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The Boy and the Heron(君たちはどう生きるか)

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Japan · 2023
2h 5m
Director Hayao Miyazaki
Genre Adventure, Animation, Drama

A year after twelve year old Mahito’s mother dies in a hospital fire, his father moves the family to his new wife’s countryside estate. Mahito struggles to adjust to his new home while being continuously pestered by a mysterious grey heron. With the heron’s help, the boy ventures into a world of both the living and dead to find his mother.

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Conner Dejecacion Profile picture for Conner Dejecacion

I'd call it Miyazaki's most abstract movie - I found myself grasping at compelling themes but the film doesn't give them up so easily. As usual, the film is gorgeous, and the fantasy elements light up the childhood wonder neurons like a Christmas tree. (Highlight: Fascist Parakeets). Mahito is the rare Ghibli boy - he marches resolutely forward with a look of grim determination on his face for swaths of the movie, but there's a tenderness underlying his efficiency that softens him up for us. For a movie set in WWII Japan, the conflict is remarkably mute in the film. Mahito's father is an industrialist, able to bring home canned delicacies and cigarettes from his job at the warplane factory. Both Mahito and his father don't shy away from violence and are quick to reach for weapons but their soldier-like gusto falters in the face of the fantastical. We see images of marching infantrymen and tanks but Miyazaki reaches for a quieter sort of tragedy - one where an empire falls with a whimper - maybe this is how four year old Miyazaki saw things. The titular Heron is similarly hard to pin down. I'm not sure what he's supposed to represent, if anything. He plays comedic relief, and his relationship with The Boy seems to take side stage with The Boy's relationships with other characters. Lots of cute little guys! (Just had to put that out there, wouldn't be Ghibli without cute little guys) There's something Grecian about The Boy and The Heron. Miyazaki's no stranger to Alice in Wonderland-style adventures, but this one's lighter touch and heavier subject matter tinges the whole experience with a kind of Euyrdice-and-Orpheus sadness, like a watercolor painting where the water is mixed with tears. In loss, Mihato gains something valuable. I'm just not sure we're given full access to what that is, but maybe we don't need to.

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