TIFF 2023: The Boy and the Heron


Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writers: Hayao Miyazaki
Runtime:  2 Hour 4 Minutes


Already acclaimed as a masterpiece in Japan, Hayao Miyazaki’s new film begins as a simple story of loss and love, and rises to become a staggering work of imagination.

Already acclaimed as a masterpiece in Japan, Hayao Miyazaki’s new film begins as a simple story of loss and love, and rises to a staggering work of imagination. Coming after the maker of Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke announced his retirement, The Boy and the Heron is an especially precious gift, and possibly the final film we will see from one of cinema’s greatest artists.

As a boy, Miyazaki read Genzaburo Yoshino’s novel How Do You Live? and embraced it as his favourite. This film was initially announced as an adaptation of that book, but Miyazaki uses it instead as one of many layers in a dazzling tapestry that draws even more upon his own youth.

During the Second World War, young Mahito Maki (Soma Santoki) suffers a heartbreaking family tragedy and must move immediately to the countryside, where his father (Takuya Kimura) works for a family making planes for Japan’s military, as Miyazaki’s own father did.

Isolated, Mahito begins exploring the mysterious landscapes and encounters a grey heron, persistent in its presence. The boy also happens upon an abandoned tower. Curious, he enters. From there, The Boy and the Heron expands into a wondrous, often-startling phantasmagoria.

Visually, the film shows Miyazaki at the height of his powers, filling the frame with gorgeous compositions, vibrant colour, and arresting movement. As it draws you deeper into its mysteries, The Boy and the Heron becomes richer, stranger, and more profoundly beautiful. This is a singular, transformative experience in film, and not to be missed.


Everyone knows that Kriss doesn't watch anime but thanks to the Toronto Film Festival and the pre-festival buzz that Hayao Miyazaki's latest Studio Ghibili film was receiving, Kriss added The Boy and the Heron to his TIFF coverage list. And the film did not disappoint. Even for those that do not typically gravitate to anime or Studio Ghibili films, this film will definitely be relatable in its themes around grief, finding oneself and what it means to be a "good person". Another thing that works very well for this film is the time period around when this film takes place. Set during the Pacific War during World War 2, there are a lot of subtle (or not so subtle depending on one's understanding of history) that set a much darker and grim tone for this film. That understanding of some of the background action and characters only serves to make The Boy and the Heron even more of an intriguing and engaging films.

Image credit: Courtesy of TIFF

There have been a lot of great animated films this year but The Boy and the Heron might be one of the best looking films of the year. Audiences should definitely seek out IMAX showings of this film where possible. Even without IMAX, the film is absolutely stunning and pushes the bar higher for what audiences should demand from animated film visuals.

The Boy and the Heron has received a lot of pre-festival buzz and it's all well worth it. Listen as Kriss, Ro and Brandon discuss The Boy and the Heron and dive deeper into the film and what makes it so good.

The Boy and the Heron is now playing in US theaters.

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Charles (Kriss)

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