*SPOILERS ALERT! If you haven’t already watched the film and do not wish to be spoiled please click away now because I will discuss the film’s plot in great detail. 

There are many many interpretations to this film and not one will be correct and that is the beauty of this film.

Different Interpretations

When I first heard this film I thought it was a story that Miyazaki dedicated to his grandson as a farewell to his family and Studio Ghibli. Playing as a semi-autobiographical, fitting for a final film for the studio you created and cared so much about. 

However, after seeing the movie through to the end, I discovered a different perspective. Besides feeling the wildest fever dream, Miyazaki himself even admits that this film is difficult to understand.  

“Perhaps you didn’t understand it. I myself don’t understand it.” 

-Hayao Miyazaki

Mahito as Miyazaki’s younger self

At first, I thought that Mahito represented Miyazaki’s younger self, going through World War 2 during his childhood, similar to the filmmaker himself. And of course, the Granduncle at the end of the film, is most notably Miyazki himself as most fans also pointed out. 

So in my opinion, the encounter and meeting between young Mahito and the Granduncle seemed like MIyazki was reflecting on his past life and everything he’s been through. And wondering what will happen to Studio Ghibli after he’s passed away.

It’s evident that the film grapples with themes of death and rebirth, morality and legacy. The Granduncle even asks Mahito to be his successor, which could represent his concerns with who will carry on the legacy of the studio and who will be the next filmmaker to follow into his footsteps.  

We are the Audience

Additionally, another interpretation can be that Miyazki is talking directly to his audience in this film. And this is his way of asking us to never forget Studio Ghibli and everything they’ve done. To not let the image of the studio die out and to forever remember its films in our hearts. To keep his honor and legacy. 

The Characters 


One of the most notable characters is the morally ambiguous gray heron. In Japanese culture, white herons are associated with good fortune. But this heron is gray. Additionally, herons can also be viewed as “A Messenger Between the Living and the Dead” in some cultures. This latter version fits the heron’s persona in the movie the most, since Mahito is coping with his mother’s loss. 

Mahito VS. Parakeets 

The vibrant and ravenous Parakeets in the movie most likely represent capitalism and the more aggressive business aspect that manages Studio Ghibli. Which is funny to think about these characters being portrayed as “villains” in the film. On the other hand, Mahito represents Studio Ghibli’s artistic and creative side. Mahito is also supposed to be the Granduncle’s next successor, so even more so why Miyazaki would make him the main protagonist of the film. 

Mahito’s Mother/Himi and Natsuko 

Mahito’s mother is obviously the driving force and plot for the film, but I believe she also represents the more negative aspects of grief. All of her memories and image is associated with fire (which could be just how she died) which can be seen as destruction, transformation, and emotional intensity. Flames also have to deal with rebirth and new beginnings.

In addition to being Mahito’s aunt, Natsuko is now his mother. It was more difficult to identify Himi and Natusko apart in the movie since I felt like they frequently blended their roles together and shared a similar appearance. The movie features Natsuko as pregnant, which is a very literal depiction of rebirth and moving on. But having this new mother figure when he hasn’t truly accepted his grief is what allowed Mahito to descend into the “Other World.”

He learned how to live alone and move on from his mother by going to Natsuko instead of his own mother. By the end of the film, Mahito is finally able to call Natusko, “mother” which was a very touching scene. These two women symbolize Mahito’s journey through his personal experience and stages of grief. 


In the regular world, Kiriko acts as one of the elders who was supposed to watch over Mahito. But once we travel to the Other World, she is this strong and badass pirate who watches over the Waranara. I believe she acts as Mahito’s strength and guardian, she is what keeps him hopeful and able to continue on this emotional journey. With a pirate-like design, she is connected to the water, which symbolizes cleansing, reflection, introspection, and adaptability. All skills that Mahito needs to gain in order to move on with this life. 

Original Title

If you guys have been following the production of this film like me, then you know that the original title for this film was, How Do You Live? This unfortunately got scrapped for the more Americanized title, The Boy and the Heron. Which is unfortunate because I do believe that the original title suits the more bittersweet and beautiful message of the film. 

But let me know what you think. 

Another Hayao Miyazaki Film? 

The 82-year-old filmmaker is still going strong and even made the optimistic announcement that he is planning to make another movie. Which shows how passionate Miyazaki is about the medium and can never truly retire haha. So who knows maybe we’ll actually see another film from him.

But regardless of whether we get another film from him, The Boy and the Heron is the perfect ending, homage, and culmination of everything he’s created before. It is truly Miyazaki’s passion project, his swan song, and the most personal film we’ve ever seen. We can feel his presence in this film more than any other, and that’s saying a lot. 

Thank you so much for reading! Comment down below your thoughts on the film and if you think we’ll get another true MIyazaki film in the future. 

All References to Previous Studio Ghibli Titles 

[NOTE: unfortunately I do not have any images of the film for this next part, so stay tuned for an update to another blog where I will add to these similarities! But for now here is a sneak peak for what is to come]

As a huge Ghibli fan, I noticed that The Boy and the Heron had many references to Miyazaki’s previous works. 

  • The flames and fire are reminiscent of the powerful Calcifer, and door portals inspired by Howl’s Moving Castle (2004).
  • The Japanese houses and rural Japan remind me of My Neighbor Totoro (1988).
  • The parakeets are similar to the Spirited Away (2001) demons and goblins in the bath house
  • The glowing stones and crumbling architecture are reminiscent of The Castle in the Sky (1986).
  • The Waranara and Bow and arrow scenes from Princess Mononoke (1997).
  • The infamous plane-making scenes for Miyazaki’s love of film and especially similar to The Wind Rises (2014).
  • The water flooding scenes are just like Ponyo (2008).

(To be continued…)

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