After losing his mother in a fire in Tokyo, eleven-year-old Mahito moves to the countryside with his father, Shoichi, to reside at the Gray Heron Mansion, a fusion of Japanese and Western architecture on a sprawling, leafy estate. Mahito struggles with his complex feelings toward his bold and forceful father, as well as his new stepmother, Natsuko, who also happens to be his late mother’s younger sister. Isolation and alienation drive Mahito to self-harm and shut himself off inside his new home.
Everything changes when he is visited by a gray heron, who eventually reveals himself to be the avian guise of a shapeshifting “heron man.” The estate was once the abode of the Granduncle, who is said to have become mentally unstable from reading too many books and ultimately vanished into thin air. The mansion is staffed by several elderly maids who watch over Mahito. Led by the gray heron, Mahito ventures further into the dark corners of the estate, where time and space begin to warp, dreams and reality blend into one another, and a world far beyond exerts an inescapable pull. He sets foot into a world where life and death exist on the same plane.
After passing through a gate, he meets Kiriko, a fisherwoman who bears a similar scar on her head, who introduces him to the secrets of the world. The Warawara, creatures who embody both life and death. Pelicans who continue to soar high into the sky despite the injuries it causes them. A parakeet king leading legions of his fellow birds, who are caricatures of human mass society. Himi, a girl with the power to wield fire. Mahito and the heron man delve deeper and deeper into this world — which appears to be a simulacrum of our own — that has suddenly sprung into being and lost all balance and control. Why has Mahito been led into this domain shared by the living and the dead? Is his late mother actually still alive? Who is the mysterious maiden Himi, and what does the Granduncle, who maintains the equilibrium of this world, want from Mahito…?
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The Boy and the Heron, original story and screenplay written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki , opens Dec. 8, 2023