9 nov 2023

The Boy and the Heron: what is Miyazaki’s new film worth?

Hayao Miyazaki’s new feature The Boy and the Heron is to be released in theaters on Wednesday 1st of November 2023. What are we to make of the Japanese director’s twelfth film, which marks his great comeback?

The Boy and the Heron (2023) by Hayao Miyazaki. Studio Ghibli.


It’s been almost ten years since the release of The Wind Rises (2013) and the Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, 82, stepped away from the film industry. His new feature film, The Boy and the Heron (2023), has been eagerly awaited by fans around the globe.

Already released in Japan last July and in French theaters on November 1st , 2023, this bandnew feature has already been widely acclaimed by critics and stands as “Miyazaki’s ultimate film”, according to his fans. Although the master of animated films hinted that his twelfth film might well be his last, the complex worlds riddled with imagination unfolded in The Boy and the Heron prove once again that the director behind the cult film Spirited Away (2001) is not yet ready to bow out.

The Boy and the Heron: Miyazaki’s new melancholic film


The opening of Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film sets the scene in Tokyo, as a fatal fire destroys the city and kills the mother of the young protagonist Mahito. His father then decides to take him to live far away from the city, in a mansion on the outskirts of a forest where a merry group of grandmothers will look after him. There, his new stepmother Natsuko announces she is expecting a baby, leading Mahito to take on the new role of big brother.


Struggling to fit in at school because of his status as the “son of” – his father is a wealthy industrialist – Mahito dives into books and discovers an abandoned tower, whose entrance is covered in branches. One day, as Natsuko seems to have suddenly disappeared from the mansion, Mahito meets a mysterious human-like heron, who professes in an ominous way that he knows where his mother is.


Like the masterpiece Spirited Away, in which Miyazaki played with parallel universes, Mahito will go on adventures in floating, imaginary worlds. With the heron-man always by his side, the young boy will cross paths with a myriad of kind characters who will help him find Natsuko, and many obscure creatures, such as parakeet guards or ravenous pelicans, who will made his quest harder.


Miyazaki thus stands in sharp contrast to some of his previous works. The Boy and the Heron is a rather complex and dark film, in which drama and death are always looming. However, after the first hour of the film, the landscapes become more colorful and hint at the possibility of a better world. Thanks to Mahito’s journey through different worlds and universes, Miyazaki is undoubtedly raising the question of how we can move towards a better world. This theme is more newsworthy than ever and appears as a recurring trope in the Japanese master’s works, in which environmental issues are central (My Neighbor Totoro, 1998).

The collapse of the world as a backdrop to Miyazaki’s latest feature


During his journey and series of explorations, Mahito finally discovers that the world around him survives despite its precarious state, like a stack of stones about to collapse at any moment. As he meets one of his descendants, who built the mysterious tower at the edge of the forest, he realizes that the world could collapse, and nature would take over if that balance was to be disturbed.


With The Boy and the Heron, Miyazaki delivers a poetic vision of the world, in which harmony is essential to prevent chaos in any society. Will the young Mahito manage to find his own balance and avoid the collapse of his world? That’s a question any viewer can relate to.

The Boy and the Heron (2023) by Hayao Miyazaki, out on November 1st , 2023.


Translation by Emma Naroumbo Armaing.