The Boy and the Heron (2023)
December 7, 2023 11:41 PM - Subscribe

A young boy named Mahito yearning for his mother ventures into a world shared by the living and the dead. There, death comes to an end, and life finds a new beginning. A semi-autobiographical fantasy from the mind of Hayao Miyazaki.

US cinematic release is today; the UK has to wait until the 26th December. Your last chance to see a Miyazaki's final film, one he came out of retirement to make. (Maybe...)
posted by protorp (26 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It came out a few weeks ago here in France, and I don't think I've ever been in such a crowded cinema that was nevertheless so quiet due to the audience being completely goggle-eyed and slack-jawed.

Set against Miyazaki's other films, it somehow manages to be more subtle, more intense, more human and more otherworldly, all at the same time.

If you can possibly get to see it on a big screen, I would urge you to... it was a truly hair-raising experience.
posted by protorp at 11:42 PM on December 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

Definitely a must-see for me when it comes out in the UK!
posted by kyrademon at 6:42 AM on December 8, 2023

I am so excited to see this in a theater. Is it too scary for kids? For reference, my kids loved Spirited Away but the violence in Princess Mononoke is too scary.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:43 PM on December 8, 2023

I've said this elsewhere, but Miyazaki will die at the drawing table.

Probably won't see this one in the theater, but looking forward to doing so sometime, in whatever format. The Wind Rises would've been an excellent Truly Final Miyazaki Film™, so I'm curious to see how this one compares.
posted by May Kasahara at 8:18 AM on December 9, 2023 [1 favorite]

@qxntpqbbbqxl - it's not violent in terms of character conflict but does have some scenes strongly implying nasty possible outcomes - think Brothers Grimm sort of level.

Its imagery is similarly disturbing in comparison to Spirited Away, but I found it more impactful because the non-fantasy side of the tale is more sustained and sets it in much more of a contrast.

Its real and fantasy stories are both directly driven by memories and visions of death and destruction.

My oldest is 8.5 and there's no way... at a guess it might be a maybe from 11-12 up, highly individual kid dependent though.
posted by protorp at 9:05 AM on December 9, 2023 [1 favorite]

Scariest birds since Hitchcock.
posted by Ishbadiddle at 1:00 AM on December 10, 2023

This is so beautiful, especially the interior of the tower. (Those ceilings!)

I was surprised by the abruptness of the ending. Would've worked better for me if it cut to the credits while Mahito is packing.
posted by minsies at 2:20 PM on December 10, 2023

The Boy and the Heron Opens at #1 in the U.S. With US$12 Million. This is the first time an original anime movie has topped the US box office. Congrats to Miyazaki-san and everyone at Ghibli!
posted by May Kasahara at 6:20 AM on December 11, 2023 [1 favorite]

I went in prepared to be ok with not loving this movie. I found the Wind Rises very bleak, and there was so little information about this movie before release. I just didn't know what to expect. I wondered if it would be a bit of a homework movie. It's not a homework movie.

I cried twice in the theater, once in the beginning and once at the end. I wasn't expecting so much fantasy, and I wasn't expecting so much raw emotion. There's some the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe in this movie, and some Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and a whole bunch that seems autobiographical. A bunch of images, especially in the first half an hour of the movie, have the hallucinatory intensity early childhood memories have in a way that's almost hard to watch. I think this movie is too intense for even not-super-little-kids. There's a very shocking moment of self harm early on and violence throughout. Additionally, there's a moment where a fish is cut up that will never leave any child's brain once they see it.

The Wind Rises made me think a lot about making art and how it's hard and complicated. The Boy and the Heron made me think a lot about having an imagination and the way being an imaginative person is hard and complicated. On one hand imagination is this tower that's constantly collapsing, and on the other hand imagination can connect you with someone who's not there. But I think in this movie we're given more themes and central images to choose from than in any other Ghibli movie, and it's hard to pick one thing that it's about. Takeshi Honda, who worked on Evangelion in various capacities, worked as the animation director. There's some visible Evangelion style occasionally in the animation, especially in the scene in the "delivery room," but also I think an approach to images in a story where sometimes you're supposed to just not understand what you're seeing and just be shocked by what you're looking at might mean. It worked for me.

