When THE BOY AND THE HERON was opening in Japan no images other than a single one of the heron was release and there was no effort to explain the plot. Everyone thought it was a brilliant marketing move, but having seen the film I completely understand why it was done- the plot is ever changing and the fantastical images from the second half are misleading as to what the film is. Ultimately you have to just see the film to really know what the film is.
That is not hyperbole, that is the truth. Nothing I can tell you is going to prepare you for what you see and until you see it it’s kind of pointless to discuss the plot.
If you what to know what the film is, it’s the story of a young boy, who moves with his father to the country after his mother is killed when the hospital she is in is bombed. However the film is so much more than that.
It is not hyperbole to say this is the greatest film that Hayao Miyazaki has ever made. It is the work of a master animator operating at the highest level, making a film about life and death and kicking the ass of the audience.
And when I say the film will kick your ass I wasn’t kidding. It’s a heady and emotional roller-coaster that starts in one place and ends somewhere else. It’s a film that is full of wonder that over whelms you with ideas and images that leave you emotional moved at the end. Indeed, about a minute into the end credits I suddenly began to sob uncontrollably. I can not tell you what did it or why, I just know that I suddenly needed a box of tissues I did not have with me.
When you see the film you have to go with it. The construction is something special. It begins as a conventional narrative, slips into dream logic, then abandons that for pure emotional ramblings. I can’t discuss what happens because until you pass through it you won’t understand it.
Visually it is largely unlike anything Miyazaki has done. Yes, we have his images, but he goes outside of that into the realm of the surreal. He is operating in the realm of his friend and partner Isao Takahata who created images to match his story, hence POM POKO doesn’t look like GRAVE OF FIREFLIES nor like the TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA. Indeed this film seems to be the next film Takahata would have made if he were alive. It is in a way it’s a huge tribute to the late master.
I really need to see this film again to truly discuss it. I knew that twenty minutes in. There is so much to contemplate from the place herons hold in Japanese culture, to seeming riffs on things like the work of Kenji Miyazawa and NIGHT ON THE GALACTIC RAILWAY, Michael Moorcock's Eternal Hero, to the films notions of life and life after death, of what makes a family and several dozen other things. I need to see the film again because the denseness of the narrative has me certain things that I missed things. What I mean by this is that events early in the film that you would think should lead to something, don’t seem to for a good while, until an hour or more of screen time passes and a line or an action that we thought was a lost thread back snaps into sharp context.,
Yes, I’m being vague- but I have to because for any points I want to make require a context you can only get from seeing the film so I need to wait until everyone sees the film when it releases to fully discuss my thoughts. I will be writing more after by second pass through, but for now this should get you going. Until then know that this is one of the best and most thought provoking films of the year and quite possibly the best film that Studio Ghibli has ever made.
This film will rock your world.
And try to see it knowing as little as possible.