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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'The Boy And The Heron' Review: Miyazaki Hayao's Fantastical Adventure Goes Above & Beyond

Mahito standing outside in front of a house with a bandage on the right side of his head

Do not ever, and that truly means never, look into the gift grey heron's mouth because something else might be lurking inside. Writer-director Miyazaki Hayao returns to the canvas of feature films after a decade with his sprawling fantasy adventure The Boy And The Heron (君たちはどう生きるか in Japanese), which follows a tween boy named Mahito (Santoki Soma) from Tokyo who loses his mom Hisako in a tragic fire. Some time later, Mahito and his dad Shoichi (Kimura Takuya) move to live in a countryside mansion as Mahito struggles to deal with the loss and changes in his life, including his new stepmom Natsuko (Kimura Yoshino) who's also Hisako's younger sister. Soon after, Mahito keeps being hounded by a talking grey heron (Suda Masaki) who ends up leading him to a universe-bending journey that might give Mahito a chance to find Hisako or Natsuko whom herself has gone missing.

There's been some noise about ''Heron'' being partly autobiographical, which is a curious notion considering that the film's own struggles reflect those of Mahito's in the sense that the opening 30 minutes or so are shakier than most of the material that follows. Miyazaki's writing confusingly rushes story beats and character introductions in a way that can lead a viewer, such as yours truly, being rather unengaged with Mahito's arc or his connection to his family members. Miyazaki and editors also struggle with length of scenes during the middle part, though the scripting begins to expand on characters much more and notably Mahito's exploration of grief, imagination, bravery and acceptance starts to take shape.

That, however, doesn't mean that there isn't something to hold onto throughout the adventure as the production design led by art director Takeshige Yōji brings the storytelling to life in a vibrant, ingenious and gorgeous manner, from the mansion that never feels like a home to a tower that's almost like a rocketship into the unknown, or minor set details in Himi's (Aimyon) house, a young woman who Mahito meets on his travels. Composer Joe Hisaishi fills those realms and rooms with a score that is as tender as it is eccentric. Delicate, high notes of the piano combined with a whimsical choir and sharp movements of violins and violas always remind you that all of this could be just a child's imagination but they still provide a touch of drama that lets you know that the characters' feelings are very much real.

The last 30 minutes are when Miyazaki and his collaborators genuinely take flight as you can deeply feel the personal intention and passion put into the film. It's an experience and a thrilling manifestation of inquisitiveness all at once that underscores all of the aforementioned themes quite profoundly. The road to get to that place is very unique and strange, absolutely, but it is also compelling.

Smileys: Score, ending, production design, originality

Frowneys: Pacing

Para-keep those creatures away from us.


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