December 18, 2023 - The Boy and the Heron


We went and saw The Boy and the Heron on Saturday; it was all set to be a good afternoon with a trip to the Kazu yakitori bar afterwards but Leila started feeling gross with a really sore stomach and so we had to cut it short and head home after the first round of skewers and rice balls.

boy and the heronboy and the heron

The movie was really interesting, though I feel like it leapt around quite a bit conceptually, as well as in terms of the pacing. There were a few places where I would have liked more of a dotted line to connect things–not necessarily to be able to pin everything down and explainify every single symbol, but there were aspects I would have liked to understand more.

Towards the end I felt the dreamworld logic was getting overwhelming; layer upon layer of dream rules and characters understanding how things worked but no sense of how or why. I wonder if a second watch would clear some of that up. Then again, when you yourself are dreaming you do act confidently, directly; there’s no analysing a situation, it’s all just action. (Also for some reason I had a visceral reaction to the fact that the boy walked three times through the rhomboid-shaped passageway (with metallic footsteps) and the long yellow arched corridor. Really strange, but I almost wanted to close my eyes when he went through them both the third time.)

The other thing I struggled with was the boy’s reasoning for staying behind in the tower-world to look for his mother,” when it had pretty much been established earlier on in the film that he really didn’t like her very much and felt uncomfortable around her. His relationship with his dad seemed strained as well, so it’s not like you could put his decisions down to loyalty. Even if he had felt a sense of guilt towards her, that could explain it, but…there was no motivation there that felt right to me. I’m sure there were hidden reasons but I might need a second watch to detect these.

I guess movies, like books or anything else that requires a relationship between creator and audience, consists of showing the viewer a series of images that the viewer then in turn makes logical assumptions about. I know with fiction it’s entirely possible to be living inside the fictional world of your story, knowing all of the assumptions and inner logic, but you have to distil that, filter it for the page. You cannot include everything. Just enough so that the reader gets a sense of story, of symbol, dialogue, character, setting. You cannot give them a blow-by-blow everyday sort of dialogue. Those things are terrible to read. Same with a film, I imagine. You move from one important visual message or impression to the next one. And the explaining is less important than the viewer’s emotional response.

You can tell that there was a great deal of behind the scenes’ thinking and logic and reference with this movie but most of it didn’t make it to the screen. Whether what is there is enough to carry the story for someone coming to it new” is another story. I’m sure there will be a lot written about it in the coming weeks and months, both because it’s Miyazaki’s last” film and also because like with most Ghibli films, the haunting quality, nostalgia-for-something-you-haven’t-experienced (anemoia? sehnsucht?, saudade?), and charming characters, all still manage to hook you in the heart.

In any case, I did like it, but I have questions, hehe.

edit: you know, just rereading this I think I have a bit more of a bead on the bits that are catching” at me with this movie, including a lot of the unexplained character motivations (including another large moment very early on that I won’t write about here because the movie is so new). It feels very much like someone looking through the wrong end of a telescope; watching from afar. Looking back on events in the past (which it’s been established that much of this is semi-autobiographical); you sometimes wonder what motivated you to act a certain way, or respond a certain way. There is no psychic closeness to the characters; it’s like reading a Hemingway short story. Characters act, and do not explain. There is an entire interior-sense” that is missing, because there is so much psychic distance. As though the entire film is a dream, even the real” parts. Or a memory, for that matter. It certainly works” but it does keep the viewer at a distance, as though we are watching someone’s profoundly personal reckonings from over their shoulder.