Keith’s Movie Korner: ‘The Boy and the Heron’ soars into the surreal

By Keith Walther | Rose Law Group Reporter

Deep and philosophical is not what one would expect from an animated film, but that’s exactly what the audience gets. “The Boy and the Heron” is the newest anime feature film from the legendary mind of Hayao Miyazaki. This is anything but an ordinary coming of age story, riddled with metaphoric imagination that is rather challenging to decipher.

With World War II as the backdrop, a young boy named Mahito (Luca Padovan) is forced to learn the price of war when his mother is killed in the firebombing of Tokyo. On top of dealing with the crippling grief of losing his mother and moving away from his home in Tokyo to the countryside, Mahito’s father Shoichi (Christian Bale) decides to marry the mother’s younger sister Natsuko (Gemma Chan) who is also pregnant. Understandably, this creates a cold detachment in the boy that fuels him towards a fantastical quest to find his mother.

When his new stepmother disappears, a peculiar Grey Heron (Robert Pattinson) convinces Mahito to follow him into a magical tower that acts as a gateway to a world shared by the living and the dead. An epic journey ensues in this surreal landscape of bloodthirsty pelicans, giant war mongering parakeets, and a powerful young woman who can summon fire from her fingertips. Uncovering the truth about this strange world is only part of the objective, because Mahito must also learn the truth about himself.

“The Boy and the Heron” looks to be the final film of visionary anime creator Hayao Miyazaki, and it will likely result in his fourth Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, racking up nominations for “The Wind Rises,” “Howl’s Moving Castle,” and his only win for “Spirited Away”. Largely considered to be amongst Japan’s greatest animators of all time, Miyazaki creates perhaps his most personal and introspective film yet at the age of 82.

This semi-autobiographical film appears to be pure fantasy on the surface, but everything is layered in meaning and symbolism. It’s about life, death, and rebirth, as well as the resilience of the human spirit. The renowned director fashions a world that mirrors the human condition, both the beautiful and the ugly. Think of this world as the realm somewhere between life and death. For example, there’s a scene showing pelicans viciously eating young new souls on their way to merging with newborn babies in the real world. This represents how unfortunate events like miscarriages prevent successful births.

Miyazaki, reflective of his own mortality, wanted to create a film as a touching message to his grandson that he may not have much time left, but he’s leaving him this movie as a farewell. The problem is that it becomes so heady and complex at times, which makes it difficult for viewers to follow and understand all the various meanings. This threatens to overwhelm and lose the audience altogether, but he rewards those who stay invested culminating in an ending that ties everything together and makes sense of these seemingly random elements of fantasy.

Having a cast of A-list actors and actresses supply their vocal talents for the English dubbed version certainly helps this film travel well and gain more exposure to audiences across the world. Christian Bale, Robert Pattinson, Florence Pugh, Dave Bautista, and Willem Dafoe are just some of the recognizable voices that give these dynamic characters life.

While children will not be able to appreciate the depth of the topics, fans of this filmmaker and Japanese anime in general will undoubtedly love this film. “The Boy and the Heron” is a cerebral, imagery laden project that will leave you deep in reflective thought. It may very well steal the Oscar for Best Animated Feature from “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” Be warned, if you’re not prepared to invest your brain in this convoluted story, it could very well leave you frustrated and annoyed.

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