Unraveling Miyazaki: Is ‘The Boy and the Heron’ His Autobiography?

Studio Ghibli?


Few movies strike the perfect balance between relaxed storytelling, random imagination, and interconnected character arcs. Hayao Miyazaki achieved that and more in The Boy and the Heron. This extraordinary anime movie feels real and compelling, and boasts multi-layered meaning.


Suffice to say, different viewers will feel and think different things based on their own life-experiences and personal perspectives. Let’s explore everything there is to know about this amazing original anime from the brilliant mind of Miyazaki.




Is The Boy and the Heron From Studio Ghibli?


This original screenplay is indeed from Studio Ghibli. Legendary anime-industry icon Hayao Miyazaki wrote and directed yet another masterpiece worth celebrating and cherishing. Though the movie references Genzaburō Yoshino’s novel (published way back in 1937), which shares the same title, this 2023 anime movie is not a direct adaptation of it.


In fact, some people think it’s autobiographical.




Is The Boy and the Heron An Autobiography of Miyazaki’s Life?


Is The Boy and the Heron An Autobiography of Miyazaki’s Life?


The movie is doubtless one of Miyazaki’s most personal productions. He kept it so secret that people started to wonder what the movie was potentially about. Its original title “Kimi tachi wa do ikiruka” translates to “How do you live?” and it only added to the suspense.


The fact that the Japanese audience – who were the first to see the movie before anyone else in the world – weren’t previously shown any trailers or promotions made The Boy and the Heron seem extra-special.


Miyazaki went directly to a theatrical release. In the original novel published in 1937 and written by Genzaburo Yoshino, the plot is set four years before Japan joined World War II.


A lot of the sequences in The Boy and the Heron makes sense when seen from this perspective. Reminder, the novel was not adapted to make this movie. Miyazaki grew up reading the book.


As most artists do, he incorporated what he loved into his work. So, while his script remains original, it drew inspiration from the 1937 novel which Miyazaki liked reading as a young boy.


This brings us to the movie’s protagonist Mahito Maki. Some believe he is the anime version of Hayao Miyazaki himself, which is where the autobiography rumour started for The Boy and the Heron.




The Real-Life History Behind The Boy and the Heron


Since we’re talking about the novel, let’s cover an essential element that defined the 1937 book. It was based on real-life history pertaining to pre-war Japan in that era. It was also a time when the Japanese government was slowly starting to embrace militarism instead of actively avoid it.


The Boy and the Heron is set during the tumultuous events of WWII (not a few years before it). During this time, the Fall of Saipan occurred. American military aircraft targeted Japanese civilians and firebombed random locations in the nation.


So when we see Mahito Maki growing anxious after hearing word about his mother being stuck in a hospital fire, the scene evokes a probable (though unconfirmed) U. S. firebombing which results in his mother’s death and sets the tone for the rest of the movie.




What Happens In The Boy and the Heron?




The entire story revolves around a young boy named Mahito Maki. He becomes a changed person following the death of his mother in a fire. His father Shoichi Maki marries his sister-in-law Natsuko.


Even though Mahito’s new stepmom looks an awful lot like his deceased mother, she is courteous and kind, compelling the boy to give her a chance. However, Mahito’s swelling loneliness and isolation – particularly after his father shifts them to the countryside – sends the boy into a silent depression.


Studio Ghibli’s animation style expertly captures Mahito’s journey so far, but wait there’s more. Some of the sequences in the movie directly reference Studio Ghibli’s previous Anime masterpieces. If you’re a diehard fan, you will easily spot artistic connections to films like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Porco Rosso.


These aren’t the only easter eggs in the movie. In fact, there are references to other Ghibli productions like Puss ‘n’ Boots, Castle of Cagliostro, Princess Mononoke, and Ponyo. The movie soon blooms into a veritable treat, especially for Anime fans.


Ghibli enthusiasts breathed a collective sigh of relief to see The Boy and the Heron contain that classic empathy angle people have come to expect from Miyazaki’s scripts. Along comes the mischievous Grey Heron.


His entrance adds mild comic relief as well as deep meaning to the story. The character grows even more interesting once it reveals a human face within its heron beak.


You’ll have to see it to believe it! After some time, this heron becomes Mahito’s guide. Annoying as he is, he serves an important purpose in the boy’s life, important enough to earn him a place in the movie’s title.


