10 January, 2024
I remember the first time I saw Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s an astounding film that everyone should see, but it’s also a firm member of the “films I have thought about many times but will only ever be able to watch once” club. That film destroyed me. The fairy tale narrative allows the parallel story to plumb incredible depths of grim nihilism by continually providing hope that everything will resolve in a “happily ever after”.
That hope does not really survive the end of the film.
All of which is to say I am thoroughly looking forward to being able to rewatch Miyazaki’s last (no, for real this time. Maybe) film many, many times.
In many ways, The Boy and The Heron shares much in terms of story and structure with Pan’s Labyrinth. Both revolve around a child adjusting to life with a new step-parent, processing genuinely horrifying past trauma, and finding a confusing, beautiful, exciting and scary parallel world in their back garden. They are both guided through this world by morally ambiguous anthropomorphic creatures, discover connections to family history in both worlds, and their journeys both result in simultaneous catharsis and destruction.
The main difference is that Miyazaki’s story draws its gasps and floods of tears from pure joy and overwhelming love, rather than tragedy and horror (despite there also being plenty of that).
In short, The Boy and The Heron is a masterpiece you should see immediately. Miyazaki is one of the few artists to keep working long after retirement, but the returns never diminish. This is someone at the height of their artistic craft, and if this truly is his last, it’s a hell of a high to go out on.