Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Japanese voice cast: Soma Santoki, Masaki Suda, Ko Shibasaki, Aimyon, Yoshino Kimura, Takura Kimura, Karou Kobayashi and Shinobu Otake.
Length: 2 hours 4 minutes
Release date in Norway: November. 24th 2023
Hayao Miyazaki is one of Japan’s greatest animation directors, if not, one of the worlds most talented of all time. He has left behind a remarkable legacy, creating the academy award winning films like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Princess Mononoke. Rumors had it saying that his newest film The Boy and the Heron would be the last work in his career as a director, so as a studio Ghibli fan I was extremely excited, and my expectations were high! This film like many of his earlier is also adapted from a book, but with some twists here and there for the artistic freedom. This time it was the novel “How do you live?” from 1937, written by the Japanese author Genzaburō Yoshino that got to be shown on the bigger screen. It will be interesting to tell if this was a well-done adaptation or not, but so far it all sounded promising!
The film takes place in Japan during the Pacific war in 1943. It starts off with a dramatical opening that shows the hopelessness and trauma that our protagonist, the young boy Mahito (Soma Santoki) experiences when he sadly loses his mother in a tragic hospital fire due to the firebombing in his hometown. I thought that this would set the tone for the rest of the film, so I was already captivated! A year later, Mahito’s father, Shoichi (Takuya Kimura), remarries his late wife’s younger sister, Natsuko (Yoshino Kimura) and they all move into an old house located in the country sides of Tokyo. Mahito Struggles to adjust to this new lifestyle while his dead mother still visits him in his nightmares. Not shortly after his arrival at the new place, a strange and mysterious looking heron (Masaki Suda) comes for visits. The heron starts trying to get Mahito’s attention by calling out his name, telling him that he knows where his mother’s whereabout is, which then leads Mahito to wander into the old, abandoned tower in the forest, eager to get some answers from this aggravating heron.
Visually the film is beautiful with its bright colors and elements of surrealism, just like all of Miyazaki’s previous works, so this did not come as a big surprise. The film takes on the themes such as coming of age and learning how to deal with grief and loss. It is a personal, semi-biographical film inspired by Miyazaki’s own childhood memories. It takes its time to let you linger in these quiet, atmospheric and dream-like scenes, which creates an isolating and lonely feeling which I really liked for the most part.
However, I feel like this time Miyazaki’s film did not pull on my heartstrings the way I had hoped for. I think a big part of that had to be the lack of emotional resonance I felt towards the characters and the story, it just wasn’t as interesting as I thought it would be. I was preparing myself for an emotional roller coaster while getting all drenched in tears, but nope, nothing of that happened. The film felt way too slow paced, quiet, and dragged out, and had a bit too predictable or safe of a storyline. I missed more action and elements of surprise! And when it comes to the music, Joe Hisaishi, call me demanding, but I know you can do better! The calm piano was indeed beautiful and suitable for the film, BUT at the same time I also expected something different, something more dramatical, like the soundtrack you hear in the trailer!
Another thing that is worth mentioning, IGN came out with these surprisingly news: Miyasaki had trolled us yet again! The Boy and the Heron wasn’t supposed to be his final film after all! He is said to already be in the making of his next film, that old crazy workaholic. If I am going to be completely honest, I kind of had the thought lingering in the back of my head while watching the film that maybe this would happen. I mean it is one way of promoting your film! I’m just telling you, that man will never quit making films as long as he is still wandering on this earth, it’s his lifelong quest. So, in that sense I’m also kind of glad that this wasn’t his last film, which makes me optimistic and curious about what stories he will tell with his next film.
Overall, I think that if you are a big Ghibli fan (or just an animation fan in general) you will most likely still enjoy the film for its beautiful and artsy visuals! I think this is the type of film where people will have very different opinions and experiences after leaving the cinema. Some will think it was fine, and others will absolutely love it!