Review by Dan Skip Allen
The Boy and the Heron is directed by Hayao Miyazaki, the director of such films as Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, and The Wind Rises, among others. He was rumored to have retired, but after ten years, he's back with another animated film. This time, it's of a more personal nature, taking the form of a love letter to his son.
Mahito Maki (Soma Santoki) is a young boy who moved to a new home in a new town with his father, Shoichi (Takuya Kimura) after his mother died in a fire. He is not settling in very well because of that. When he sees a Grey Heron (Masaki Suda) while exploring the grounds of his new home, it tells him that his mom is still alive. The bird convinces him to go to an old rundown tower. When he enters, he ends up in a strange underground realm.
Miyazaki has made his films in the past with many different kinds of themes. He has made films about nature, natives, and the environment in his career. Those are just a few of the things his movies are about. The fact that they are animated means they have to be relatable for children as well as adults. Many animation filmmakers have been taking this approach in the last thirty years or so.
This film deals with adult themes as well. There are themes of life, death, and reawakening. These are complex themes for kids to understand, but their parents can explain them when they are older. Like many of Miyazaki's films, he creates fantastical worlds his characters — often kids — can explore. While in these worlds, the characters are exposed to wild and wacky situations but often have an important meaning in the context of the film or the outside world to some extent.
This movie has talking birds, old wise men, and little girl sidekicks. All of these things make the store more accessible to audiences, but they don't take away from the wacky nature of what the director/writer is doing. Themes of creation are very evident as this man is very old and uses his work to ponder death. These are tough topics to deject, but they are important for people of an older generation. Miyazaki knows how to weave these themes into his stories, even if they are adapted from other material.
The animation isn't anything to write home about, but it's similar to many other films Miyazaki has made in the past. Hand-drawn animation has all but gone the way of the dodo bird, but this man keeps reviving it. It's not about the animation that matters, though — it's more about the story and the themes he is trying to infuse into his films that matter. The animation has been better in some of his older films.
I'm not the target audience for this movie, but I always give every film I see a fair shake. This one isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I found it half of a great movie. The first half was very good, and I was totally invested in this story. The second half goes off the rails when the boy enters this weird underworld realm. It gets too existential for me and drags on for too long.
This version of The Boy and the Heron wasn't dubbed, so something may have been lost in translation. As a fan of Miyazaki's films, I'm disappointed that this one wasn't more to my liking. The themes were confusing and complicated to understand. I enjoyed the first half but not the second half. The animation was good but not great. This is just not one of the better films from this incredible filmmaker.
The Boy and the Heron hits theaters on November 22.