This movie is sorta like if Kurosawa's dreams was all one connected film. It also reminds me of The Tree of Life or Tarkovsky's the Mirror. It's sort of, elder statesman filmmaker mixes childhood autobiography and fantasy and muses on life. It succeeds as a connected fantasy story instead of being some kind of self indulgent exercise, but this isn't an easy movie. I don't think I've every found myself thinking in the middle of a Miyazaki movie, "where are we? Is this real? How is this connected?" In the same way I did in this movie. I'm very interested in hearing other people's takeaways and impressions from this film. There's a lot to chew on here.
posted by Rinku at 4:56 PM on December 12, 2023 [12 favorites]

I was glad I saw this on a big screen.
posted by Coaticass at 11:41 PM on December 13, 2023 [1 favorite]

I think I'm in the minority preferring the beginning of the film (before they go in the tower) to the end. At the beginning everything is very melancholy and also very understated. I like that we can know how Mahito is feeling without him saying hardly a word. Once they go in the tower it starts to feel more like a more typical action-adventure film. Still, I loved it, I thought it had a lot to say. I definitely feel the influence of other filmmakers like Tarkovsky, maybe more so than any of his other films. I feel like Miyazaki's definitely making a statement here about himself as a filmmaker, as well as about his audience. It was interesting that the end of the film was so strongly generational: The grand-uncle, the mother, the son (as well as the sister, soon to give birth to her child) - 3 of them going back out into the world, one remaining behind, no longer part of the world - and an open question as to how much his legacy would live on, even in the minds of those characters.
posted by matcha action at 2:15 PM on December 14, 2023 [2 favorites]

I just got out of the theater. I was very glad I saw it on the big screen, I may go back to watch it again. It is beautiful, and melancholy, and also delightfully bizarre. The parakeets are adorably sinister, for one. Everyone being covered in bird poop when they leave the tower is objectively hilarious. There is a scene, before Mahito goes into the tower, where he is unconscious and floating in water and the water drains away leaving him on his bed. It was surreal and felt like it came right out of my own imagination, like I was looking at my own dreams.

This movie is also very quiet, for stretches, enough that I noticed that everyone in the theater would self-consciously stop eating. Always a good sign. We were transfixed.

Also, I think we have to give some props to the dad who, upon hearing of the mysterious tower into which people just disappear, gears up (with a sword!) and goes straight for it.
posted by selenized at 8:57 PM on December 14, 2023 [2 favorites]

There were several moments in this film where I had the thought "if I'd seen this as a kid it would have stayed in my brain forever."

I'm not sure this movie can really be understood outside the context of Miyazaki. It feels intensely autobiographical. It's so deeply the product of a filmmaker at the end of his career looking backwards and forwards to the next generation.

I saw the English dub, which is fantastic. Robert Pattinson as the heron was an utterly unrecognizable delight. A cast of very famous actors all disappear into their roles. The trend of hiring well-known live-action actors for voice work in animated movies has mostly been a negative IMO, but Ghibli really combines great casting with excellent direction.
posted by cosmic owl at 1:56 PM on December 17, 2023 [2 favorites]

Is there an Academy Award for best foley artist? Because I've never been so enthralled by the different sounds of footfalls on timber, or the turning of a door handle.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 1:59 AM on December 19, 2023 [5 favorites]

I wanted to see the subtitled version, because I'm a terrible snob about these kinds of things, and - I thought I was in a subtitled showing, and it ended up being the dub, and I stayed anyway because my preference is not that strong and Ghibli dubs tend to be very good, but I thought this was more awkward than average for a Ghibli dub. (Especially the line "Daddy will get vengeance!", which got more laughs in the theater than any other moment in the movie, though I didn't realize until the credits rolled that Christian Bale of all people played the dad.)

