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TIFF 2023 Review: The Boy and the Heron – “Takes the audience through various emotions”

A young boy grieving the death of his mother has to come to terms with his father remarrying and starting a new family.

As World War II wages on in Japan, Mahito’s mother is killed when a bomb strikes the hospital where she works; subsequently, the city is left behind for the countryside where his father has set up a factory to make airplanes and has decided to marry the younger sister of his wife who is pregnant.  In amongst this turmoil is a blue heron that persists to intrude upon the life of Mahito and a mysterious tower on the property which is rumoured to straddle two worlds.  The suggestion that his mother might still be alive and the disappearance of his stepmother, lead Mahito on a journey through a fantasy world to discover the truth.

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Fire and water are prominent thematic elements that are used to full effect, whether it be the opening bombing sequence or the reveal of a fake copy of the mother.  There are plenty of signature surreal Hayao Miyazaki characters and moments like the blue heron being revealed to be a man in a bird suit, cute puffy creatures that can float up into the sky, doors that lead to different dimensions, and cannibalistic parrots.  What does mark a departure for Miyazaki is the animation style for the bombing which warps and deform to reflect the frenzied state of Mahito as he rushes to save his mother and what is best described as 2001: A Space Odyssey moments.

Great touches are the character lines shifting back and forth to indicate the action of breathing or Mahito having to really lift his feet up so as to be able to walk the steps leading to the house or using bird shit wherever needed   The conclusion happens abruptly but upon reflection, maybe more was not needed as the audience has a clear idea of where the narrative is going to go.  If this is the final bow for Miyazaki then he leaves on a high note as the story takes the audience through various emotions with a good dose of humour and makes you question, like the book by Genzaburo Yoshino that inspired him, ‘How Do You Live?’.

The 48th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 7-17, 2023, and for more information visit    

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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