What Happens At The End Of The Boy And The Heron?

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  • The Boy And The Heron’s Ending, Explained
  • Was The Magic World Real?

The Boy and the Heron, created by the animation powerhouse that is Studio Ghibli and directed by the prolific visionary Hayao Miyazaki, is another in a long line of work that will leave a deep impact on its audience. The first half of the film embraces mundane life, following the young Mahito Maki as he moves to the countryside after his mother dies in a tragic hospital fire.




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The film takes a magical turn when a strange talking heron offers to take Mahito to find his mother, saying she is not really dead. The story weaves in and out of reality, and the ending of The Boy and the Heron leaves us questioning what really happened.

Spoilers ahead for the plot of The Boy and the Heron. If you have not seen the movie, we recommend doing so first.

The Boy And The Heron’s Ending, Explained

Mahito and The Grey Heron get into an argument with each other.

Mahito knows he is walking into a trap when he follows the Grey Heron into a mysterious tower. Between Mahito’s grief over losing his mother and his mission to find Natsuko (his aunt who disappeared), he feels driven to follow the Grey Heron into the tower and ultimately into a magical realm.

The strange and magical world isn’t all it seems, and places blend into one another. Doorways act as portals, and liminal spaces are all around. Spirits take on numerous forms, from the shadow people that ferry around on boats to the bubble-like Warawara waiting to be “born” to the pelicans that then prey on the Warawara.

You can look at the world as a sort of dream world, where the lines between things are blurred, with the line between the living and the dead being especially hazy.

Ultimately, Mahito is able to find Natsuko with the help of Lady Himi, a fire mage. Natsuko is kept in a delivery room within the magical tower, protected by paper seals. Mahito enters the delivery room to try to rescue Natsuko but is banished by both Natsuko herself and the tower’s subconscious.

Hime the Fire Mage offers a hand to Mahito through a fire.

Mahito soon learns that the creator of the magical realm is his great-grand-uncle on his mother’s side. Upon meeting him, Grand Uncle (as he is known) explains that his pursuit of knowledge led him to create this magical realm. However, it has all gotten out of hand, and malice has seeped into the corners of his world.

Grand Uncle is forced to “re-balance” the world every day to keep it alive, using mysterious play blocks to create a teetering tower which determines the fate of the realm. He is looking for a successor to take over for him and chooses Mahito.

Mahito is then offered the choice between staying in the magical realm himself forever to get the chance to recreate it into something more peaceful and beautiful or to return to the real world that is full of grief, pain, and sadness.

Mahito decides that he should return to the real world, having realized that grief and pain are a part of being human—and knowing that he himself is prone to malice—and could never make a perfect world.

The Parakeet King pulls out his sword as his henchmen carry the trapped Hime behind him.

But, due to the rashness of the Parakeet King, Grand Uncle’s block tower is destroyed, ripping apart the fabric of the reality of the other world. The magical world begins disappearing into the empty void of space, and the film’s cast of characters all have to escape. To escape the magical realm, Mahito and company have to go to a hallway of doors in Grand Uncle’s tower.

The tower itself functions as a connective tissue between different realities and moments in time, and the doorways act as portals to different “times.”

By this point, it is established that Himi is actually Mahito’s real mother, having found her way into the magical realm herself as a child. The reunion between the two is bittersweet and cut short. She knows that she has to return to her own time in the past, even if she will eventually die in a fire.

The dramatic irony of Himi being a fire mage in the magical world, only to eventually die in a tragic fire in the real world, can’t be ignored. Himi’s comment that she isn’t afraid of fire is another thematic moment, saying we have to accept the tragedies of life in order to fully experience life.

Mahito, Natsuko, the Grey Heron, and a bunch of big parakeets end up filtering out of the door back into the real world of Mahito’s time. The parakeet people all shrink and transform into normal parakeets, reflecting the transition from the magical to the mundane. As the magical world disappears, so does the doorway to the tower.

The Grey Heron pulls Mahito aside to tell him it’s best to forget everything that happened in the magical world, saying it will happen anyway as time goes on. Mahito then pulls out some of the magical playing blocks that originated in the magical world. Since he took a piece of the magical world with him, he might not forget his experience there at all.

Mahito’s family is reunited, with Mahito finally accepting Natsuko as his new “mother.” He still respects the grief he holds over his mother’s death but won’t be haunted with guilt over it.

The film ends with Mahito and his family moving back to Tokyo after the war. Mahito literally “closes the door” on this period of his life to move on to something new.

Was The Magic World Real?

The Grand Uncle speaks through a bushy gray mustache.

While strange things have certainly happened on the land in the past, who’s to say that Mahito’s experience in the tower was actually “real?” The film plays around with the concept of dreams, so it’s possible that this could end up being shrugged off as “one big dream” for Mahito.

However, the film explains that a meteor that crashed down was the origin of the magic that Grand Uncle was able to use to create the magical world. The tower Grand Uncle constructed around the meteor connects the real world with his magical one.

Since the magical world didn’t exist in the first place until Grand Uncle created it, it’s safe to say that its destruction won’t have lasting consequences on the real world.

The tower still acted as a connective tissue between worlds, so it’s possible that it connected to other magical and spirit worlds that actually do exist. The spiritual world where the Warawara prepare to be born could still exist “somewhere out there,” even after Grand Uncle’s pocket realm was destroyed.


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