October 18, 2023

“The Boy and the Heron” is a Return to Form for Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli (Review)

Legendary animation director Hayao Miyazaki has “retired” several times, most recently in 2013 after his historical masterpiece The Wind Rises hit theaters worldwide. Even though he supposedly reversed his decision after working on a short film in 2018 for the Ghibli Museum, it’s worth mentioning that many of those reversals happened after his son Goro Miyazaki made films for Studio Ghibli that are not as well-received as his father’s are. Goro’s Earwig and the Witch, the first 3D animated Ghibli feature, was harshly panned by critics and audiences alike, and thus, Hayao must come out of retirement once again to make another masterpiece.

Image courtesy of GKIDS

That masterpiece is
The Boy and the Heron, Miyazaki’s first film in ten years and inspired by his experience reading the 20th-century novel How Do You Live?, which factors into the film’s story. I was lucky enough to see The Boy and the Heron at this year’s New York Film Festival, which marked its United States premiere, and as a Ghibli fan, I couldn’t have been more excited.

My excitement didn’t just stem from the fact that Miyazaki is a visionary who has a stark skill with the art of storytelling. Even the least interesting Studio Ghibli productions — bar Earwig and the Witch and Ocean Waves — are simply delightful, creating worlds that are easy and pleasant to immerse yourself in. Even Grave of the Fireflies, a dour tale about starving World War II civilians in Japan, paints an effective portrait of perseverance and heart. If nothing else, it’s about humanity, and The Boy and the Heron continues that trend effortlessly.

I hesitate to give even a brief story summary — when imbued with a certain type of magic, Studio Ghibli films tend to wash over you like a warm bath, especially when you’re experiencing them for the very first time, cleanly and fully. It’s not just a film, it’s an experience, and should be treated as such.

The Boy and the Heron
transports you through time and across fantasy worlds, introducing you to creatures both familiar and fantastical. It’s emotional, deep, and nuanced, with compelling characters and excellent twists. It takes its place in the pantheon of both Ghibli and broader animation with the confidence and power few can successfully wield. Hayao Miyazaki remains undefeated.

The Boy and the Heron releases in US theaters December 8.

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