That's a minor complaint (though I will definitely watch it with subtitles once it's streamable.)

I loved how quiet the movie is, especially in the first half. The long stretches with no music and very little dialogue. That's always been a strength of Miyazaki's movies, but this is perhaps the quietest of all the ones I've seen. You get to know Mahito really well in that first half, even though he hardly talks.

It has a deep melancholy to it. An element of regret, maybe, for Miyazaki's decision to become an animator - or perhaps for what he abandoned to achieve the kinds of intense levels of craftsmanship he achieved throughout his career. It's something I've been thinking about since seeing Across the Spider-Verse - which I loved - and reading about the attendant controversy about what the animators had to go through. How much are you being asked to give up, to work on a movie that good, and how can you know whether it's worth it?

I'm interested in the idea of portal fantasy as a way to work through real-world trauma, and I think it was handled in a really superb way here. It's not something immature that Mahito has to grow out of; it's not something childish that he has to realize is impossible; instead... it's like that thing they say about grief, where it's not that the grief gets smaller, it's that you get bigger until the grief doesn't take up so much space inside you. And Mahito learns about taking care and being taken care of, about friendship and mercy and compromise, about death and killing and birth. He gets bigger.

The combination of the hilarious and the grotesque and the terrifying. The pelicans, the parakeets, the first moments when you realize the heron has TEETH and they're TERRIBLE. There are moments in Princess Mononoke, and there are moments in Spirited Away, but this leans further in, and I kind of love it. I wish I'd seen more of that side of Miyazaki in his career.

I don't think this is as great a movie as Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away, though I could change my mind on repeated viewings. But it's SUCH a personal movie. I'm glad Miyazaki got to make it and I'm glad I got to see it.
posted by Jeanne at 7:26 PM on December 20, 2023 [8 favorites]

I know they belong to a tradition, and I could see the way Miyazaki was building a sort of spectrum of grotesquerie across the line between human and animal, but I could've done without the bumbling comic characters, including the titular heron.
posted by praemunire at 8:09 AM on December 22, 2023

I saw this with my family on Friday (my kids are 9 and 11 but have been watching Miyazaki films their whole lives) and we all enjoyed it but at the same time I don't see us re-watching it any time soon. A lot of the more recent Miyazaki films have felt like that and I don't know if it's because of the films or us.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:27 PM on January 2

Jeez, I feel like the turd in the punchbowl, and possibly I'm outing myself as a soulless dolt, but when we left the theatre I turned to my wife and said that about 90% of the movie feels like somebody perfected an AI LLM called the "Miyazaki Bullshit Generator" and hit the button.

Gorgeous, no question, and touches on resonant themes of abandonment and post-war Japan and the contemplation of mortality and so on. But a lot of it just felt to me like playing action figures with a five-year-old. The imagination is charming and engaging, but when you're dealing with a world that has no internal logic or rules, it's really difficult for me to feel like there's a narrative stake or to care about what's happening on the screen.

"This guy is in trouble but wait it's okay because his pants are made of spaghetti and in this world spaghetti lets you fly but oh no, the gophers are coming in cute little hang gliders and they love spaghetti most of all, but if we go into the gopher holes we can find the magic potatoes that give them their power, but the potatoes come to life and are chased by the banana people, who can only be stopped if you take their belts, and their belts are made of snakes which make rainbows when they yell and the rainbows don't have the colour orange in them and you can make the colour orange through the power of friendship"...

A lot of fun, but if anything can happen, nothing anyone does really matters, because any choice can be made either important or pointless through a magical shift in the rules.

Loved the visuals, especially those truly horrifying moments. Loved the fact that the big nod to realism was that birds shit everywhere and characters carry over bird-shit-stained suits from scene to scene.

Loved the dub, and only guessed Willem Dafoe.

