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The Boy and the Heron ending explained

What happened as reality collapsed around the protagonists in : Miyazaki's animated masterpiece?

The Boy and The Heron
Image credit: Studio Ghibli/GKids

Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Boy and The Heron!

The latest movie from Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki has finally arrived, after years of waiting. The Boy and The Heron is a subtle, beautiful coming of age story that also happens to be a magical realist tale about grief, loneliness, and learning to accept and love those around you, and let go of the past in the process. It’s some weighty stuff, with a particularly dramatic conclusion. Along those lines, audiences might miss some of the details in the climax of the movie as things get hectic. With that in mind, here’s a quick guide to how The Boy and The Heron ends.

The Boy and the Heron
Image credit: Studio Ghibli/GKids

How does The Boy and The Heron end?

After being asked to inherit the responsibility of maintaining the alternate reality from his grand-uncle, Mahito refuses, explaining that the head injury he inflicted on himself earlier in the movie meant that he was not free enough from malice to take the position. This led to the Parakeet King claiming the role for himself; however, his attempt to do so was undermined not only by his malice, but his impatience, and the reality starts to collapse. As they rush to return back to the real world, Himi tells Mahito that she has to go back to her own time and become his mother, telling him that she is not afraid about her future death in the factory fire. Mahito, Natsuko, Kiriko, and the Grey Heron narrowly escape the collapsing reality to return home, where the Grey Heron ensures that Mahito won’t remember everything that happened in the alternate reality. The tower that acted as a gateway between worlds collapses, and even the escaping parakeet army is transformed into regular birds as they re-enter reality.

In an epilogue, the audience sees Mahito and his family two years later, as they prepare to return to live in Tokyo. His father has married Natsuko, and his step-brother is standing with them.

The Boy and the Heron
Image credit: GKIDS/Studio Ghibli

Does anyone die at the end of The Boy and The Heron?

While it’s not definitely stated, it would appear that Mahito’s granduncle died when the alternate reality collapsed. There’s a couple of reasons why that might not be the case, however; firstly, we see that the Parakeet King definitely survived, because he makes it back to Mahito’s reality and time, where he’s transformed into a regular parakeet. Secondly, the Grey Heron himself makes a point of saying early in the movie that no-one should be considered dead unless a body has been seen, and that’s very much lacking when it comes to Mahito’s granduncle.

Additionally, it could be argued that Himi “dies,” in that it’s revealed that she’s actually Mahito’s mother as a child. However, her death is literally a lifetime away from when we last see her in the movie. (And she seems surprisingly fine with knowing that it’s going to happen.)

How does The Boy and The Heron connect to How Do You Live?

Despite rumors swirling around before the movie’s release; The Boy and The Heron is not an adaptation of the 1937 novel How Do You Live, although the novel does appear in a pivotal scene in the movie, as an posthumous gift to Mahito from his mother. We took a deeper dive into the connections between the two stories here.

Is The Boy and The Heron the last movie from director Hayao Miyazaki?

The Boy and the Heron
Image credit: Studio Ghibli

Despite being initially announced as the final movie for animation great Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli executive Jinichi Nishioka said during a promotional tour for the movie that the director was “currently working on ideas for a new film. He comes into his office every day and does that. This time, he’s not going to announce his retirement at all.”

Which is good news for animation fans the world over!

The Boy and the Heron is in theaters now. Buy tickets on Fandango or Atom Tickets.

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Graeme McMillan

Graeme McMillan: Popverse Editor Graeme McMillan (he/him) has been writing about comics, culture, and comics culture on the internet for close to two decades at this point, which is terrifying to admit. He completely understands if you have problems understanding his accent.


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