In the trailer of The Boy and the Heron, a young boy, with visible shock and fear on his face, is running through a dark, destroyed street among destruction yelling “Mother.” The scene unfolds during World War II when his mother’s hospital catches fire and he’s trying to race towards the street to her, but the hospital collapses and she dies. The trailer then unfolds into a teaser of legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki newest film. Returning from retirement after a decade, this film is a gift to the world with what he claims will be his final masterpiece in his beautifully animated and poignantly told tale of The Boy and the Heron. Set to release this December, the film promises to be a touching exploration of childhood, connection, and self-discovery.
A Boy, a Heron, and a Mysterious Tower
The semi-autobiographical story follows a young boy named Mahito, who enters a mysterious, abandoned tower in search of clues about his missing mother's whereabouts. Inside this forgotten tower, overgrown with vines and foliage, Mahito discovers a world of magic which includes talking furniture, secret passages, and mystical artifacts. But most importantly, he befriends an elegant heron who acts as his guide on this journey.
Through their adventures together, Mahito comes to learn the importance of friendship, bravery, and believing in oneself. Though at times dark and frightening, the tower also contains beauty and wonder. Each room presents a new challenge or piece of the puzzle for Mahito to solve. Miyazaki artfully crafts a tale that feels both timeless and deeply personal.
The core of the narrative revolves around Mahito's relationship with the wise heron, who becomes a mentor and parental figure to the boy. Their unlikely friendship reminds viewers that human connections can be found in unexpected places. Miyazaki highlights the parallels between the heron teaching Mahito to fly emotionally just as Mahito helps the heron learn to fly literally again, after an injury to its wing that left it grounded in the tower.
The Legendary Hayao Miyazaki’s Final Film
As a filmmaker renowned for his lush, hand-drawn animation and fantastical tales, Hayao Miyazaki utilizes Japanese folklore and mythology to create an enchanting setting. The abandoned tower evokes senses of mystery and discovery, similar to the popularly known tale of Alice falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. These two scenarios both reflect the magic and wisdom of ancient cultures and times long forgotten in today's modern world.
Miyazaki, 82, has a long and successful filmography that has helped him to attain international acclaim as a masterful storyteller. His career started in 1963 as an animator at the Toei Douga studio, and was subsequently involved in many early classics of Japanese animation. Over the last 60 years, he has won 79 awards and been nominated 48 times. One of the most signature themes in his work is exploring the connections between humanity and nature. The natural world is portrayed as precious and alive and we see this theme in The Boy and the Heron as Mahito must learn to respect and live in harmony with the elements to truly grow from within. His friendship with the wise heron represents the potential for cross-species connection and understanding.
Many speculate that Miyazaki is looking to conclude his legendary career on a reflective note with this poignant tale. The studio he co-founded, Studio Ghibli, has produced some of the most seminal and beloved animated works such as My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle have captured the imaginations of children and adults globally.
Perhaps most interesting is the way Miyazaki's films are heralded not just for their stunning visual artistry, but for their ability to speak to universal themes and emotions in ways that resonate across ages and cultures. The magic in his movies feels like it could be real, hidden just around the corner or behind the tree in your backyard. He makes the mystical and fantastical relatable. The touching friendships and coming-of-age journeys of his young protagonists feel like shared memories and ones that will exist for others in his industry to replicate and develop on.