Few filmmakers can claim the same heights of whimsy, artistry and storytelling as writer-director Hayao Miyazaki, whose modern-day fables seem to prove that having one’s head in the clouds isn’t a fault, but a virtue — in more ways than one. From his 1988 breakthrough "My Neighbor Totoro” to his 2001 Oscar-winning animated feature, "Spirited Away,” the sky is one of Miyazaki’s favorite playgrounds, where flight is about more than just elevation; it’s about transcendence.

Characters in flight often traverse physical and spiritual realms. They move between worlds and states of being. And in the case of Miyazaki’s latest, "The Boy and the Heron,” flight even serves as a gateway between life and death.

Miyazaki’s protagonists are often children or young adults forced to confront the realities of a flawed world. These characters’ moments of awakening often arrive at the tail end of some grand, perhaps even perilous, adventure — and typically while they’re suspended in midair.