The student news site of Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

The Independent

The student news site of Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

The Independent

The student news site of Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

The Independent

The 2024 Art Show Poster
The Diverse Artistry of Glenbard
Maggie Falkenberg, School News Writer • February 8, 2024

This year, Glenbard South took its turn hosting the annual District 87 Art Show. Students walked past a multitude of different colors, styles and scenes in the commons hallway,...

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“The Boy and the Heron”: Coping with Grief and Accepting the Imperfections of Reality

Movie Poster for “The Boy and the Heron” (Source:https://nextbestpicture.com/the-next-best-picture-podcast-the-boy-and-the-heron/)
Movie Poster for “The Boy and the Heron” (Source:https://nextbestpicture.com/the-next-best-picture-podcast-the-boy-and-the-heron/)

Studio Ghibli movies never fail to amaze their audience with their iconic use of bold imagery, imaginative storytelling and dynamic characters. Miyazaki’s most recent – and possibly final – work, “The Boy and the Heron”, is certainly no different. Miyazaki seamlessly incorporates symbolic elements and portrays purposeful messages into his work of art through his distinctive style of storytelling. People who are looking for a visually compelling story with a complex message as well as fans of other Studio Ghibli movies such as Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, should certainly watch this new addition to the Studio Ghibli collection as it delves into the idea of finding balance and comfort in a world of chaos. 

Taking place during the height of World War II, the film begins with tragedy. Flames consume the hospital where Mahito’s mother is staying. Despite making desperate attempts to save the hospital and all of those inside, Mahito is left without a mother. Shortly after her death, Mahito and his father seek refuge in the small countryside outside of the newly industrialized city where Mahito’s father now works. It is there where he meets Natsuko, his new step mother, and the old women who look after the house. 

Upon first arriving at his new home, Mahito notices an elegant heron, but something does not seem quite right. Skeptical, Mahito decides to explore the property. He stumbles upon the hidden ruins of an old library, but his curiosity is cut short when one of the old women finds him and leads him back inside, warning him to stay away. Each day, Mahito learns more and more about the house’s history, each magical tale filling his mind even more with questions. Still healing from the loss of his mother, Mahito tries to keep to himself. However, he finds it difficult to do so as the heron begins to harass him, trying to lead him outside to the ruins he found the other day. Mahito confronts the heron after he realizes it is no regular heron, but the heron stays persistent. 

It is not too long after that Natsuko, Mahito’s new stepmother, falls ill and disappears. No one knew where she could be, except Mahito. Having been keeping a keen watch on the heron ever since his discovery of the bird’s connection to a parallel world, Mahito happened to see Natsuko wander into the forest. Intrigued, he goes to look for her, but before he could get the chance, the heron intersects his path, telling him that his mother is still alive. Longing to have his mother back, he agrees to go with the heron. Mahito finds himself transported into a different world: a world filled with magic, birds and blocks. The heron leads him to his mother lying down, facing away from him. Overjoyed, Mahito rushes towards her, only to discover that it was just a hoax. Although it is not his real mother, the heron is certain that Mahito will be able to find his stepmother in this universe and bring her back “home” safe and sound. Mahito agrees and begins his quest to find his mother and stepmother. 

Along the way, he meets a brilliant cast of characters, including Kiriko, Himi, an army of parakeets, and his very own Great Grand Uncle. Throughout his quest to find his mother, Mahito learns about his past, and arguably more importantly, about the limitless imperfections of the universe. Magic and curiosity propel this story forward, always keeping the audience on their toes, trying to anticipate what might possibly happen next. 

While, in a general sense of witty fantasy, the storyline of “The Boy and the Heron” is not too dissimilar from that of many other Studio Ghibli films, it is the messages told that make this movie like no other. Themes of grief, imperfection and understanding shine through as Mahito takes this journey to chase after the past. A main message discussed in this movie is that no world is perfect and that one must make the best of what they have. 

This element of imperfection is particularly evident when Mahito meets his great grand uncle. His great grand uncle is charged with the responsibility of maintaining peace in all of these universes through a set of stacked blocks. When Mahito meets his great grand uncle, the blocks are on the verge of collapse. This is symbolic of the idea that not everything is straightforward, that oftentimes there are imperfections in the world that cannot be completely solved by anyone, no matter how hard they try. 

The film also mentions themes of grief and the toll hanging onto the past can have on someone. Mahito is cold and withholding towards his new stepmother at the beginning of the film. In contrast, however, when the heron says that Mahito’s mother is still alive, Mahito eagerly accepts this  even though he knows, deep down, that his mother is dead. His readiness to accept this illusion as truth shows his reluctance to move forward after losing his mother. Coping with grief is certainly difficult, and while “The Boy and the Heron” certainly takes note of this, it also emphasizes the idea that you cannot change the past and that you must leave it behind in order to move forward. This quest to find his mother is, in a sense, Mahito’s way of coping with her loss as he goes through the stages of grief. He recognizes the importance that lies in moving forward after tragedy, learning to find love, peace and happiness after recognizing the finality of death. 

This strong message from Miyazaki shows that grief is necessary and that experiencing loss teaches people to live in the present and appreciate what they do have. Mahito understands that he will never get his mother back, but then comes to realize that this does not mean he shouldn’t be accepting of other people who care about him, such as Natsuko. He understands that, while his mother may no longer be with him, he will always have his memories of her. Mahito becomes accepting of his situation by the end of the movie, finally willing to open his arms to Natsuko and make new memories with her. Throughout the film, there are countless examples of symbolism and imagery, included with the intent of making the audience question their perspectives on grief, imperfection and understanding, thus making this story all the more remarkable. 

The themes within “The Boy and the Heron” are particularly significant when taking into consideration the original name for this film, How Do You Live? While on the surface this movie is about a young boy who goes on a fantastical journey in a magical realm, the original name os “The Boy and the Heron” addresses these questions on morality and sets the stage for the thematic elements of the movie to shine through. The original title addresses this deeper, thematic level of this film, hinting at the idea of moving forward after loss. The movie is based on questions of “how do I move on after loss?” and “how do I continue to live after experiencing tragedy?”  It discusses the realities of humanity and the imperfections of the world. Nonetheless, “The Boy and the Heron” is a movie that not only has beautiful imagery and design, but also one that delves into the reality of being human and learning to cope with the imperfections of humanity. 

When considering the most recent addition to the Studio Ghibli collection, it is certain that “The Boy and the Heron” is undoubtedly one with iconic, colorful magic, but more than that, it is a story about learning to understand and accept the imperfections in life. As Mahito takes this journey in Miyazaki’s most recent imaginative world of magic, he learns that he must keep moving forward and learn to be accepting of the unchanging reality of death. Through “The Boy and the Heron”, Miyazaki reminds us that we must keep our heads up and appreciate every small moment we have. Perfectly written, animated and edited, Studio Ghibli’s “The Boy and the Heron” is the perfect example of thought-provoking media as it challenges watchers to consider a new outlook on life. Without a doubt, Miyazaki has once again created a captivating masterpiece that will certainly be intriguing viewers for years to come through his final production, “The Boy and The Heron

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About the Contributor
Olivia Weber, Scoop Writer
Hi! My name is Olivia Weber. I am a junior here at South and am a writer for the Scoop section this year. I participate in South’s band, orchestra, and cross country and soccer teams in addition to a variety of other activities. In my spare time I like to spend time with my cats and play board games.”

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