March 1, 2024

Miyazaki’s perfect blend of magic and existentialism –The Boy And The Heron Review

Anatolii Mishustin in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Rating: filled star filled star filled star filled star empty star

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Director Hayao Miyazaki

Picture by: Eric G.

It’s no secret Hayao Miyazaki’s specialty is producing animated films that push the boundaries of the genre and challenge beliefs that it’s ‘just for kids’.

His previous works such as Spirited Away, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and Princess Mononoke all offer stunning fantastical scenes suited for children but also offer subtle and multifaceted explorations of themes such as grief, nostalgia, and the passage of time, which speaks on many levels to a mature audience. The Boy And The Heron is no exception.

The initial fuss surrounding the film, apart from being Miyazaki’s first film in a decade, is the fact that it is supposed to be his last. This only heightened anticipation for the project and increased the pressure on the 83 year-old animation auteur. Luckily, Miyazaki did not let down his fans.

The film is beautiful both visually and story-wise. On the surface, you are met with a fantastical narrative about a boy Mahito, who has lost his mother to a fire. He ends up in an unknown land of mystery and magic after following a cocky grey heron who promises to bring him to his dead mother.

They end up forming an unlikely bond and go against, listen to this closely, a man-eating population of parakeets with a parakeet king at the head of the regime.


But the heart of the movie is much less superficial. It poses an important existential question related to the nature of existence. Loosely based on a 1937 novel (How Do You Live? ) the film instead takes heavily from Miyazaki’s own life as a semi-autobiographical story while being inspired by centuries of Japanese heron folklore.

The original movie title How Do You Live? is what the viewer is left to ponder upon witnessing this journey into the world of dreams. Such a simultaneously simple yet complex question is answered poetically by the heron, who proclaims to Mahito that life is about accepting that “it’s okay to forget.”

I believe it’s not a surprise if I say that every shot of this movie could be taken as a still and framed to be put on the wall. Seeing it on an IMAX screen really made me see and appreciate every subtle detail of the stunning cinematography.

The Boy And The Heron is a must-watch. It is suitable for every age as almost everyone will find something in the film to relate to.

The creative output of Miyazaki is similar to that of Martin Scorsese. Though both directors are leading figures in different genres of films, the common thread between the pair is how phenomenal they both are as directors so deep into their careers, yet are able to put out increasingly brilliant pieces that move all members of their audience.

Written by:


Anatolii Mishustin

Film critic

Kyiv, Ukraine | Amsterdam, Netherlands

Hailing from Ukraine, Anatolii was born in 2006 and now resides in Amsterdam while getting his diploma. Moving to the Netherlands was a decision first and foremost motivated by the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Anatolii keeps his hand on the pulse of modern media and underground culture, that’s what grows his interests and ambitions each day. He joined Harbingers’ Magazine in 2023 to challenge himself in this area to explore cultural journalism, and quickly established himself as the lead film critic for the magazine.

His work also secured him an invitation to the first edition of the Harbinger Fellow programme with the Oxford School for the Future of Journalism.

In his free time, he enjoys basketball, watching films, and playing video games.

Anatolii speaks Ukrainian, Russian, English, and is learning Dutch.

Edited by:


Megan Lee

Culture Section Editor

Hong Kong | United Kingdom


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