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The Boy And The Heron 2

Entering the Borderland of The Boy and the Heron

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In the animated feature The Boy and the Heron, we see Hayao Miyazaki endeavoring to make himself understood, to explain himself to his successors. Birds weave in and out of the staggered violence of his visual music, in ripples of sound and color, and light. Employing the element of play and surprise, the auteur interweaves the themes of survival and intrinsic worth throughout his coda. Understood primarily as a children’s movie by most audiences, like many of his other environmentally conscious and antiwar films from his oeuvre with Studio Ghibli, The Boy and the Heron contains a trove of life lessons Miyazaki has gathered throughout his distinctive career, meditations on suffering, grief, and trauma that children and adults alike can learn to sit with.

Set primarily against a pastoral backdrop of the Japanese countryside, the peaceable idyll’s lush and fertile lands appear to describe a more natural state of man—a distinct purity uncorrupted by society, as evidenced by the meagre supply of cigarettes and tobacco and the way these items of excess are considered precious rarities. The social dynamic that Mahito’s charming father fails to predict when he drops his kid off at school in a fancy car is only understandable, as the country kids gang up on and attack the newcomer in his ostentatious clothes. Is this a facet of human nature, the need for outsiders to establish themselves with the in-group before being accepted? Though rife with layers of interpretation in such moments, the movie ponders the value of sentient animal life, the solitary condition of man, parallel universe thought experiments, the disposal of linearity, and ideas about species unity. Ultimately, however, The Boy and the Heron hinges on the message that life is one’s own to live.

The Boy And The HeronWe begin with a marked scene of destruction that echoes Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies, in which the mother dies at war within the first ten minutes. In the light of the hospital fire, Mahito is surrounded by people, yet mentally alone in his anguish as he runs toward death with open arms. The young boy’s need for heroism and his mother precludes survival, and in an unanswered moment that is easy to forget as the plot gallops along, his figure is consumed. We’re left to believe that Mahito survives, as the scene jumps forward and he is left to narrate the movie for us, bringing us in to his family’s departure from Tokyo. Peaceable scenes in a movie set against war can feel eerie, like sitting in the eye of the storm. As he is introduced to his new mother, who is pregnant, we see a stoic boy in polite acceptance of his well-meaning father’s decision. And yet, how can any child so easily accept a replacement with open arms, in a space occupied by the memory of his birth mother, especially when the woman in question is her lookalike—in this case, her sister? It’s a contentious question that the plot revolves around.

After a bullied Mahito purposefully gives himself a head injury and is left recuperating at home, attended to by a group of personable old ladies, Natsuko, his beautiful stepmother, leaves to give birth in the underground. The maze of tunnels contained beneath a tower is an entrance to the spirit world, a nod to the worlds of Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle to which a pesky heron leads Mahito after a series of grueling tests. A want of human society is addressed by a young blue-haired girl, Himi, whose identity shifts Mahito’s world on its axis. In an ominous, surreal world of good and evil, where anarchy seems to be the ruling order, Mahito must survive the animal kingdom of the parakeets, while evading capture and learning to accept that his real mother lies somewhere beyond his control. 

The old sage at the heart of the alternate universe, a bookish great-uncle who disappeared while reading a book to end all books, poses an enigma and gives a logic puzzle for Mahito to solve. What he does with this knowledge is the turning point of The Boy and the Heron, as he takes into consideration the beauty of the disappearing world around him.

The Boy and the Heron screens with subtitles through Thursday, January 4th.
Friday, Dec 15th – 7:30pm
Saturday, Dec 16th – 5pm
Sunday, Dec 17th – 7:45pm
Monday, Dec 18th – 5pm
Tuesday, Dec 19th – 7:30pm
Wednesday, Dec 20th – 5pm
Wednesday, Dec 21st – 7:30pm
Tuesday, Jan 2nd – 8pm
Wednesday, Jan 3rd – 5:30pm
Thursday, Jan 4th – 5:30pm

The dubbed version of The Boy and the Heron screens through Thursday, January 4th.
Friday, Dec 15th – 5pm
Saturday, Dec 16th – 7:30pm
Sunday, Dec 17th – 5:15pm
Monday, Dec 18th – 7:30pm
Tuesday, Dec 19th – 5pm
Wednesday, Dec 20th – 7:30pm
Wednesday, Dec 21st – 5pm
Tuesday, Jan 2nd – 5:30pm
Wednesday, Jan 3rd – 8pm
Thursday, Jan 4th – 8pm


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