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The Boy and the Heron Movie Review

Movie Review

by Alayaweber

The Boy and the Heron is a story about life and death, dreams and reality. It’s a journey through a mystical world where a heron leads the way. Mahito moves from Tokyo to the countryside after a fire destroys the hospital that his mother was working at, and is harassed by a heron who seems to know about his mother.


The last feature from Academy Award winner and Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, The Boy and the Heron is a deeply personal work about grief, loss, and the power of forgiveness. Inspired by Genzaburo Yoshino’s novel, the primewire film focuses on Mahito Maki, a 12-year-old boy who loses his mother in the firebombing of Tokyo and is sent to live with his maternal aunt (Yoshino Kimura) and her children in a small rural town.

Reeling from survivor’s guilt and wracked by violent nightmares of his dead mother, the boy is haunted by a heron that flies to his window and caws for help. Following its lead, the boy enters an abandoned tower where he discovers a world of secrets, magic and multiverses. Though it occasionally bogs down in narrative complexity, The Boy and the Heron is luminous, a lovely valedictory from a filmmaker who was always invested in how we treat one another. The animation is exquisite, capturing ocean waves rolling in and out, moonlight shimmering on water, realistically moving tree branches, resplendent night skies full of meteors and stars, and a myriad of vivid colors.


Unlike the more whimsical tales Miyazaki typically crafts, The Boy and the Heron explores a darker world, one populated with malignant creatures that seem to have sprung out of some eldritch dream. It also puts its main character in harm’s way, a trope that isn’t new to his work and serves him well here.

After losing his mother to a hospital fire in Tokyo, 12-year-old Mahito Maki moves with his father Shoichi to her hometown in the countryside. There he is pestered by a gray heron and follows it to a nearby derelict tower, which is rumored to be cursed.

The film debuted in Japan earlier this year to critical acclaim. Distributor GKids has released the English-dubbed trailer, which features voices from Christian Bale, Dave Bautista, Florence Pugh, Mark Hamill, Willem Dafoe and Karen Fukuhara. Luca Padovan, Mamoudou Athie, Tony Revolori and Dan Stevens round out the rest of the voice cast. The film will open in theaters across the US on December 8. Check out the trailer below.

Production Design

Bringing together fantasy, history and personal reflection, The Boy and the Heron is a visual feast that sparks wonder and awe at every turn. It’s a testament to the genius of Hayao Miyazaki, whose unrivaled hand-drawn craft has never looked better.

After his mother’s death in a World War II hospital fire, Mahito Maki (Soma Santoki) and his father move to an estate in the countryside where they are cared for by a group of old maids. Soon, he is befriended by a gray heron that haunts the house, who speaks to him in a croaky, wheezing voice and leads him toward a derelict tower his great-uncle built on the property.

While the film takes time to get going, and is often preoccupied with those battling grief, The Boy and the Heron eventually opens up into something much larger and even apocalyptic. The story may be semi autobiographical for the 82-year-old director, and the characters and their plights could not be more reflective of our own.

Voice Acting

The film opens with a harrowing scene of Tokyo’s firebombing, recalling another early Ghibli masterpiece, Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies. Mahito, the film’s young protagonist, is soon forced to move from his city home to the countryside by his father, Shoichi Maki (Takuya Kimura). Once there, he finds himself drawn to a gray heron that flies into his house and guides him to an abandoned tower in his new town.

GKIDS’ English-language release of The Boy and the Heron will feature an impressive ensemble voice cast, including Hollywood heavyweight Christian Bale as Shoichi Maki, Florence Pugh as Mahito, Dave Bautista as the titular heron, Gemma Chan as his aunt, Karen Fukuhara as the character he refers to as his “stepmom”, Willem Dafoe as the Herons leader and Mark Hamill as the man-eating Parakeet King. Robert Pattinson will also be heard voicing the heron, though his role is less prominent than that of his co-stars.

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