Hayao Miyazaki's latest film, THE BOY AND THE HERON, is truly a masterwork created by one of film's greatest artists. Like the studios of major Renaissance masters, Miyazaki basically entrusted much of the actual visual creation to his Ghibli workers. They created the animation itself, those stupendous, gorgeously detailed backgrounds and the voice acting, as well as the superb musical score.
It is significant that Miyazaki has long had the reputation of being an extremely hard task-master, even a slave-driver to those who worked under him at Studio Ghibli. Relentlessly pushing his worker to long hours, sleepless nights, no weekends, his own ambitious drive to perfectly realize his visions required that his workers give up everything else.
The works that resulted have proven extraordinary. I often tell the uninitiated that "Miyazaki's films make Disney animations look like McDonald's commercials." The beauty, complexity and mental and emotional depth of the Ghibli films is unparalleled. Though Miyazaki inspires many in the anime film genre, none compare. For this latest film, some who had left his employ returned to work for Ghibli.
THE BOY AND THE HERON is something of a departure, for the told man (now aged 82) felt confident to simply write the story, draw the storyboards and direct this film. He even gave his workers the weekends off! The result is a departure in some ways, and moves the man's established legacy forward at the same time. What has grown stronger than ever is the imaginative potency and messages of connection with people and most crucially, respect for the natural environment.
This film is said to be somewhat autobiographical. The first part of THE BOY AND THE HERON moves along in this so-called "real world" of our consensus. Then the traumatized boy discovers a portal into imaginary worlds. Fantasy can be escapism, but sometimes we experience harsh realities necessary to escape from, at least temporarily. Best of all is when we find imaginary realms worth escaping into. There we may learn important things about ourself and our place in the world, before we return to the supposed consensus reality. This may even help us to preserve our sanity!
This seems to me the primary arc of this extraordinary film. I will soon be seeing it for a second time in a theater, which I definitely recommend to anyone with special appreciation for Miyazaki's work. Also, I am pleased that the old man feels no need to announce yet another retirement, rather he is already working on his next project.
The film is complex. The latter portion may bewilder anyone who seeks rational understanding, or pure entertainment. Best to simply surrender to the imaginative wealth of imagery.
Flow with it, and you will feel enriched, blessed and possibly wiser.
- B.P.G. 12.25.23