The Making of The Boy and the Heron

Hayao Miyazaki. This man is well-known to fans of Studio Ghibli. He has been working for the studio for years writing and directing movies such as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, and more! All these movies are what made Studio Ghibli popular to the viewer’s eye and boosted Miyazaki’s fame. So, you can probably imagine the fans’ sorrow when he announced his retirement in 2013. But he has done this in the past where he announces his retirement but never goes through with it. This happened when he took back his statement about his retirement in 2018 and stated that The Boy and the Heron wouldn’t be his last film. So hope was not lost and fans were relieved!

After the news of his coming out of retirement (even though this is his fourth time doing so), he started to work hard on The Boy and the Heron. The film was targeted to be released back in 2020, with it being released during the 2020 Summer Olympics. Unfortunately, the film’s release was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, slowing down the animation process. Once everything was in the clear, Miyazaki was back on track with his project. After all, he didn’t want to delay the movie any longer, especially since this movie had a huge budget to work with. The film was released first in Japan, and he decided not to promote it until closer to the release date. 

The story of The Boy and the Heron follows a boy named Mahito who lost his mother to a hospital fire during WWII. His father, an air munitions factory owner, remarries his deceased wife’s younger sister, Netsuko. Not only does Mahito have a new mother, but he finds out that he is going to be a big brother as well because Netsuko is pregnant. On top of that, Mahito and his father are forced to move with Netsuko to the countryside. This leaves Mahito indifferent about the situation, and distant from Netsuko. During the days that he is there, a grey heron keeps pestering him, telling Mahito that he can help him bring back his mother. This leaves Mahito angry and he starts to attack the heron whenever he sees it. But when Netsuko goes missing, Mahito needs the help of the gray heron to help find her, and possibly his mother. 

People have described the movie as being beautifully animated, as the whole thing was hand-drawn, with an amazing story that’s emotional and slightly horrific. If you are afraid of birds, it’s best to avoid this film (or if you have a soft spot for parakeets). The movie has been compared to his other two movies, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. But in this movie, Miyazaki does a great job of sending a message to the audience about life and death. The message of how even though life is a beautiful thing, everything must come to an end. This movie is tied to Miyazaki and his experience with grief and loss during his childhood. Miyazaki and his parents were forced to evacuate their home during WWII and his mother was suffering from Pott disease. She was bedridden most of her life but was always there for Miyazaki.  

The movie has come a long way, as it took years for it to be released because of COVID-19, and everything was hand-drawn. But after all the events that occurred, it was worth the wait for most viewers. The Boy and the Heron came out on Dec. 8th in the US, has made over $100 million globally, and has been nominated for awards, such as Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Original Score. The ratings also speak for themselves as the film got a 90% from the audience on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.0 on Metacritic. If you are a fan of Studio Ghibli films, it is recommended that you go see Hayao Miyazaki’s new film. It was worth the wait! I saw it with a couple of friends and we enjoyed it a lot. There were a few cons that we pointed out, like how the story was kind of slow, and it focused a lot more on the artwork than the plot. But the voice acting was good and it made us giggle from time to time. There were times when we would look at each other with shocked expressions. Is it as good as his other works? Not quite, but still enjoyable to watch. 

The Boy and the Heron is available to watch in theaters