The Boy and the Heron age rating: Is the Oscar winning anime movie for kids?

The unassuming film has collected a huge amount of awards

The Boy and the Heron age rating as illustrated by a still from the movie
(Image credit: BFA/Toho/Alamy)

Are you wondering about The Boy and the Heron age rating? As the movie adds an Oscar to its collection of awards, parents are wondering whether it's suitable for young kids.

The Studio Ghibli produced The Boy and the Heron just became the second anime ever to scoop the 'Best Animated Feature' gong at the 2024 Academy Awards. If you've got a child who loves anime shows, it's likely they've put the movie right at the top of their watch list. The fantastical story is set during the Pacific War, and follows Mahito Maki, a young boy who loses his mother. After her death, Mahito moves to the countryside and comes across an abandoned tower near his new house. When a talking grey heron tells Mahito his mother is still alive, he enters the tower to find her and is transported to another world.

Although the bright colours and cartoon format of anime appears to have children in mind during its creation, a surprising amount is aimed at older kids. Much like parents were keen to know whether Netflix's live-action take on anime Avatar: The Last Airbender was for kids, they're now asking the same about The Boy and the Heron. Read on for everything you need to know about the film's suitability for young viewers, and other interesting facts about the multi-award winning anime.

The Boy and the Heron age rating

The Boy and the Heron has been given an age rating of 12A. Although some have been surprised by this, there are scenes and themes running throughout the film that could upset younger children.

Violence, threat and horror are all mild throughout much of the movie, and often surreal in the way anime usually presents such scenes. However, there are sporadic depictions of people on fire and melting into puddles, and the internal organs of animals bursting from them after they've been cut. The main character, Mahito, hits himself in the face with a rock after struggling with grief and the upheaval of moving house - this is perceived as portraying self-harm. 

With the main storyline focussing on grief, the constant themes of bereavement and emotional distress are sure to be upsetting for young children. Parent Previews summed up what to expect from the movie, saying "Western audiences tend to assume that animated films are made for children. While that is broadly true of Western media, the same sentiment is not shared in Japan. 

"Along with several other Studio Ghibli films, The Boy and the Heron doesn’t preclude younger viewers, but they are likely to miss some of the thematic complexities or visual abstractions upon which the film depends. There are scenes of blood, violence, and peril which make this production unsuitable for young or sensitive audiences, but older children should be alright – provided they can keep up with the plot."

They concluded by adding "I would caution viewers that, despite its overall excellence, this movie is not much interested in explaining itself in deep detail. It presents a magical, transportive adventure, and it wants you to think for yourself about what, if anything, Mahito learns on his journey through the rabbit-hole. Think Spirited Away – an incredible journey with unimaginable risks, and some complex themes woven throughout." 

Still from The Boy and the Heron movie

(Image credit: BFA/Toho/Alamy)

What is The Boy and the Heron based on?

Although The Boy and the Heron references a 1937 novel by Genzaburo Yoshinor named How Do You Live, it isn't based on the book. It is, however, a semi-autobiographical account of the experiences of filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki's own early childhood. 

The reference to How Do You Live, comes from the original title of the film. It's been renamed The Boy and the Heron for worldwide audiences, but the original Japanese title translates as How Do You Live. The novel contains similar themes to the film, following a teenage boy as he learns about grief and experiences growth in response to human experiences. The book makes a cameo in the film, when Mahito's mother is shown gifting it to him.

According to The Harvard Crimson, The Boy and the Heron is influenced by Hayao Miyazaki's life fleeing Tokyo during World War II, and starting anew in the countryside. As depicted, Mahito's father is a plane mechanic, as was Miyazaki’s. Miyazaki's mother almost succumbed to tuberculosis when he was very young, which is thought to draw parallels with Mahito losing his mother in a hospital fire. 

In an interview with Deadline, producer and Studio Ghibli cofounder Toshio Suzuki spoke about Miyazaki making a more personal film - the filmmaker stepped out of retirement to make the movie. Suzuki said "[Miyazaki]’s never done a film where he himself is the protagonist, so he felt that he needed to do that while he’s alive. His past works had a female protagonist, but this time he wanted to tell his own story, so the protagonist was going to be a boy."

Still from The Boy and the Heron movie

(Image credit: BFA/Toho/Alamy)

The Boy and the Heron: Voice cast

The film was dubbed by a host of well known faces for its international release, including:

  • Luca Padovan as Mahito Maki
  • Robert Pattinson as The Grey Heron
  • Karen Fukuhara as Lady Himi
  • Gemma Chan as Natsuko
  • Christian Bale as Shoichi Maki
  • Mark Hamill as Granduncle
  • Florence Pugh as Kiriko
  • Willem Dafoe as Noble Pelican
  • Dave Bautista as The Parakeet King
  • Denise Pickering as Izumi (Maid #1)
  • Barbara Rosenblat as Utako (Maid #2)
  • Melora Harte as Eriko (Maid #3)
  • Barbara Goodson as Aiko (Maid #4)
  • Mamoudou Athie, Tony Revolori and Dan Stevens as Parakeets

Many viewers have shared their surprise that Robert Pattinson voiced the character of the Heron. As an apparently unusual choice, some have said he was unrecognisable, and absolutely nailed the voice as if he'd been anime voice acting for some time. 

According to Indie Wire, voice director Michael Sinterniklaas was initially doubtful Pattinson was the right man for the job too. He said "When Pattinson’s name came up, I thought he’s a fine actor but there was nothing in his body of work to indicate that he could do this crazy thing." 

He added "When he came to our studio in L.A., he was like 'OK, I’ve been thinking about this role and I recorded some stuff. Do you want to hear it?' And he whips out his iPhone and plays some stuff that he’s just been doing in the Memos app and it was already the voice. I was like, 'Oh, bingo, you’ve already got the character.'"

Still from The Boy and the Heron movie

(Image credit: BFA/Toho/Alamy)

Where can you watch The Boy and the Heron?

The Boy and the Heron is still being shown at select cinemas across the country - check out the listings at your nearest venue to see if yours is one of them.

Apart from that, the movie isn't currently available to buy or stream. It remains unknown which streamer the film will be added to, although an announcement is expected soon. 

For more on age suitability, we looked into whether Madame Web is suitable for kids, and whether the new Doctor Who is for younger audiences. If you're looking for something a bit different and want to try Only Murders in the Building, we've also got the lowdown on the age rating for this one too.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.