The entry of other memorable characters like Himi (who later proves to be a pleasantly shocking red-herring in the story), The Parakeet King (wish we saw more of him), Kiriko (who is as astounding as she is enigmatic), Great-Uncle (whose brief screen-time will leave a haunting impression), and a small circus of bizarre anthropomorphized creatures (including giant meat-eating parakeets!) enrich this movie to no end.


After Mahito’s aunt turned step-mother goes missing on the family estate, the boy goes out to find her, only to end up going on a transformative journey involving time travel and an enigmatic parallel dimension where both the living and the dead co-exist.



ENTOIN’s Controversial Opinion About The Boy and the Heron


This may not be something everyone reading this article will agree with. In fact, this is not an opinion we stubbornly believe in ourselves. But it must be stated for the record, especially when ENTOIN has decided to write a comprehensive ‘everything you need to know’ article about The Boy and the Heron.


The movie’s script may be original, even autobiographical. But it still derives plenty of elements from Genzaburo Yoshino’s 1937 novel. In truth, there are enough similarities between the book and the movie to convince us that The Boy and the Heron is, technically, an adapted screenplay.


The book was published back in 1937, which means it predates WWII by a few years, the same WWII that is showcased in Miyazaki’s film. So, in order to do the literary work justice without also failing to appreciate the cinematic flavour that pervades Miyazaki’s movie, ENTOIN considers this anime to be a loose (emphasis on the word) adaptation and not an original screenplay.



Mythological Connections In The Boy and the Heron


Don’t be surprised to spot more than just Studio Ghibli easter eggs in The Boy and the Heron. We’re not referring to pop-culture in general but full-blooded mythology. Miyazaki’s movie goes where plenty of other IPs dared to tread, namely through the maze of mythos.


This filmmaker accomplishes this in such an artistic fashion that we can’t help but admire the man for it. If you love Greek mythology, you too will praise what Miyazaki wove into The Boy and the Heron, starting with those obvious underworld tropes.


Greek lore contains plenty of mythic heroes who go into Hades’ underworld for various reasons, most important among them being to fulfil deific challenges, find lost loved ones, or complete pre-destined quests.


Aside from this, we also discovered curious parallels between Greek mythology’s Charon – the skeletal ferryman said to take souls across the River Styx into Hades – and the character of Kiriko in the movie.


All that water, her medium-sized boat, the fact that she appears to Mahito when he is inside a cemetery… It all adds up to some clever Charon subtext, in our opinion.


Now let’s talk Ariadne. You know the one: the Cretan princess, daughter of King Minos? Her threads helped Theseus escape the Minotaur’s maze? That Ariadne is curiously connected to the character of Himi, who later delivers a surprising and pleasant twist in the tale.


We don’t want to spoil this part, so go watch the movie to know what we mean. The sheer wealth of mythological tropes present in Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron makes us love the movie that much more.


From water, gates, stairs, caves, and boats, to fish, spirits, souls, planar transitions, time-travel and more, every theme is carefully woven into the plot and in expert subliminal fashion, to boot.



All Characters In The Boy and the Heron


This story is rife with not just beautiful subtext and admirable easter eggs but also a rich range of characters who, to quote Goldilocks herself, felt “just right.”Let’s explore some of the core characters who elevate the storytelling magic in The Boy and the Heron.


1. Mahito Maki

Mahito Maki


Voiced By – Japanese voice artist: Soma Santoki


The boy at the heart of the plot is Mahito Maki. After losing his mother to a fire accident, he enters his own shell and becomes a depressed kid who pretends to be brave on the outside.


He faces intriguing trials and tribulations after moving to the countryside following his dad’s remarriage. There, he discovers a fantastic inter-dimensional location where surprising truths lie in wait.


2. Shoichi Maki

Shoichi Maki


Voiced By – Japanese voice artist: Takuya Kimura


Mahito’s father is a successful businessman and caring parent. After the loss of his wife, Shoichi marries his sister-in-law Natsuko, veritably making her Mahito’s step-mother. After the pregnant Natsuko goes missing on the family estate, followed closely by his son, Shoichi is at his wit’s end to understand what became of them both.


3. Natsuko



Voiced By – Japanese voice artist: Yoshino Kimura


Aunt to Mahito and wife to Shoichi, Natsuko fulfils a complex role in the movie. She is not only a caring step-mother but is also pregnant with Shoichi’s second child; later revealed to be a boy.


