The Boy and the Heron | TIFF 2023 | Review by: Benjamin Garrett
Hayao Miyazaki has proven time and time again to be a master of blurring the line between the ethereal and the world as we know it. Through his creative directorial eye, we’ve been swept away on journeys that often feel like strange fever dreams, but somehow resonate on a profound emotional level. Returning from retirement for a final bow, The Boy and the Heron is Miyazaki’s deeply personal swan song, and a return to form for Studio Ghibli.
I know I don’t need to mention it, because you should already expect it by this point, but the animation is simply stunning. It’s a brilliant culmination of Ghibli’s finest work. The gorgeous hand drawn animation, the delicately painted landscapes, and the subtle use of 3D rendering to convey depth and motion all amount to a breathtaking piece of art than ranks among the studio’s finest visual work. Equally beautiful is Joe Hisaishi’s original score, both delicate and sweepingly grand.
Using fantastical settings to tell human stories isn’t new for Ghibli, but it’s a huge part of what sets the studio apart. The story begins with its foot firmly planted in reality, and from there gradually introduces small oddities before sweeping you away to a strange new world. The transition from a quaint countryside home to the kind of dazzling dreamscape only Miyazaki could create is seamless. It’s strange, silly, haunting and familiar in an indescribable way.
As weird as this adventure is, the story is near and dear to Miyazaki’s heart. He draws inspiration from his own childhood - both happy and devastating memories. It’s arguably his most personal film yet, which is great if you’re able to connect with the story and characters. If not, this journey may feel colder and more distant than some of his previous work. The themes aren’t as universally accessible, and if you don’t click with everything emotionally, it might not resonate the way Miyazaki had hoped.
The Boy and the Heron is a visually stunning, dazzlingly strange return to form for Ghibli, and a fitting final bow for Miyazaki. It isn’t quite as accessible as his past work, but he’s earned the right to tell a story so near to his own heart.
Review by: Benjamin Garrett