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Studio Ghibli utilizes stunning animation and storytelling in Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron”

Studio Ghibli utilizes stunning animation and storytelling in Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron”
Evie Wada

How does a movie manage to balance completely realistic situations with the absolutely absurd? Studio Ghibli, a famous Japanese animation studio has been successfully combining both aspects in their films for years, from “Howl’s Moving Castle” to “My Neighbor Totoro.” Hayao Miyazaki’s 2023 release “The Boy and the Heron” is no exception. I walked into the theater that day hoping to watch something bizarre yet compelling and beautiful; my expectations were definitely met.

“The Boy and the Heron” follows Mahito, a young boy living in the early 1940s. After his mother dies in a grisly hospital fire, he and his father move to a new town where his father’s girlfriend resides. While struggling to adapt to such a rapid change, a heron tells him his mother survived and he, in an attempt to find her, ventures into a rickety stone tower and subsequently a completely different dimension.

A unique aspect consistent throughout many Studio Ghibli films revolves around the purposefully abstract plots they follow. In “Howl’s Moving Castle” for instance, much of the magic isn’t explained and the nature of Sophie’s curse is left up to audience interpretation. In “The Boy and the Heron,” it truly feels like we’re dropped into this new world with Mahito, as we don’t fully understand what’s going on, either. Where are we? Who is everyone and all these creatures? How does any of this work? We don’t get the whole story, but this choice of leaving us to question what we’re watching, to sit with our confusion elevates the complexity and whimsy unfolding before us. Some people may be turned away by the weirdness; I thought that embracing the weird is what makes the film special.

The fantastical elements aren’t just contained in the plot, either, for they also shimmer brightly in the animation. Studio Ghibli utilizes a 2D style that includes hand-drawn methods, resulting in a moody, cozy feel. To put it simply, “The Boy and the Heron” is gorgeous. There are backgrounds that make you feel like you’ve strolled right into a painting somehow. Each character holds a recognizable appearance. The way they move, the way their clothes flow in the breeze furthers the amplified, otherworldly version of reality pushed throughout the movie. And don’t worry, there’s a touch of that classically appetizing Studio Ghibli food.

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Accompanying the visuals, the sound design speaks volumes to the time and effort put towards the movie. At times, the thumps of footsteps or crashing of waves are the only noises above so much quiet, yet there are also moments like the opening scene where sirens ring through your ears. Along with the sound effects and swelling soundtrack, musical motifs frequently pop up, especially to signal the heron drawing near. Such small details might seem insignificant at first, but they tremendously add another layer to the preexisting atmosphere. 

That’s not even mentioning the incredible voice acting. I personally watched the English dub and everybody clearly put their best foot forward. Funnily enough, not one, but two Batman actors were part of the English cast. Christian Bale returned after voicing Howl in “Howl’s Moving Castle” to be Mahito’s dad and Robert Pattinson had his debut as the heron.

Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron” was certainly worth the watch. It could be confusing at times; however, I never felt that it detracted from its overall impact and message. The film explores darker themes of grief while also having a sense of humor that made the theater laugh out loud on a couple occasions. The film reminds me why Studio Ghibli is so memorable, why its movies continue to hold up years later. Considering that this is possibly Miyazaki’s last film since he came out of retirement to direct it, it grows apparent how personal the story actually is. It’s a swan song about moving forward, and a lovely one at that.

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About the Contributors
Melanie Jandura, News Editor
Melanie is the News Editor for the Stargazer. She is a junior and has been on the staff since 2021. Melanie engages in student journalism because she wants others to know about different topics around the school and community.
Evie Wada, Media Team
Evie Wada is a staff artist for the Stargazer. She is a Freshman and this is her first year on staff.

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