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Film: The Boy and the Heron (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Cast (Voices): Soma Santoki, Masaki Suda, Aimyon, Yoshino Kimura, Takuya Kimura, Shōhei Hino, Ko Shibasaki, Kaoru Kobayashi, Juin Kunimura
Writer/Director:  Hayao Miyazaki
Rating: 3.5/5
Runtime: 124 min

Japanese Master animator Hayao Miyazaki’s (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) latest, The Boy and the Heron, is yet another great work that is both visually impressive and emotionally resonant. Among the greatest artists alive, director Hayao Miyazaki, already has an impeccable legacy that the world appreciates. The Boy and the Heron marks Miyazaki’s return after a ten-year hiatus, ostensibly, to make a film for his grandchildren to remember him by.The story which appears to have autobiographical components, is a little too deep for the regular animation film target groups. The complicated narrative seamlessly delves on childhood issues dealing with loss of a parent, other familial bonds, and adapting to a major displacement.

Set during World War II, we see in the opening minutes itself, a fire engulfing the hospital where Mahito’s mother works as a nurse. We then see the young Mahito racing through the Tokyo streets, ignoring the words of his father, in hopes of getting to the hospital in time to save his mother. But it’s too late. Mahito, thereafter has to deal with his father getting married to his mother’s sister, Natsuko and their consequent move to her estate out in the country. Out there, Mahito is heckled by a grey heron that keeps poking at him incessantly. The heron  speaks to the young Mahito, telling him that he knows that his mother is still alive. He follows the bird into the woods and discovers an abandoned, sealed tower. Then one fine day, Natsuko goes missing. Mahito suspects the heron is in the know of her disappearance. He decides to go into the forbidden tower to seek answers.

It’s not a straightforward narrative. The fantasy elements in the telling are typical of a Miyazaki picture. When Mahito enters the tower he finds himself in an alternate universe that is both extraordinary and freakish. Bubble-like spirits, Warawara, that become souls of newborns, Giant parakeets who are enemies of humans, and many other strange discoveries confront him. This imaginative story about acceptance, redemption and healing has Miyazaki’s trademark elements of magic, folklore, stoic characters, spirits and guides, flying elements and characters running through claustrophobia inducing spaces. This insightful film about human copability may not be as epic as his earlier works but it still manages to fascinate and entertain. For the audience, the alternate world may seem a little confusing but for the curious Mahito it’s a magical, enthralling place to get lost in.

Mahito’s journey exemplifies the experience of loneliness and pain through heavy symbolism and abstract ideas. The lesson here is that no matter how much pain you are going through or how lost you feel, there is always family to help us embrace it all and make us stronger. It’s these bonds that make us stronger and help us achieve our potential as a human being.

Miyazaki’s film heralds the resilience of children and how despite great odds, Mahito learns to cope with distress that even mature adults find difficult to manage. Mahito may not be developmentally equipped but his imagination allows him the levity to think up scenarios that help him adapt to the great loss and displacement while experiencing the stages of grief. The creatures we see represent the difficulties he experiences in expressing his emotions. With The Boy and the Heron, Miyazaki is basically paying stirring tribute to a child’s ability to come up with coping mechanisms that help him spiritually and emotionally while grieving. This is an unusual profound adventure that is both bewitching and informative.

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