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Studio Ghibli has long been a source of escapism for many. Ghibli films are host to stories and worlds based on human experiences, fantastical ideas, and overarching lessons, all guaranteed to let you slip into a new existence for a moment. When you think of Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, and so many more, you may fondly recall these stories as old comforts with real depth.
Now, there’s a new film to add to that list. Ghibli’s director and writer Hayao Miyazaki has brought us The Boy and The Heron, a film that delves tenderly into the struggles of loss, displacement, and legacy. Fans of Miyazaki had been eagerly awaiting this new release after a long hiatus since 2013’s The Wind Rises. And this film leaped to meet expectations with all the hallmarks expected, including astonishing animation, star-studded and diverse voice actors, a compelling adventure, and so much more.
For the English dubbed version of this film, Ghibli has once again shown an unwavering commitment to hand-picking impressive voice actors. With Luca Padovan (Mahito), Robert Pattinson (The Gray Heron), April Supa-Star Karen Fukuhara (Lady Himi), and Gemma Chan (Natsuko), the English voice actors brought a whole new level of commitment to their roles. Other cast members included Florence Pugh, Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Mark Hamill, and Dave Bautista.
Amongst the cast, it was notable that each character was voiced more naturally than ever heard before in Ghibli films. It seemed there was extra effort put into the correct pronunciation of Japanese names, and dialogue flowed naturally even through translation, an issue that can often plague dubbed versions of anime.
We’d be remiss to neglect to mention the stand-out performance of Robert Pattinson, who has caught attention online for truly transforming into a nefarious mocking heron creature for his role. We can say without a doubt if we hadn’t seen the casting ourselves, we would not have believed that was truly him. He goes the extra mile, committing fully to all the nasally growling and snarky squawking that comes with the role. The control and manipulation capabilities he has over his voice were a welcome and memorable surprise.
The Boy and The Heron is set during WW2 and revolves around Mahito, who is reeling from the recent loss of his mother. He is struggling to settle into his new home in the countryside, surrounded by unfamiliar faces and his new supposed mother figure, Natsuko. When a heron begins to taunt him with claims that his mother is still alive and Natsuko goes missing, he embarks on an adventure into a new world to find her and bring her home.
The Boy and The Heron explores a range of themes, and in Ghibli fashion, every viewer can walk away with a multitude of takeaways depending on their own life. Overall, it seemed to be an unabashed look at the process of grieving a tremendous loss. Mahito is haunted by the loss of his mother, and in the real world, he is struggling to connect to those around him because he is consumed by his sorrow internally while devoting himself to putting on a brave face.
The film has an interesting pace throughout, with some scenes and moments seeming abrupt in a whimsical sort of way. By the time the story was wrapping up, it felt like the world we had been introduced to still had so many unexplored corners. Regardless, the central themes and emotions were genuine and punched with full force, guiding you on track toward its overall message.
The Boy and The Heron explores how pain can make people wary of connecting with others, while also showing that sometimes giving people a chance to reach out can give you the release you need. It also explores how the escapism we adore so much about Miyazaki’s films is exciting, but never a place to get lost in. Sure, we may visit and reminisce about thousands of worlds we can mentally fall into, but we must never forget that we write our own stories in reality. Fictional stories imitate life, and the real imperfect harsh world we live in is the basis of everything we know and love.
Miyazaki has centered this film very closely on his own life, with the setting, themes of heritage, and the malice found in creativity, having an autobiographical basis. Once rumored to be his final film, but recently confirmed to perhaps not be, Miyazaki has closely reflected on the success he’s had, and what it all means to him. The Boy and The Heron is an ode to how the harsh reality of our imperfect world informs the most gentle and imaginative parts of us.
With The Boy and The Heron already receiving immense praise, we encourage you to go see it, armed with the excitement that we are indeed lucky enough to be around when Ghibli is still making new releases. Immerse yourself in the wondrous journeys found in the depths of the newest Studio Ghibli film, and bring back some of the magic found in Miyazaki’s work to your own life.