Loved the hint of diplomatic complexities between a parakeet in a hat and an old man with Wizard Hair.

Didn't like the fact that the world was ultimately contingent on humans and a "bloodline" (but the world predates the humans' involvement?)

Didn't love the fact that for the pre-magic timeline to work, dad must have been railing mom's sister while the hospital burned for her to be well-along pregnant by the time they arrive three months later.

And yeah, on the whole, it feels like this took one big step too far beyond the world-building in things like Spirited Away where even though the worlds were imaginative and bizarre, there was still a sense of consistent rules and characters making decisions of consequence.
posted by Shepherd at 3:57 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]

Was it only three months later? I thought the meeting with Natsuko was a year later.
posted by selenized at 4:02 PM on January 7

Just saw this last night, and I need to see it again to wrap my head around it.

The thing that struck me hardest was the music and its integration into the animation. Ghibli films always have excellent background music, for sure, but the music for this one felt more viscerally a part of the experience (to me) than it has in any other Ghibli film I've seen.
posted by hanov3r at 8:39 AM on January 16

Even though I can't remember any of the music I did think the soundtrack was really good while I was watching it. I had to check the credits at the end to see if it was done by Joe Hisaishi or someone else.

I wonder at the choices of Mahito's mother dying during firebombing of Tokyo during the second world war and his father owning a factory that makes airplane parts.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:43 PM on January 16

omg the warawara scene
posted by Gerald Bostock at 10:44 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]

A cast of very famous actors all disappear into their roles.

I would agree with this except for the case of Christian Bale, who was not perhaps highly recognizable but whose bizarre accent choices were (to me) extremely distracting.
posted by redfoxtail at 12:23 PM on February 2

Dave Bautista, on the other hand, was extremely recognizable. Acting and voice acting are not the same thing.
posted by praemunire at 3:26 PM on February 2

Amazing movie.

Especially that delivery room scene. I've been drawing lots of bandage wrapped people so it was surreal to see that particular visual metaphor so vividly expressed.

I love how there's no clear division between good/bad or beautiful /absurd, it's all mixed up.

Characters switch from threatening to vulnerable in moments, like the scene where Mahito plugs the hole in the Heron's beak so the bird can fly, only to be threatened by the Heron, and then switching back to caring for the Heron again as he realises the plug is uncomfortable.

I am very comfortable with ambiguous symbolism that evokes meaning but can't necessarily be tied to meaning, and I don't need stories to follow the western conventions of narrative, I can see how others might not enjoy this film if they need a tighter certainty and structure.

I found the father quite frightening, especially that scene where he grabs a sword and starts searching. The father was like the heart of the rational world, and him searching for an entrance to the dream world felt dangerous.

No one can enter the dream world without changing it and being changed, I think the father would have set off a cataclysm if he'd found a way into the tower.

That makes me think of childhood being a place that's governed by the maternal, and shielded from masculine energy. Both can be frightening.

Absolutely loved Kiriko, how she transformed from a (apparently) slightly silly old woman to this hyper competent person with ambiguous gender presentation.

So many of the metaphors are around human vs natural world and Tower Kiriko is the manifestation of a human in control of natural forces. And she that same wound on her head as Mahito had!

Mahito saw his wound as evidence of his own dishonesty. But wounding himself was the incident that start his journey, I don't think unwounded Mahito could have entered the Tower.

Lots of sexual imagery, wounds, swords, gashes, eggs, fertility and decay.

And the fact that Mahito being in the delivery room was seen as the ultimate transgression.

Unfortunately the screen where I saw this was right next to a noisy movie, so all the quiet scenes were accompanied by the sub base rumbling from the movie next door.
posted by Zumbador at 10:30 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]

Oh I meant to say that this reminded me of the second half of The Neverending Story (book! Not film!) where Bastian searches for a way back to his own world through a series of surreal encounters with different aspects of his own psyche.
posted by Zumbador at 10:41 PM on May 4

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