Her sudden and unexplained disappearance from the family estate, and later discovery (by Mahito) in the mysterious tower that her father once found and covered up all made for an interesting interconnected adventure.


4. The Grey Heron

The Grey Heron


Voiced By – Japanese voice artist: Masaki Suda


As mischievous as he is bewildering, this character brings a world of value, amusement, and meaning to the movie. He is not only some kind of extra-dimensional humanoid entity that can take on a compelling heron guise, he also ends up guiding Mahito through the afterlife dimension.


The Grey Heron’s involvement is one of the reasons Mahito successfully finds his aunt Natsuko, escapes a bunch of giant meat-eating parakeets, and more besides.


5. Kiriko



Voiced By – Japanese voice artist: Kô Shibasaki


As fascinating as characters go, Kiriko holds her own in this movie. She exudes a rare gravitas which will make it hard for viewers to look away whenever she comes on the scene.


In addition, her potential connection to one of the old grandma-maids working at the Maki estate adds to her intrigue. There’s more than one lens through which to see Kiriko’s involvement in the plot.


She also provides essential wisdom and support to Mahito when he needs it the most.


6. Himi



Voiced By – Japanese voice artist: Aimyon


Though at first we see her as this sweet little girl in the afterlife realm eager to help Mahito, she later proves to be someone genuinely special to him. We don’t wish to reveal any spoilers.


Let’s just say, Himi is a character to watch as the movie progresses. Moreover, she also helps Mahito in pivotal ways, especially when they have to escape those hungry parakeets, and later when it comes time to choose an exit back to where Mahito originally came from.


7. The Parakeet King

The Parakeet King


Voiced By – Japanese voice artist: Jun Kunimura


As brief as this character’s screen-time is, the Parakeet King can easily end up becoming one of the most memorable characters in the movie. In addition to capturing old-school nostalgia, this humanoid character also delivers some interesting plot-twists that push the plot in an eerie direction.


8. Great-Uncle



Voiced By – Japanese voice artist: Shohei Hino


The Great-Uncle character appears at first to be some sort of zen kung-fu master with frizzy hair and a bristly moustache. But as time progresses – pun intended; you’ll know why when you see the movie – he becomes a critical character.


Mahito and Himi are privileged to communicate with this entity, who is equal parts deity and creator. But what Great-Uncle tells them about the future of the afterlife-dimension adds several layers of suspense to an already captivating tale.



Commercial Success of The Boy and the Heron


If you’ve been watching any kind of entertainment news, you’ll definitely have come across articles that not only praise The Boy and the Heron but also call it a stand-out hit among audiences all over the world.


The movie was so successful they even brought it back to theatres to reap more profits at the box office. So far, this Studio Ghibli movie helmed by Hayao Miyazaki has grossed more than US$173 Million internationally.



Awards Won By The Boy and the Heron


In addition to landing the prestigious BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film (of 2023), the movie also went on to win a Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature Film (of 2023) and later landed the coveted Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (of 2023).



Where Is The Boy and the Heron Streaming?


As of this writing, The Boy and the Heron is not streaming anywhere. It is, however, playing in theatres worldwide. Some establishments offer Japanese screenings with English subtitles. You can alternatively find English-dubbed screenings as well.


When they officially announce the movie’s streaming date, expect The Boy and the Heron to be available exclusively on HBO Max in the United States and on Netflix for the rest of the world.



Final Thoughts About The Boy and the Heron


Metaphysical meanings, compelling characters, and multi-layered Anime storytelling define The Boy and the Heron. This 2023 movie from Hayao Miyazaki contains a good many life-lessons packed into the plot. The production is another arresting work of art from Studio Ghibli, one that comes enriched with subtext and sentiment in good measure.


The 82-year-old Miyazaki has certainly not lost his touch. Here’s hoping he continues his artistic streak and gives us another Anime jewel to admire in the near future.“The Boy and the Heron” transcends your average coming-of-age story and blooms into an introspective journey of self-discovery, emotional closure, and human destiny.


The Boy and the Heron features an outstanding story that will feel familiar yet fresh to a lot of people. It provides a fascinating peek not only into Anime-fantasy storytelling but also the very mind of Miyazaki himself. There is every chance you will be glued to the screen for the movie’s entire two-hour runtime.


Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *