The Boy and the Heron

Studio Ghibli legend Hayao Miyazaki returns for one last film that helps remind us what makes his beguiling brand of animation so special

Film Review by Rory Doherty | 18 Dec 2023
  • The Boy and the Heron
Film title: The Boy and the Heron
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Soma Santoki, Masaki Suda, Ko Shibasaki, Aimyon, Yoshino Kimura, Takuya Kimura, Keiko Takeshita, Jim Fubuki, Sawako Agawa, Karen Takizawa, Shinobu Otake, Jim Kunimura
Release date: 26 Dec
Certificate: 12A

There exists such a vast variety of personal audience relationships with Japanese animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli – and as English-speaking Westerners, we know less of how they’re received by their domestic Asian audience. This means The Boy and the Heron, the first film in ten years from Studio co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, the man responsible for a lot of people’s favourite films, will have to face a cavalcade of pre-set expectations. What do those who grew up with Ghibli want from a near-retirement-for-real-this-time Miyazaki?

To Miyazaki’s credit, he seems only concerned with looking inward, building a fantasia that riffs on the Ghibli staples of intimidating wizards, wartime grief, and uber-cute critters to tell a lopsided but potent story of legacy and escapism. After the death of his mother, young Mahito (Soma Santoki) enters a world where life and death circle each other in colourful fluidity, where he must follow a transmorphic, shrieking heron (Masaki Suda) to learn the truth about his heritage and future.

Miyazaki is clearly concerned with how what’s come before and what’s to follow are never truly separate entities, and explores this concept with grace and passion. This fantasy world does feel a bit crowded, however, although to be fair, you will find similar issues with structure and pacing in even the most iconic of Ghibli’s output. But when the deft and delicate denouement hits, it doesn’t just remind us of classic Ghibli – it helps us understand why these strange and beguiling films are so magical.

Released 26 Dec by Elysian Film Group; certificate 12A