‘The Boy and the Heron’ Review: Hayao Miyazaki Has a Question for You

This blurred distinction is a characteristic of Miyazaki, whose films (including Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away) are windows into the subconscious. In interviews collected in the book “Starting Point: 1979-1996,” Miyazaki spoke of a “universal longing for a lost world” that he refused to call nostalgia, since even children experience it. We do not long for what we remember, but for what we have never experienced at all, only felt beneath the surface of reality. In dreams, desires are released, and Miyazaki’s films capture this exhilarating terror. “Those who join animation work,” he said, “are people who dream more than others and who want to transmit these dreams to others.”

The elements of “The Boy and the Heron” are familiar to Miyazaki devotees: a lonely child, the threat of violence (reminiscent of “Princess Mononoke”) and a multitude of fantastical, sometimes cuddly creatures who externalize part of the child’s desires. protagonist. Arriving home with Natsuko, Mahito sees a giant heron. “How rare,” she remarks. “He’s never flown indoors before.” Something is wrong here. The grannies warn him about a tower on the property with an apocryphal-sounding story about his missing great-uncle. But this heron (voiced by Masaki Suda) keeps appearing, luring him to the tower, taunting him with forbidden knowledge. (Robert Pattinson voices the Heron in an English version starring Christian Bale, Gemma Chan and many others.) Mahito’s mother, the Heron claims, is not dead at all. After all, did he see her corpse?

Mahito’s grief is the focal point of a child’s anxiety in chaos, his stability destroyed by the adults who are supposed to lead. Safety is not part of Miyazaki’s dream worlds. The film takes place before the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the feeling of a world collapsing is unsettling for Mahito. His terror manifests itself in his sleep.

Now 82, Miyazaki is so universally beloved that Studio Ghibli, the director’s animation house, didn’t bother to publicize the film before its release in Japan last summer. A brand in himself, he retired with his 2013 film, “The Wind Rises” – then, changing his mind, returned. Magical, beautiful and disturbing, his films are appreciated by children, but are certainly not reserved for children. With Miyazaki, the draw is subliminal, tapping into an unsettling emotional well that seals itself as we age.

Even by its standards, “The Boy and the Heron” is enigmatic, at least plot-wise. Better to watch as an exercise in contemplation than to tell a story; it is the work of a man who thinks about life from its end point. It’s confusing, meandering through worlds that blend into each other. Magical fires rage, the souls of the unborn and the dead mingle, and the fate of the universe is unclearly determined.

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