The Boy and The Heron Honest Review

Last movie by Miyazaki?

It’s been a long time since Ghibli dropped a 2D film, the last one being “When Marnie Was There” If you exclude The Red Turtle which was a collab of sorts – then of course there is Earwig and the Witch is using a 3D esque style that came out back in 2020. The Boy and the Heron (also known as ‘How Do You Live?”) has been in production for 7 years so its been a long wait for many big fans of Studio Ghibli, now personally I have a mixed view of the studio, on one end they have lot of good films like Nausicaa, Princess Mononoke and Howls Moving castle, but there are quite many which feel very average to me.

I have talked about the fact that Ghibli has always self-plagiarized in the designs, the main character in this movie is quite similar to many other protagonists we have seen in previous films. While the soundtracks and animation are aesthetically high in Ghibli films, I never really considered them as storytelling masterpieces – so I don’t belong to this group who thinks Ghibli is peak animation in Japan or the world in that sense.

Understanding The Boy and The Heron

This movie isn’t exactly 100% straightforward with all of its story elements, you might leave the cinema a tad confused regarding the family tree of the protagonist Mahito. I Don’t want to go full spoiler mode here so I’m not going to address that all I will say is that there will be some time dilution/time travel-esque elements here that mix things.

In 1943, amid the Pacific War, 12-year-old Mahito Maki faces a tragic loss when his mother, Hisako, perishes in a Tokyo hospital fire. A year later, Mahito’s father, Shoichi, owner of an air munitions factory, remarries Hisako’s younger sister, Natsuko. Seeking refuge from the war, they relocate to Natsuko’s countryside estate, accompanied by a cadre of elderly maids. As Mahito grapples with grief in the unfamiliar town, he contends with a persistent grey heron on the estate and navigates a strained relationship with the now-pregnant Natsuko.

In his pursuit of the enigmatic heron, Mahito stumbles upon a dilapidated and sealed tower in the nearby woods, prompting him to fashion a bow and arrow from the heron’s feathers. Following a confrontation with schoolmates, Mahito deliberately inflicts injury upon himself. During his recovery at the estate, he discovers a copy of the novel “How Do You Live?” with his late mother’s handwritten note inside, intended as a future gift. His reading is interrupted when the maids frantically search for the ailing Natsuko, whom Mahito glimpses heading toward the mysterious tower.

Guided by a granduncle’s architectural legacy, Mahito and a maid named Kiriko reach the tower, constructed by the elusive relative. The heron, acting as a provocateur, asserts that Mahito’s mother is alive and implores him to enter the tower to rescue both her and Natsuko.

Like multiple other Ghibli films, it isn’t exactly a straight-up fantasy movie nor is it a straight-up Slife of life either – it juggles around different themes from reality to fantasy. There is a lot of filler in the beginning which breaks down the daily life in the countryside – this goes overtly long and takes away from the fantasy aspect of the film in my view. Not to mention the key character development of some side characters.

Yeah… Mahito you are dull and boring

Ive made critiques in the past of Ghibli spamming the same character archetypes and visual designs over and over again – it is a form of self-plagiarism, we are not touching any new ground here with The Boy and Heron. Mahito has no complexity, barely any development nor personality in a lot of ways he’s not even talking that much through the movie it’s kinda like this pseudo-stoic feature. He shows a bit of Gary Stue tendencies like he’s not going through any struggles through the film outside of his mother’s death, then he just conveniently follows the path laid to him and completes all tasks with ease basically.

There are a bunch of side characters here including Himi, Kiriko, and Parakeet King who are all introduced halfway through the film making them have almost no character development in the movie, it’s very messy in that department. Natsuko is very present in the beginning of the film and the very end part, but at the same time, I don’t get why they didn’t explain in the beginning that she was the sister of Mahiko’s mother aka an Aunt.

The obvious other major character here is the Gray Heron, who is a kinda of secretive being who does not fully explain who he is and what exactly are his motives. He’s doing a couple of things in the film that didn’t make any sense to me whatsoever and if Mahiko had entered the Tower by himself he technically wouldn’t had any purpose in this film, all the journey could have been done with Himi or Kiriko for that matter.

Sounds and Visuals are Great

Whilst I’m critical of the bad pacing, character development, and bit whacky plot – there are elements that are masterwork level which are the animation and the soundtrack. This is a pretty standard-level Ghibli animation we’re talking about, especially the beginning of the movie shows a very impressive flames sequence that I’ve never seen before in any animation, it was the most experimental aspect probably here.

The soundtrack which is the thing that gives this film an eerie and more magical feel – created by Joe Hiraishi who has worked on many other Ghibli films as well, really did great work this time especially the title track is really good and some scenes with heron and this playing were the highlights for the film for me. There is a great Spotify remix of the song, which I would recommend checking out if you were digging the soundtrack like I was.

A lot of Anime purists are also going to enjoy the fact that there isn’t a rinse of 3D in this film, at least I wasn’t able to see any with the most obvious things like cars and planes. Speaking of planes there are some of them here too since Miyazaki is obsessed with stuff like this in general due to his father being a pilot something I can relate to I guess.

Magnum Opus & Overhype of the Movie

I saw a few reviews coming in making claims like that this is Miyazaki’s best film ever and people giving full ratings for this film. I think this is a flawed movie on many fronts as I’ve discussed, but there are lot of redeeming qualities here too – when I compare this to Princess Mononoke for instance that was a more emotionally connecting film and the characters flourished a lot more.

Granted I’m not a Ghibli fanboy, but still I would rank this Top 5 Ghibli film perhaps, but that’s with caviat that I find most of their content somewhat average. Plus I have to see a few films in their portfolio that I have yet to watch, but maybe it’s worth doing some Top 5 Ghibli Movies list at some point here to give more insight into my thoughts on the matter.

Perhaps we should also ask if was it only due to the heavy animation time that this film took so long to make or if was it due to them struggling with how to execute the film altogether and decide what type of story It should be. Nonetheless it’s a good film that starts out kinda boring but picks up more as time goes on, but good bang for the buck I guess.