Animated Feature Film Film Reviews The Oscars 2024

Review: The Boy and the Heron. The latest Ghibli trip

  • Release year: 2023
  • Director: Hayao Miyazaki.
  • Producer: Toshio Suzuki.
  • Screenplay by: Hayao Miyazaki.
  • Cinematography: Atsushi Okui.
  • Music by: Joe Hisaishi.

Synopsis: on his quest to find his stepmother, a kid falls into a strange universe.

Shotgun Commentary: another weird AF Ghibli film, you either love them or you don’t, this one is no exception.

Natsuko (Yoshino Kimura) and the grannys looking for Mahito (Soma Santoki). Source: The Boy and the Heron (Hayao Miyazaki, 2023).


The Boy and the Heron is a trippy adventure story about a kid, Mahito (Soma Santoki), who begins talking to a grey heron shortly after moving in to his stepmother’s house. The heron turns out to be quite mischievous. It messes with him until he falls into a trap, ending up in an alternative universe. In said universe, he learns the ins and outs of morality, as well as meeting different versions of people he knows from his own reality.

Plot holes or opportunities?

The protagonist’s main aim is to find his stepmother, Natsuko (Yoshino Kimura). He believes that she is trapped in that alternate world. Whether that’s true or not is never answered, as aren’t so many other questions that will pop out in your mind as you are watching. It is unclear if this is a way to encourage the audience to make their own conclusions, or just lazy writing.

The first, and more optimist option, actually has a reasoning behind it. Other than wanting to think positively of the creator, that is. At one point of the movie, it is discovered that the Great-Uncle created and controls the strange universe through a mountain of geometric figures that he piled in the shape of a tower. This could be a metaphor for the spectator’s experience. You are given a certain amount of information and characters, which would be the geometric pieces. You are also shown the rules of that reality, which would be the shape of those pieces. How you want to build your tower, in this case, the answers to complete the narrative, is completely up to you.

Mahito. Source: The Boy and the Heron (Hayao Miyazaki, 2023).

If this was the intention, it is quite a fun puzzle to solve. The possibility of infinite answers is promising as well as entertaining to explore alone or in discussions with other people.

Messy storytelling

Until you know all the relevant facts, the narrative hides plot twist after plot twist and might get a little too confusing. However, once you know everything, all the pieces fit. The only factor that still feels off would be the music. While it is generally quite pleasant and gorgeous, as most soundtracks of Ghibli’s films, sometimes it has its own mind. The dissonances between what is going on and the flux of the melody clash and create an uncomfortable pause where the viewers are pulled out of the film with the thought of where a sound came from and, have I missed something?

Nothing new under the sun

The animation style is very characteristic and, at this point, every animation fan will recognise it in a second. The characters are identical to the ones in previous films of the studio so, sadly, there is no innovation there. The insane magical moments and complete disregard for the laws of physics are still very much on brand, so also nothing new there either. After all, why fix what is not broken.

The grannys. Source: The Boy and the Heron (Hayao Miyazaki, 2023).

Curiously, there is a creature that is fascinating and hilarious to look at, though: the Wara Wara. These are basically the Adipose, or Adiposians, from Dr Who. They even float in a beacon of light at one point. The resemblance is such that you will be half expecting to see the Doctor and Donna running around in the back of the scene.

All in all, The Boy and the Heron is an extremely entertaining movie that explores the themes of grief, morality, reality and belief in a very engaging and original way. Big recommend for all animation fans.

Advice to take from this movie:

  • If you know something is a trap, maybe don’t go head first into it…?
  • Never trust an animal that talks to you.
  • Actually, if an animal talks to you right after you’ve hit your head, go to the doctor ASAP.
Mahito hugging Himi (Aimyon). Source: The Boy and the Heron (Hayao Miyazaki, 2023).

What’s your take? Are you an animation fan? Have you watched The Boy and the Heron? Don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below, or leave a message in my contact page! For more reviews and cinema-related articles, check out the rest of my blog! 😀

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