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Film REVIEW: The Boy and the Heron (2023) - ★★★★★

When anime god Hayao Miyazaki comes out of retirement to make one last masterpiece, it’d be rude not to be there.

From the maddest plot you’ve ever heard to the Hollywood stars voicing toads, pelicans and man-eating parrots, here’s everything you need to know about The Boy and the Heron.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Writer: Hayao Miyazaki

Stars: Luca Padovan, Robert Pattinson, Karen Fukuhara, Gemma Chan, Christian Bale, Mark Hamill, Florence Pugh, Willem Dafoe, Dave Bautista.

Genre: Animation, Adventure, Drama

Themes: Studio Ghibli, Heron, Parakeet

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.

The film received critical acclaim.

In Cinemas Now


Stewart - ★★★★★

"A weird and wonderful animated film. Magical, stunning animation, fantastic characters and a bizarre storyline, it's a must-see for any Miyazaki fan. I'll never look at a parakeet the same way again!"

Have you seen it yet?


The Boy and the Heron buzz - Why is everyone talking about the new anime film?

Don’t call them cartoons. As the greatest cultural export to cross from Japan to the West since Godzilla – but less prone to trampling our skyscrapers – anime is as powerful, captivating and emotionally charged as anything involving flesh-based actors. And not since 1988’s Akira – the film that planted the artform’s flag in UK cinemas – has a movie been more anticipated than The Boy and the Heron.

Don’t mistake this movie as a niche-interest arthouse film for homesick Tokyo exchange students. Written and directed by Oscar-winning anime godfather Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle), already having grossed $109 million internationally, and with a dubbed voice cast that includes Robert Pattinson (The Batman, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), Florence Pugh (Oppenheimer, Black Widow) and Christian Bale (The Dark Knight trilogy), The Boy and the Heron is officially the best thing you can do with your Boxing Day.


The Boy and the Heron backstory - Who created this new anime and why is it such a big deal?

Back in 2013 – after a storied career whose peaks included 2001’s Oscar-winning Spirited Away – the great Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki told a press conference he was hanging up his crayons. “I know I've said I would retire many times in the past. Many of you must think, ‘Once again’. But this time I am quite serious.”

Yeah, yeah, we thought, and sure enough, the 82-year-old was back at his drawing board by 2016, setting out to create The Boy and the Heron (based on the 1937 novel How Do You Live? by Genzaburo Yoshino) as a gift to his grandson. And while Miyazaki’s work rate has naturally slowed over the years – working flat-out in his youth, he could create up to ten minutes of animation per month, compared to one minute for this project – the astonishing power of his work is undimmed.


What is the meaning behind The Boy and the Heron?

When it comes to The Boy and the Heron story, we’re just going to give you the concrete plot points, because if we tell you about every twist, turn, magic toad, killer pelican and flesh-eating parrot, you’ll think we’re having some sort of breakdown.

Set in 1943 – at the height of the real-life Pacific War – we meet Mahito Maki, a twelve-year-old boy still grieving the death of his mother in a Tokyo hospital fire. Mahito is evacuated to the countryside, along with his father and new stepmother, but that’s when reality recedes and fantasy floods in, as a talking grey heron leads the boy to an abandoned tower that has been sealed for generations. The heron claims the boy’s mother lives and lures Mahito inside the tower to a world of dangerous magic – but is the fowl a friend or foe?

The Boy and the Heron might swing a wrecking ball through logic and linear narrative, but there are overarching themes that underpin Hayao Miyazaki’s outlandish masterpiece. The animator has said this film is loosely autobiographical, mirroring his own childhood as an evacuee who lost his mother, while critics have cited redemption, sacrifice, acceptance and the thorny transition from child to adult as strands of this eye-widening world.


The Boy and the Heron cast - Which celebrity voices should we listen out for in this new anime movie?

The Japanese original was voiced by the cream of the Far East’s voice talent (even if their names are unfamiliar to non-connoisseurs in the West). But while dubbing foreign films into English is – no disrespect intended – usually a task for jobbing actors, it’s a mark of the insane respect Hayao Miyazaki commands that Hollywood’s biggest stars have signed up.

Previously best-known for his role on You, Luca Padovan (Theater Camp, Are You Afraid of the Dark?) leads the cast as Mahito. From Batman to birdman, Robert Pattinson is suitably slippery as the toothy grey heron. Fellow Dark Knight Christian Bale voices the boy’s father, while The Eternals’ Gemma Chan (Captain Marvel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) plays his stepmother. Want more stardust? How about Star WarsMark Hamill as Mahito’s Granduncle, Florence Pugh as the magical fisherwoman Kiriko, Willem Dafoe (Finding Nemo, Spider-Man) as the Noble Pelican and Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Endgame) as The Parakeet King.


The Boy and the Heron animation - What makes this new anime movie look so good?

Technology marches on and these days any fool with a laptop can knock out a semi-competent animation. But when you watch The Boy and the Heron, you’ll immediately detect the master’s touch of Hayao Miyazaki in this spellbinding fantasy kingdom. As producer Toshio Suzuki told Entertainment Weekly, the key difference lies in the old-school mentality, with a 60-strong animation team led by Takeshi Honda “still hand-drawing everything”.


The Boy and the Heron trivia - What's a fun fact about this new anime?

Hayao Miyazaki has slipped in a few easter eggs nodding to other classic movies made by his company Studio Ghibli. In particular, keep your eyes peeled during the scene when Mahito peruses a pile of books in his bedroom – with the covers nodding to the fabled animator’s greatest hits.


The Boy and the Heron reviews - What are the movie press saying about this new anime movie?

Debuting at the Toronto Film Festival, The Guardian’s Radheyan Simonpillai saluted The Boy and the Heron amongst Miyazaki’s finest work. “This is an uncommonly mature and joyous meditation on death and legacy, one that paints death as a new beginning, a transition to another time and place, where nothing actual seems final. For a film-maker like Miyazaki, that’s the perfect note to go out on.”

Meanwhile, with Empire’s Ben Travis bestowing five stars on an “astonishing, sumptuous animated fantasy”, and Mashable’s Kristy Puchko praising a film she found “lovingly layered, visually riveting, and ruthlessly sincere”, The Boy and the Heron is surely in line for an armful of awards statuettes.


In cinema's now, experience Hayao Miyazaki’s greatest (and perhaps final) movie. Whatever you’re watching, cinema is all about escapism, but with the founding father of anime firing on all cylinders, you’ve never strayed this far from reality before.

“Whether we can recreate the images inside of Miyazaki’s head, or even if they’re different, as long as we can surpass his expectations then that’s okay,” says cinematographer Atsushi Okui of a movie that shoots for the stars. “That’s what we’re aiming for…”

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