The Boy and the Heron | Fresh Takes
Fresh takes and film reviews from new voices in film.
Kitty, Reuben, Ben, Madeleine & Kitty
19 Dec 23
Fresh Takes is a space for the latest generation of film lovers to share their views and opinions on some of the great films we are showing at Picturehouse cinemas.
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Here are some Fresh Takes on The Boy and the Heron, a semi-autobiographical fantasy about life, death and creation, in tribute to friendship, from the mind of Studio Ghibli's Hayao Miyazaki.
Kitty, 17Kitty is a Scottish student based in the borders with a passion for film. A musician herself, she enjoys films with striking soundtracks, as well as emotive dialogue and powerful cinematography.
When I was queuing in the lobby of my local Picturehouse waiting to see Hayao Miyazaki's The Boy and the Heron, I was struck by the diversity among my fellow viewers; students, elderly people, families (I went with my father). I felt strangely comforted by the bubbling atmosphere, as I stood with the knowledge that we had all been brought together for the same purpose.
If there's one thing Miyazaki has mastered, it's the ability to perfectly encapsulate the human experience in a mere two hours.
Miyazaki's swan (or should I say heron?) song follows Mahito, a young boy dealing with his grief over his mother's tragic death. Throughout the film, the juxtaposition between meaningless violence and the innocence of youth is expertly dealt with. A few particularly powerful moments use no dialogue at all, accompanied by Joe Hisashi's incredible orchestration. When compared to the blaring air raid siren in the opening scene, the silence in these scenes causes them to become even more poignant.
I have to mention the seamless beauty of the animation: the natural backdrops and anthropomorphised animals are much more than just picturesque, they are idyllic. It's works of art like this which remind me just how incredible a medium animation is.
I think, however, the most important message throughout the film is even if it's scary, it's okay to grow up and move on.
Reuben is a Film Studies graduate with a particular interest in arthouse cinema and film theory. You can find more of his writing here.
The latest film from Studio Ghibli, the internationally beloved Japanese animation studio, The Boy and The Heron comes from director Hayao Miyazaki, who had previously announced his retirement. This film, his first in ten years, is his most personal and contemplative yet.
The naturalistic first half draws upon Miyazaki's wartime upbringing: while his father worked at an aeroplane factory and his mother was sick, Miyazaki was evacuated to the countryside.
Mahito is a guarded boy in a challenging environment; his politeness hides his grief. The film captures the child's unique perspective, his sense of wonder as well as his faults, granting him agency and complexity.
The fantastical second half draws upon motifs present throughout Miyazaki's filmography – though with threatening parakeet soldiers and sometimes-visceral animation, it is closer to the unsettling atmosphere of Princess Mononoke than the cosiness of My Neighbour Totoro. However, it is not without cute creatures, warm humour, and a mouth-watering culinary scene typical of Ghibli.
While its fantasy world and dream logic may be complex, the film's question is simple: faced with suffering, how do we overcome our malice, live for others and create a more harmonious world? Though hopefully not his final film, The Boy and the Heron would be a worthy farewell from one of animation's most significant filmmakers.
Ben Fitzsimons, 24
Ben is a creative writing graduate currently living in London. He works as a content writer in the marketing industry.
From Hayao Miyazaki, the director with about as many final films as Elton John has had farewell tours, comes his most personal film yet.
The Boy and the Heron delights in making you second-guess what you're watching. Many Studio Ghibli films introduce a second fantasy world inside a more grounded 'real' location. In this film, there's an invisible third world: Miyazaki's autobiographical land.
All three of these worlds interact and bleed into each other, and despite the magical elements, the story never loses that grounding in reality. This sincere, personal tone makes the more emotionally charged moments of the film hit even harder. This blurring of reality also extends to its animation. Fire warps and blurs the environment like it's burning the animation frames in our world in real-time.
It's as good as you'd expect from the most renowned animation studio in the world, but I still found myself consistently surprised by some of the techniques on display. Whether or not The Boy and the Heron proves to be Miyazaki's last work remains to be seen, but there is definitely a feeling of finality to it. This will likely become the film which defines the way people remember Miyazaki's story – talking birds and magical worlds included.
Madeleine Black, 23
Madeleine Black is a writer and performer. She works at a Picturehouse Cinema in North London. You can find more of her opinions on Letterboxd (@madeleineblack).
Hearing the title of Studio Ghibli's latest feature, The Boy and The Heron, you might anticipate something akin to Aesop's Fables. The title sounds like an analogy: simple, small-scale, secluded. It prepares you in no way for the vast dimensions of what will follow.
The titular young boy, Mahito, is struggling to deal with his mother's death. Experiencing the film through his perspective, we feel the strange injustice of his circumstances. He is forced to move to a new town and accept that his father has re-married his mother's sister. Embracing his solitude, Mahito wanders the natural reserve that surrounds his new home. Soon enough, he discovers an abandoned tower and a talking heron, and from here, Mahito is transported to a dream world somewhere between the unconscious and paradise.
It's a beautiful story that refuses to be wrapped up neatly. Studio Ghibli's characteristic reverence for the way that children look at the world is perhaps at its most clear here. Mahito exemplifies that earnest curiosity so specific to being a child. As the film becomes more abstract and surreal, we the viewers are re-made as children, and we move with Mahito in the same style. Insistently curious, even though we know we will never fully understand: this is Miyazaki's portrait of grief and childhood intertwined. Take your thinking hat off for The Boy and The Heron – it may confuse the brain at times, but speaks with beautiful clarity to matters of the heart.
Kitty, 25, is a recent MA Architecture graduate at the RCA. She is currently volunteering as a production designer for a UAL LCC graduate film. She always looks out for the narratives hidden in the space and costumes in films.
With The Boy and the Heron, you're promised a visual feast. Masterful storyteller Hayao Miyazaki establishes his worlds beautifully and convincingly, and with the music by Joe Hisaishi, the audience is immersed within seconds into the story of Mahito: a boy in Pacific War-era Japan who enters a fantastical world alongside a talking grey heron.
As is often the case with the films of Studio Ghibli, whole families can take something from it. Adults can dissect its complex analogies and historical references, while younger viewers can laugh at the magical character details – a heron doing a forward flip and dancing like a jester, or a human-like parakeet holding extra-large cutlery as a weapon. For me, it's always very nostalgic to watch Studio Ghibli films: the adventure of Mahito in the mystical world, and its iconic animated style, very much reminded me of Spirited Away.
The film also draws parallels to The Wind Rises with its World War II setting, but Miyazaki commits to seeing the world and these conflicts through a child's lens. His attention to detail, even for the supporting characters, is jaw-dropping: my highlight was the gaggle of old ladies whose parallel-world doll counterparts share their facial features and hair decorations. I'd also be remiss not to mention the adorable warawara – these egg-shaped soul creatures, with their cutely coordinated facial expressions, rival the Minions.
Perfect for everyone, from Studio Ghibli fans to history enthusiasts to families, The Boy and the Heron is an endlessly enjoyable watch.