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The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The Boy and the Heron: an abstract masterpiece

“The Boy and the Heron” is touching yet confusing Ghibli movie about a boy grieving his mother while exploring a fantasy land.

From giant cat buses to parents turning into pigs, Studio Ghibli has brought unique and stunning stories to the screen since 1985, and its newest film is a culmination of 38 years of experience.

“The Boy and the Heron,” written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, was released on Dec. 8, 2023. It is the latest film from Studio Ghibli, a Japanese animation studio founded by Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki. The studio is known for its intricately hand painted media. I have come to expect Studio Ghibli movies to be beautiful, emotional and bizarre, but “The Boy and the Heron” took all three to the highest level.

“The Boy and the Heron” follows 12 year old Mahito (Soma Santoki) as he grapples with the loss of his mother (Aimyon) after she is killed in a hospital fire in Tokyo. After her death, Mahito and his father (Takuya Kimura) move to the countryside where Mahito’s father remarries his late wife’s sister (Yoshino Kimura). Mahito then enters into a fantasy world where he is informed by a talking heron (Masaki Suda) that his mother is still alive, so he desperately searches for her.

Miyazaki succeeded in creating a visual masterpiece with his latest movie, capturing feelings in a way that photographs never could. The hand painted backgrounds of the countryside with dancing grass, the inside of a mysterious tower and a sprawling sky with fluffy clouds made me feel the powerful grief and love radiating from the setting as if I was in each scene alongside the characters.

I’ve seen many complicated Studio Ghibli films, but this one left me the most confused. While I found myself struggling to follow the strings of a complex plot, when Mahito travels into another dimension these tangled strings still managed to pull at my heart. My advice for anyone who plans to watch “The Boy and the Heron” is to let the movie wash over you. Once I was able to let my emotions guide me through the film, I stopped trying to analyze each moment, making for a more powerful experience where I didn’t have to worry about following the plot.

There was one clear theme throughout the film: Grief. The first scene of the film strikingly captures loss as I was hurled into a town ablaze with fire, a boy running, distress shattering the screen and the sounds of his ragged breaths echoing in my ears. These first moments when Mahito loses his mother dictate the rest of the film as fire becomes a prominent symbol of death and its vicious flames continue to be seen by Mahito even after he is far from any smoke. Mahito’s original desperation still clings to him on his journey in the fantasy world as he hopes to find his mother, and his grief is powerful as his journey represents the path he takes to finally accept the death of his mother.

While the film had high stakes and emotional action, Miyazaki contrasted it with quiet moments like the ticking of a clock and the rippling of water as a bird landed in it. My favorite slower scene featured adorable fantasy creatures called Warawaras that looked like oversized marshmallows. Their scene was short but sweet, and watching Warawaras slowly float into the night sky on their way to the real world should make anyone smile.

One part of the film that didn’t fully meet my expectations was the heron itself. I expected the heron to have a deep, complex relationship with Mahito. However, they ended up with a surface level connection and the heron became just a comic relief. While I applaud Miyazaki for trying something new, I wish the heron played more of a part in Mahito’s journey.

“The Boy and the Heron” may be a confusing film, but it is so much more than just a movie. It is a master class in emotional storytelling. In a world where artificial intelligence is on the rise, the completely hand-drawn film “The Boy and the Heron” has once again proven to me that only people can write truly human stories.

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