Saturday, December 16, 2023

The Boy and the Heron

Movie Name:
The Boy and the Heron
Year of Release: 2023
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Christian Bale, Dave Bautista, Gemma Chan, Willem Dafoe, Karen Fukuhara, Mark Hamill, Luca Padovan, Robert Pattinson, Florence Pugh, Mamoudou Athie, Tony Revolori, Dan Stevens, Barbara Goodson, Denise Pickering, Melora Harte, 
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 10
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review
The genial Hayao Miyazaki has returned after the magical "The Wind Rises", with what can be considered another one of his all time masterpieces (and a companion to "Spirited Away"). The narrative focuses on 12 year old Mahito, whose mother is killed in a hospital fire in Tokyo (this during the Pacific War in 1943). His father who works for an air munitions factory, marries his late wife's younger sister Natsuko. Mahito and Shoichi (his father) soon move to the countryside to be close to Natsuko, who is pregnant. Mahito has a tough time adjusting to his new life, and has some trouble in school. He injures himself purposefully, which turns out to put his life in danger. While recovering Mahito notices a heron keeps coming by, and talking to him. Mahito in the meantime has uncovered a tower nearby that is supposedly off limits, and that his family had blocked access to, due to its strange nature. In the meantime Natsuko becomes ill, and soon disappears. All the maids in the property, start seeking her out, the same going for Natsuko. Mahito and one of the maids eventually wander off to the Tower, where the magical heron appears once more, but this time Mahito fires an arrow through his beak, which transforms him into a diminutive birdman. A wizard appears and orders the birdman to guide Mahito and Kiriko (the maid) in their quest for Natsuko.
Watching a Hayao Miyazki film is a unique experience, where one is literally transported to a universe that is very much his own. His films have long maintained a common thread throughout them, where they typically take place during wartime, or in the aftermath of war, where the world has been scorched, and people have to survive in a world that is nothing like it used to be. Nature has taken over, and in a way, is teaching humans to live more purely and without savagery. In these stories, technology is also one of the roots of evil, something that can be witnessed in "Future Boy Conan", "Nausicaa" or even "Castle in the Sky". These films of course tie with the director's own childhood experiences of living in aftermath of World War II. Another undercurrent of his features is the spiritual world (or fantastical), and how it can profoundly impact characters' destinies. That has been the case for instance of "Spirited Away", "Porco Rosso" or even "Howl's Moving Castle", all features which deal with ghosts, magicians and alternate realities. These are realities that at times are demonstrative of the grotesqueness of humans, but where kindness is always rewarded, as is selflessness. All these topics are perfectly coalesced in "The Boy and the Heron", where the film has various layers to consume, a family that has to rebuild itself in the aftermath of a tragedy, a devastating war, and a spiritual world nearby, that is far more than it seems. It's a film where the central hero once again has to redeem himself, emotionally mature up, and salvage his family, all this in a universe that is unaware of. It's a journey populated with phenomenal characters and details, one that never cease to impress. Mr. Miyazaki once again proves why his universe is so uniquely crafted and why the narratives he creates are simultaneously humorous, emotional, thrilling, and ultimately unforgettable. The animation is of course stunning, and this is a film worth savoring over and over.