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Home > The Boy and the Heron, a Look Into the Impermanence of Life

The Boy and the Heron, a Look Into the Impermanence of Life

The World of the Living and The Dead

In the world of animated films, Hayao Miyazaki is widely recognized as a legendary figure. Works like Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Howl’s Moving Castle have left an indelible mark on audiences. One of his latest films, The Boy and the Heron, delves deep into the profound theme of how life is temporary and ever-changing. Through captivating story and breathtaking animation, Miyazaki invites viewers to ponder over the fleeting nature of existence and the importance of embracing change.

The Story; A Tale of Grief’s Journey

The Boy and the Heron revolves around Mahito, a young protagonist who tragically loses his mother in a hospital fire during World War II. The film embarks on an emotional journey as Mahito copes with grief as he adjusts to living with Aunt, Natsuko. However, things take an extraordinary turn when Mahito encounters a mysterious gray heron that leads him into a realm beyond time and space. 

Appearing several times during the film’s beginning, the Heron taunts Mahito, leading him into an abandoned tower that takes them into the world of the Heron. This alternate world becomes the backdrop for Mahito’s exploration of life’s impermanence, with the Heron guiding him through the choices he must make along this extraordinary path.

The Significance of the Heron

At the heart of the movie’s story lies the mysterious heron, a character filled with deep symbolism embodying both the conflicting elements of life and death. It takes Mahito on a profound journey of self-discovery, challenging his perceptions and ultimately guiding him toward acceptance. Inspired by various mythologies, the presence of the Heron in the film reflects ancient beliefs about rebirth and the cyclical nature of existence.

The Heron touches on these ancient themes through symbolism, specifically by having the ability to move between both the worlds of the living and the dead. This is, of course, mirroring how the heron appears to Mahito in the real world and takes him to the other world. As for the significance of the Heron in Japanese folklore, it is considered to be the messenger of gods or a symbol of transition. 

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The Other World; A Realm of Wonders and Terrors

As Mahito explores this new world, he encounters many different supernatural creatures and surreal landscapes. The mesmerizing animation transports viewers to a realm where reality blends with dreams. Miyazaki’s meticulous attention to detail brings every frame to life, depicting a world where anything can happen. From floating islands to shape-shifting characters, the Heron’s world serves as a metaphorical canvas for exploring the delicate balance between life and death, joy and sorrow. Mahito encounters giant parakeets that appear a bit over halfway through the film. These parakeets present a life-threatening danger to Mahito and his companions, but at the same time, they are a source of beauty and a means of creating an obstacle for Mahito to overcome.

The Significance of Embracing Release

At its core, The Boy and the Heron is an exploration of embracing release. Mahito’s journey mirrors our universal experience of grappling with loss and understanding that moving forward is necessary. Miyazaki’s characters often confront change as an inevitable force while emphasizing that resisting it only prolongs suffering.   

The film explores the profound impact of acceptance and living in the present. One significant theme in Miyazaki’s films is the role of memory and nostalgia. Mahito’s encounters with his mother, both in reality and in the other world, evoke a deep sense of longing and remembrance. The film delves into how memories shape our perspectives over time, influencing our decisions. Ultimately, it encourages us to appreciate fleeting moments and embrace the beauty found in impermanence.

Another essential aspect presented by Miyazaki is the fragility of life. In The Boy and the Heron, the other world is constructed upon delicate foundations that can easily crumble. Mahito’s great uncle, the person who created the other world, struggles to maintain balance by stacking blocks representing both its magic and malice. This fragile equilibrium is a metaphor for our existence’s precarious nature. The film highlights how vital it is to recognize the flaws within ourselves and our constructed realities by depicting Mahito’s refusal to perpetuate his great uncle’s failed dream when Mahito is asked to be his successor. 

Luca Padovan as Mahito in The Boy and the Heron (2023)

Lessons in Change and Personal Growth

Mahito undergoes a profound transformation, discovering the importance of accepting change and letting go of the past. His journey reflects the universal human experience of growth and self-discovery. The Boy and the Heron encourages viewers to reflect on their own resistance to change and invites them to embark on a personal journey of acceptance and transformation. It serves as a powerful reminder that life’s impermanence is an integral part of our existence, often leading to growth during challenging moments.

It would be remiss not to acknowledge the remarkable artistry and craftsmanship displayed in Studio Ghibli’s animation for The Boy and the Heron. Miyazaki’s meticulous attention to detail and dedication to hand-drawn animation enchant viewers, immersing them in a visually striking world. Every frame is meticulously created, allowing audiences to genuinely experience the story. The film’s animation enhances its narrative by capturing life’s ethereal nature, constantly evolving like the themes it portrays.

Conclusion; Miyazaki’s Reflections on Life’s Impermanence 

Through The Boy and the Heron, Hayao Miyazaki leaves audiences with a thought-provoking exploration of life’s impermanence. With its captivating narratives, profound symbolism, and stunning animation, Miyazaki invites audiences to contemplate their connections with change, loss, and acceptance. The movie stands as a testament to the lasting impact of Miyazaki’s artistic journey, demonstrating his expertise in the craft and his knack for deeply resonating with people from all corners of the globe. The Boy and the Heron serves as a gentle reminder that even though life is fleeting, the significance of our encounters and the bonds formed can transcend temporal boundaries.

The Boy and The Heron Official English GKIDS Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Hi! I am a Dramatic Writing and Performing Arts major at SCAD from Puerto Rico. I have an intense passion for all things film, tv, and music. I believe everyone has a story to tell, and putting it out there is the most important.
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Omid Rad is a freelance writer, movie lover and overall geek.