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  • Leila Lucas

Carnivore Parakeets and Head Trauma — The Boy and the Heron

The Boy and the Heron is Hayao Miyazaki’s newest and reportedly final film. Released in December of 2023, I went to see it this weekend with my dad after hearing such good reviews of it. I’ve always loved Studio Ghibli films such as Howl’s Moving Castle and My Neighbor Totoro, so I walked into the theater excited for what I was about to see. Let’s just say that the movie was not what I was expecting.

The Boy and the Heron follows the story of a young boy, Mahito Maki, who is living in wartime Japan. Early in the movie, he loses his mother to a fire caused by a bombing, and moves to the country to live with his new stepmother, who also happens to be his aunt. Mahito soon receives information from a local gray heron that his mother may still be alive. Although he ignores the call of the heron, his stepmother Natsuko is kidnapped, and Mahito must follow the heron into a mystical world to save her. There, he meets an ensemble of characters such as Lady Himi and Kiriko, who aid him in his quest, as well as help to defend him from the carnivorous Parakeets. Throughout the movie, Mahito begins to accept the death of his mother and eventually returns to his world.

When I first walked out of the theater, I did not understand any of this. To be honest, I still don’t completely comprehend the entire story. It’s only after countless hours of scrolling through reviews, summaries, and reddit threads that I began to make more sense of the movie. After doing a little research, I saw that a lot of the aspects of the movie correlated to events in Miasaki’s life, such as the burning cities in Japan during WWII and the relationship between the boy and his father. There is also much subtext in the movie, addressing some of the main themes such as loss and moving on from it.

My biggest problems with the movie were plot holes. Although the movie started off at a reasonable pace, it grew stagnant after about ten minutes, dragging along in the human realm without furthering the plot. There is one instance where Mahito hits his head with a rock, causing a large head injury that does not heal for quite some time. Although some of the motives behind that are explained, that plotline is never really wrapped up, just disappearing once the heron begins to talk to Mahito. Although this was not the intention, it begs the question of whether the subsequent events were a dream or hallucinations due to head trauma. I also thought that once Mahito enters the other world, many of the characters that were introduced were rushed, or with no explanation given. For instance, one of the crucial plot points of the movie are the blocks stacked by Mahito’s great uncle, but we are not privy to that information until the third act of the movie. I just felt that the pacing of the movie was off, with too much time spent on minute details without explaining some of the major events.

The animation is beautiful and characteristic of most Miyazaki films, but my overall reaction to it was a bit lackluster. I’d be willing to rewatch this movie, but preferably without

paying for it. With a runtime of 124 minutes, it’s not exactly a short film, so I might

just ponder the movie before another viewing. In my opinion, it’s one of those movies that makes  more sense a couple of days after watching it, rather than during the viewing experience. Still, if you’re interested in a highly metaphysical movie with beautiful animation, I’d recommend The Boy and the Heron by Hayao Miyazaki.

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