novelty that consolidates his legacy as a master animator and storyteller. It is a poignant, visually stunning and emotionally resonant journey into the fantastical realms of Miyazaki's imagination, inviting audiences to reflect on the beauty and complexity of life, the power of storytelling and the enduring magic of Studio Ghibli.

The Boy and the Heron
Writtand and directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Produced by Toshio Suzuki
Starring Soma Santoki, Masaki Suda, Aimyon, Yoshino Kimura, Shōhei Hino, Ko Shibasaki, Takuya Kimura
Cinematography : Atsushi Okui
Edited by Takeshi Seyama
Music by Joe Hisaishi
Production company : Studio Ghibli
Distributed by Toho (Japan), Wild Bunch Distribution (France), 
Release date : July 14, 2023 (Japan), November 1 2023 (France), December 6 2023 (United States)
Running time : 124 minutes

Seen November 13, 2023 at Gaumont Disney Village, Room 3 seat A19

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