Renowned Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki has been able to create highly influential, thought-provoking, and unique works through Studio Ghibli. The cozy simplicity of Studio Ghibli's minimalistic yet vibrant films has resulted in the studio as a whole standing out as a leader in international animation. Miyazaki, 82, has not let his age deter him when setting out to remind audiences around the world that Studio Ghibli has stories to tell, and done so through such an imaginative manner. Studio Ghbili's latest cinematic outing - The Boy and the Heron - prides itself in being a "self-autobiographic fantasy" plucked directly from the mind of Miyazaki.
Per typical Studio Ghibli offering, The Boy and the Heron is exemplary when it comes to romanticizing its signature art style. Animation as a whole has had the fortunate of taking countless shapes when melded in the hands of creatives, yet Studio Ghibli has stayed consistent when it comes to how it approaches its animation. If anything, almost every scene in The Boy and the Heron is pleasing to look at, even if there's not much happening in it. Where the plot things and things may feel stagnant, The Boy and the Heron makes up for it aesthetically. It's a shame that the movie doesn't spend more time delving into conversation or overly exceptional dialogue, but Studio Ghibli is known for its short-spokenness. While any exchanges between characters are notably brief, they revolve around heavier themes such as grief and loss. The art of hand-drawn animation is rare in today's ever-adapting entertainment landscape; Studio Ghibli has committed to its mission of preserving how important it is to keep it alive.
The Boy and the Heron can't exactly pack the emotional punch it wants to promise and takes some time to reach its emotional climax. With a more bloated runtime, a good half-hour or so could have been shaved off for the sake of brevity. Beware, Miyazaki and company emphasized slow when it comes to slow-burn storytelling; but for those who prefer a story to be told through action over the spoken word, motion dictates how thoughts and feelings are communicated. Miyazaki taps into familiar elements from his past work and packs them into his so-called final feature film. Much like other Studio Ghibli films, The Boy and the Heron is an exemplary display of quality Foley artistry. Foley artists can go greatly unappreciated, yet the sound design in The Boy and the Heron deserves to be praised. It's just a bit discouraging that the overall plot doesn't feel quite right for the two-hour mark. The Boy and the Heron could drive home a more impactful "finale" for Miyazaki if it wasn't as scattered, yet part of what makes Studio Ghibli's work so distinct is its unorthodox approach to how it breaks down a story.
Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki play to their strengths, with Miyazaki showing glimpses of himself through a more fantastical point of view. The Boy and the Heron takes its time to linger in every moment, cherishing the seven-year time span it took to complete. It's sure to please long-time Studio Ghibli fans through its calm sense of strange. By its end, The Boy and the Heron shapes up to be a touching tale brought to life through timeless animation. 8/10.