"The Boy and the Heron" Review

The Boy and the Heron

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Christian Bale, Dave Bautista, Gemma Chan, William Defoe, Karen Fukuhara, Mark Hamill, Robert Pattinson, Florence Pugh
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Genre(s): Drama
Rated: PG-13 (For some violent content/bloody images and smoking)

Hayao Miyazaki has made so many universal masterpieces, that it feels like he will always be there to do so. Sadly, time is a marching drum that comes for us all, and even Miyazaki knows that his time is finite. He has admitted in interviews of his failings as a father in the past, expressing that he is much more comfortable expressing himself through his art than he is in his social life. When it dawned on him that his life was coming to an end, he thought of his grandson and the feelings of loss he might feel.

"The Boy and the Heron" (adapted loosely from Miyazaki's favorite book "How Do You Live?") was made for his grandson. He wanted to tell his grandson that while his grandfather is going away soon, he is leaving him this movie. What is that movie? Most readers will not know because the work was so personal, that it was decided there would be no previews nor commercials to advertise the film. Only a vague theatrical poster with a date was released, and for audiences to discover what it was about they would have to buy a ticket.

While American distributors GKids have a little more freedom in regards to how they will sell the movie, as a film critic I believe it is my duty to honor these wishes and not discuss the story in any serious length in this review. Not only did walking into this movie blind create a more emotionally intriguing experience, but as I watched the film it truly dawned on me that this is one of those classic cases where famous film critic Roger Ebert would claim "it's not WHAT the movie is about, it's HOW the movie is about!"

Indeed, "The Boy and the Heron" is a quagmire of a film, one where things like "plot synopsis" couldn't come close to capturing how this film is about its subject. It is the most deeply personal film Miyazaki has made. His previous film - "The Wind Rises" -  was also a personal film where he reflected on his art and the impact it had on the world. That film, though, was still based on a real man and scenario, one in which Miyazaki reflected his views on his career through.

Here, Miyazaki is opening up about himself in ways that he never has before. If the movie is indeed a letter to his grandson, I suspect his grandson will understand his grandfather in ways that few young boys ever will. His grandson is being given a history lesson of his grandfather's life, the struggles he had growing up during a war (something he himself may have to deal with if current events continue to escalate), how his grandfather viewed his family, and even his grandfather's views of death.

For Miyazaki knows that death is coming. It will come and the worlds he has created, the visions he gives us, will fall apart and go away. For the time being, we have another day with him, but the time of a world without Hayao Miyazaki is coming, and there is nothing we can do to stop it. We will mourn the loss of his vision, however, Miyazaki himself seems unconcerned. While there is a sense he wants his bloodline to continue the family legacy, he is perfectly content to let them live their own lives and forge their future however they see fit.

Does this make "The Boy and the Heron" too unapproachable for the average Joe? Perhaps. It is the one film I've seen of his where understanding the man will greatly help you understand the movie. That said, even if you don't understand EXACTLY what he is saying (or what the images are conveying), there is no denying that you FEEL what his heart is expressing even if you can't pinpoint exactly what that is! If this is his last film does Hayao Miyazaki go out on top? To approach the movie that way seems disingenuous; he is going out saying what he wants to say, pouring out his soul in a way that he never has before. Whether he makes another film or not, I am honored that he respects me enough as a viewer to be so candid about his life.