The Boy and the Heron Parent Guide
Gorgeous animation and complex themes will appeal to genre enthusiasts, but this film is not designed for children.
Parent Movie Review
Following his mother’s death in a Tokyo fire, Mahito Maki (Luca Padovan) and his father Shoichi (Christian Bale) move out to the country. Concerned by the increasing dangers of the Second World War, for which his business manufactures aircraft components, Shoichi also wants to live with his new wife Natsuko (Gemma Chan).
As Mahito struggles to adapt to his new rural life, more changes arrive in the form of a strange Grey Heron (Robert Pattison). The Heron tells Mahito that his mother is still alive, hiding in a mysterious tower built on a secluded area of the property. When Natsuko goes missing in the area, Mahito sets out to find her – and, hopefully, his mother. Once he sets foot in the tower, though, Mahito discovers that a talking heron is far from the strangest thing he’ll encounter.
Western audiences tend to assume that animated films are made for children. While that is broadly true of Western media, the same sentiment is not shared in Japan. Along with several other Studio Ghibli films, The Boy and the Heron doesn’t preclude younger viewers, but they are likely to miss some of the thematic complexities or visual abstractions upon which the film depends. There are scenes of blood, violence, and peril which make this production unsuitable for young or sensitive audiences, but older children should be alright – provided they can keep up with the plot.
Like all of Hayao Miyazaki’s work, this film is gorgeous, teeming with the life, charm, and personality endemic to Studio Ghibli productions. Every frame practically sings with detail and color, each one another strand in the tapestry of the story. The detailed design is backed up with an unreasonably good English voice cast – the version I saw had the English dub track, although I’m sure the film is equally appealing in the original with subtitles.
I would caution viewers that, despite its overall excellence, this movie is not much interested in explaining itself in deep detail. It presents a magical, transportive adventure, and it wants you to think for yourself about what, if anything, Mahito learns on his journey through the rabbit-hole. On the scale of Ghibli movie relatability, this isn’t as difficult as, say, Princess Mononoke, but it also isn’t going to give you the clear-cut narrative simplicity of The Wind Rises, either. Think Spirited Away – an incredible journey with unimaginable risks, and some complex themes woven throughout.Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Starring Soma Santoki, Masaki Suda, Takuya Kimura. Running time: 124 minutes. Theatrical release December 8, 2023. Updated December 7, 2023
Watch the trailer for The Boy and the Heron
The Boy and the Heron
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Boy and the Heron rated PG-13? The Boy and the Heron is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for some violent content/bloody images and smoking.
Violence: A character is killed off-screen in a fire. An individual strikes himself in the head with a rock, drawing a great deal of blood. A massive fish is caught and butchered with some detail. A dying bird is seen staggering and coughing up gouts of blood. Characters are struck over the head with heavy objects.
Sexual Content: None.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adult characters are seen smoking, as was typical of the time.
Page last updated December 7, 2023
The Boy and the Heron Parents' Guide
What does Mahito learn on his adventures? What does his Granduncle (Mark Hamil) expect of him? Why does Mahito respond as he does? What do the blocks symbolize?
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Some of my favorite films from Studio Ghibli include Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, The Wind Rises, Porco Rosso, Whisper of the Heart, and Howl’s Moving Castle. Other options include Ponyo, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, From Up on Poppy Hill, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Grave of the Fireflies.