The Boy and The Heron having tea in the movie.
The Boy and The Heron having tea in the movie.

The Boy And The Heron, A Director Brings His Past To The Screen

Miyazaki returns after ten years to use parakeets as metaphors for nationalism

Hayao Miyazaki is practically a god in the animation industry, with his reach far extending beyond Japan, but it has been ten years since his final film released, The Wind Rises. Last year it was announced that his new movie, The Boy And The Heron would be released in Japan. The film was originally released without any trailers or promotional images save for a single cryptic sketch that served as the poster. Since Miyazaki’s absence from cinema, many other directors have risen in animation both in Japan and the US. Miyazaki’s name was fondly remembered, but it seemed his time was done for, considering ten-year absence, and the fact the director is in his early eighties. His new movie, however, has been smashing box office records, becoming the first anime movie to hold number one at the US box office and grossing over a hundred million dollars. It has been critically acclaimed and loved by audiences, winning a Golden Globe and being nominated for an Oscar. 

 

Before this film, MIyazaki’s Studio Ghibli hadn’t released a theatrical film since 2014. Miyazaki revived the studio in 2016 to begin production on the movie without deadlines, meaning it took seven years to complete. The film is quite different from his previous movie, The Wind Rises. The Wind Rises depicts a character passively living in Japan as it descends into nationalism in the events leading up to World War Two. The movie tells the story through an almost detached view showing Japan’s society becoming increasingly militaristic and heading towards destruction. The film critiques these events, but The Boy And The Heron returns to World War Two once again but focuses on a young child who is thrown into the trauma of the war, similar to Miyazaki’s own experiences in childhood. He was very young during the war and the director’s earliest memories trace back to the firebombings of World War Two. On top of that, The Boy And The Heron includes many more fantastical elements, unlike the director’s mostly grounded previous film. 

 

[spoilers] In this movie, Mahito, the protagonist of the story, travels into a mysterious world through an old tower on his family’s property. It is revealed that the tower was built around a fallen asteroid that landed just after the Meiji Restoration. The Meiji Restoration refers to a time in Japanese history when the emperor was reinstated into power in 1867, doing away with the Shogun establishing Japan as a modern military power, and turning the country into an Empire. Japan would embark on multiple military conquests after this, taking over Korea, Taiwan, and Manchuria. By the time the movie starts, Japan is collapsing. Japan is at the end of its Empire, with its cities being burned down by the US forces consistently. When Mahito enters the building and travels to a different world, Japan is on the verge of surrendering. 

 

In this new world, Mahito encounters six-foot-tall parakeets. While they look cute, they are quite deadly and are known to eat people, and elephants too according to the Heron. The parakeets are organized into a militaristic society supporting their Parakeet King above all else. The Parakeet King is a suspicious character, not much is known about him other than his desire to maintain and expand his empire. At the end of the movie, Mahito refuses his grand-uncle’s request to take over this world after him. In response, the Parakeet King attempts to take over. The magic is complex, but to keep the world balanced every three days the leader of the world has to stack these magical blocks. Mahito refuses because he accepts that he has malice in him, and thus he will be unable to create a perfect world. When the King Parakeet attempts to stack the blocks, they tip over, and in his anger the king slices the table in half with his sword, causing the entire world to collapse. In the following scene, the characters have to escape the world as it falls apart. They return to Earth as the tower collapses. It can not be a coincidence that the Parakeet Empire and the Japanese Empire both started and ended at the same time, both ended with their leaders seeking more power. 

 

Miyazaki in his infinite empathy though doesn’t kill off the parakeets, instead, they are all seen escaping back to Earth behind the rest of the characters, including the King Parakeet. In doing so, they turn back into normal-sized parakeets. The parakeets exist as an interesting critique of nationalism in the buildup to\ World War Two, and how it led to the fall of the Japanese Empire.

The parakeets on the other hand are another odd yet intriguing piece of Miyazaki worldbuilding criticizing the events that led to his early childhood trauma. 

 

Outside of the birds, the film is a wonderful adventure through a different world. The film takes place in the past, but it doesn’t feel like a period piece. Instead, each scene flows like a memory, as if the director just wants to bring back the feeling of his childhood. On top of that, the film has a colorful cast of characters that break the mold of filmmaking. The Heron for example is an absurd character that grows throughout the movie, starting as a terrifying villain and then transforming into a friend, yet they never lose their mystique. The Heron is an amazing counterpart to Mahito, standing as a hilarious and entertaining character to be added to the Studio Ghibli catalog. On top of this, the film has the best soundtrack of 2023. Joe Hisaishi has been Miyazaki’s composer for over forty years. With this film he delivered a unique minimalist soundtrack that doesn’t tell the audience what to think, but captures a feeling regardless. Certain parts of the soundtrack are enough to bring tears to one’s eyes. The film and its music are both masterpieces. Because of this movie’s combination of creativity and emotion, I give it a 6/5. 

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About the Contributor
Noah Shackelford, Reporter
Noah is a senior and a first-year reporter for the Antler Express.
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