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  • If there's a movie this year that seems just about impossible to figure out, it's studio Ghibli's latest release, The Boy in the Heron.


  • The legendary filmmaker behind this movie, Hayao Miyazaki specifically said he wanted no promotion in press whatsoever because he wanted every initial viewer to go in blind.


  • All we got was this poster and a handful of low profile interviews from some of the team and none from the director.


  • But now having seen the film and the film being available for a week now, I wanted to share with my research and my insights on the filmmaker and the film,


  • what I believe the true meaning and message of this film is, and what the many obscure and surreal symbols are telling us.


  • We'll discuss this movie in three sections, the inspiration, the symbolism and the message of the boy in the heron in this spoiler-free analysis.


  • The inspiration.


  • As I've mentioned before, there are barely any press interviews at all in this film,


  • but there's one particular interview from one of the producers, Toshio Suzuki, where he breaks down who this film is about.


  • He says, "At the start of this project, the filmmaker, Miyazaki, came to me and asked me, 'This is going to be about my story, is that going to be okay?'"


  • And he went on to break down how the main character Mahito is based on him and his own childhood.


  • In the very beginning of the film, Mahito's mother dies in a hospital fire in the midst of World War II.


  • Miyazaki himself has very early memories of evacuating war-torn cities being born in Japan in 1940, the middle of World War Two.


  • Miyazaki's mother didn't pass away at the time but was also host criticized for quite some time for tuberculosis.


  • Miyazaki was also particularly known to be somewhat of an outcast as a child, very much like Mahito, also with a father who manufactured weaponry for the army.


  • Toshio also specified in his interview, "If Miyazaki is the boy, then he himself is also the heron, a mischievous flying entity in the story that pushes the young hero to keep going."


  • And this makes perfect sense, considering the heron's purpose in this film.


  • The heron in this film pulls Mahito into this surreal and otherworldly journey where he develops new qualities and finds so many new and more mature perspectives.


  • The heron represents Miyazaki's intrinsic feeling of guidance that pushes him to evolve his outlook on the world and himself.


  • But if you ask me specifically, I think there is one more character in this film that largely represents Miyazaki as well, and that character is Great Uncle.


  • The Great Uncle character was known to have become lost in his obsession with reading and art.


  • And that obsession caused him to escape the real world and become the controller of this new world.


  • He found that fell from the stars.


  • This symbolizes Miyazaki's journey in becoming lost in his own art and becoming detached from the world around him.


  • Great Uncle is also trying to build and balance this new world into a perfect world, completely free from malice and hatred and war.


  • Miyazaki is also famously known for being highly critical of the shallowness, the greediness and the hatefulness of our current world and uses his art to escape that harsh reality.


  • And most importantly, great uncle is in the final chapter of his life, hoping to pass this beautiful world on to the next generation.


  • Just like Miyazaki, who is at the end of his career with a gorgeously imaginative filmography and studio, waiting to transcend the mortality of Miyazaki himself.


  • So let's together explore the surreal world that Miyazaki has created and what the surreal world's many symbols are trying to tell us in the next section.


  • The symbolism.


  • When we look at this beautiful new surreal world, and we compare with the real world outside of the tower, some of the parallels are very obvious.


  • The young and tough Kiriko parallels the old Kiriko; Himi, the fire maiden parallels Mahito's mother who died in the hospital fire.


  • And the dolls watching over Mahito as he sleeps, perfectly resembled the elderly woman watching over Mahito at his home.


  • These parallels between the surreal world and the real world clarify to us that this new world is inspired by the real world, and connected to the real world at every moment in time,


  • as we see this endless number of doors that each lead to different points in time in the real world.


  • And the reason for this is this world is the ultimate reflection of Mahito and Great Uncle's entire lives, every moment within their memory and future.


  • And most importantly, this world is the ultimate reflection of Miyazaki's life, since Mahito and Great Uncle and this film all represent him and the life he's looking back on.


  • And also very much like Miyazaki, since Great Uncle is the controller of this surreal world, he wants to make it completely free of the evils in the real world that caused him to escape it.


  • He wants a world free of malice, war, and destruction, full of happiness, peace and togetherness.


  • However, he has spent his entire life struggling to create such a balance.


  • He can't just seem to get it right.


  • This is symbolized by the block tower.


  • We see always almost on the verge of falling apart.


  • And sadly, we see this imbalance reflected in the wildlife and ecosystems of this surreal world.


  • The Pelicans have no prey to feed on and are seen as evil because they feed on the innocent Warawara when frankly they are starving .


  • The parakeets in the regular world, they're beautiful harmless little creatures but become these scheming human-eating monsters when they enter the surreal world.


  • And they're ruled by the most malicious and greedy character in the whole film, the Parakeet King.


  • This surreal world is also a test of character for Mahito.


  • For example, Mahito may be frustrated with his new mother figure, but this is the reality he has to accept and he has to try to see the good in it and in her.


  • And when we think specifically about the delivery room scene in this surreal world, that entire scene symbolizes that Natsuko in this surreal world won't accept Mahito until Mahito accepts her.


  • It's a test of gratitude, appreciation and true, unconditional love for what he has in Natsuko, even though he misses his real mother so deeply.


  • Ultimately, this real world seems to naturally itself be trying to counterbalance the overwhelming one-sidedness that Great Uncle is trying to instill and embarking Mahito on a journey of maturity and open-mindedness,


  • two struggles that director Miyazaki has faced and is still facing.


  • And let's discuss further. What this imbalance and this journey means for the film us as the audience, and for Miyazaki himself in the final section of this video.


  • The message.


  • The entire continuous imbalance of the block tower and the ecosystems and the surreal world itself symbolizes to us and to Miyazaki that the real world requires a balance of good and evil, love and hate, that can't be adjusted or controlled by anyone.


  • Both sides exist within us all and as individuals, all we can do is play our part and being as good and as loving as possible.


  • This is what Miyazaki is realizing and what he is communicating to us in this film.


  • Like Great Uncle, Miyazaki can't simply escape the harsh truce of the world and get lost in his own world of the most beautiful and tranquil art, his own films.


  • And like Great Uncle, Miyazaki can't be so stubborn in trying to control the artistic progress and culture around him.


  • And like Mahito, Miyazaki can't simply outcast himself from the real world around him.


  • Even if he has trouble fitting in with his own new family and potential new friends in this community, he still has to try and must embrace who he is publicly.


  • The original title for the film is actually "How do you live?"


  • Inspired by a childhood favorite book of Miyazaki's of the same title.


  • Put simply, the book is about learning life lessons and evolving your own moral code as you experience more of life.


  • This is very much what Mahito does throughout the movie and truly what ties this film together entirely is the lead single for the soundtrack of this film that plays during the credits spinning Globe by Kenji Yonezu.


  • When you listen to the lyrics, you learn that its entire hardly about learning to live on while desperately longing for something else that you miss.


  • And when the darkness of the world reaches you, don't suffer within it or try to escape it.


  • Seek out the light by rising above that darkness.


  • Because whether you do or not, like a spinning globe, this beautifully imperfect world will continue to carry on.


If there's a movie this year that seems just about impossible to figure out, it's studio Ghibli's latest release, The Boy in the Heron.


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