Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

“Boy and the Heron” discovers the world hidden behind ordinary existence


Spoiler Warning 

“The Boy and the Heron,” an animated fantasy film directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, immerses viewers in a surreal realm beneath the surface of everyday life in a manner fitting of Studio Ghibli classics like “Spirited Away.”

Titled “Kimitachi wa Dō Ikiru ka” in Japanese, which directly translates to “How Do You Live,” the movie is a 2023 Japanese animated fantasy drama produced by Studio Ghibli and written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Although referencing Genzaburō Yoshino’s novel of the same name, the film’s original story looks into the supernatural world beneath our daily existence.

“The Boy and the Heron” is set in World War II and follows Mahito, a Japanese boy whose mother died tragically forcing him to move to the countryside with his father and new stepmother. While navigating the difficulties of a foreign school and trying to adapt to his new environment, Mahito meets an odd buddy in the form of a gray heron by the riverbanks. 

With its exploration of basic themes such as bravery, loss, and self-discovery, the movie provides access to a fantastical world hidden beneath our everyday existence. The story resonated with me as I sat in the theater, evoking deep emotions and thought-provoking ideas.

The film urges viewers to think about how people deal with loss and emotional hardship, for instance, when Mahito confronts his pain through self-inflicted harm in a pivotal moment in the film. Events like these serve as a reminder that “The Boy and the Heron” is more than just a fantastical tale—it’s a platform that explores the intricacies of the human condition.

As the film progresses, Mahito’s journey through this magical area becomes a melancholy investigation before ultimately becoming a touching narrative that encapsulates universal themes of perseverance and development. “Boy and the Heron” deftly weaves a complex web of feelings by fusing personal struggles, wartime tensions, and the heron’s enchanted bond. This nuanced exchange prompts viewers to consider the transformative power of friendship and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

Through Mahito’s encounters with the heron, viewers can witness the power of empathy and compassion as he learns to respect and understand the heron’s needs and struggles. The image poignantly conveys the fine line between fragility and power, serving as a reminder that even in the most dire situations, growth is always possible.

This movie is Miyazaki’s tender farewell to his audience. The elderly man balancing the shapes that make up the parallel world represents Miyazaki, the creator of numerous exquisite universes. The young child grasping the piece means Miyazaki’s symbolic handing over of the keys to us, the viewers, at the film’s climax, despite the involvement of profit-driven individuals, symbolized by the king parakeet. 

In addition, the image provides a unique window into Miyazaki’s personal history since he was born during World War II and may have experienced significant life experiences due to it. The name Mahito, which means “real person,” is noteworthy since it seems to correspond with the audience’s connection, suggesting a subliminal critique of their participation in this cinematic farewell. 

Regardless of its beauty or comfort, the film tackles saying farewell to something one has made. It explores the choice to accept life’s inherent suffering and adversity instead of relentlessly pursuing comfort and power. This story was a personal revelation that completely disproved everything that had come before it, serving as a fitting cap to the artist’s career.

The movie has its flaws, as the ending feels rushed and the pacing starts a little slow. But I had a great time with the captivating visuals, expertly drawn characters, and overall encounter. The Spinning Globe song at the finale by Kenshi Yonezo and Joe Hisaishi is an astounding example of musical brilliance. Throughout the entire movie, Hisaishi’s soundtrack consistently captured and held my interest.

The precise attention to detail is astounding; evocative of “The Wind Rises,” ordinary, daily events and activities are given extraordinary clarity and consideration. While some may dismiss these scenes as dull or uninteresting, they are essential in establishing the backdrop and immersing me in the film’s universe. 

Even the simplest motions, like a pocket knife clicking open or a lever activating a bike brake, demonstrated the animation’s remarkable mechanical precision. At moments, it was as though Ghibli was showcasing their skill—even seemingly unremarkable actions, like characters putting on or taking off clothes, were exquisitely animated.

The film is at its best when it evolves into non-ordinary moments, the most spectacular of which is the opening sequence—a dream scenario in which the protagonist navigates through a terrifying, blurred crowd to reach his dying mother. This is reminiscent of the bombing of Kobe scene in “The Grave of the Fireflies”. 

As (probably) Miyazaki’s last film, “The Boy and the Heron” perfectly summarizes his work with many stylistic references to his past Ghibli Films. As a director and writer, he’s now passing the metaphorical blocks to his fans to shape their own life just as Mahito did.

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