James Rolleston as Boy, who's waiting for a father who only exists in his mind.

The ending of “Boy,” the latest film from New Zealand director Taika Waititi, is a little bit ancient tradition and a little bit King of Pop.

As the final credits roll, cast members perform a traditional Maori haka dance to “Thriller” — and mix in some of Michael Jackson’s signature moves.

“Every Maori kid grows up learning haka to whatever song that belongs to your tribe,” says Waititi, who is himself of Maori descent. “When we were kids we used to mash them up with contemporary things, break dancing, stuff like that.”

The dance sequence’s blend of tradition and modernity reflects a number of issues at play in the film, which opens locally Friday. Released in New Zealand in 2010, “Boy” is the story of Boy (James Rolleston), a Maori 11-year-old whose mother dies while giving birth to his younger brother. Boy lives with his grandmother, a gaggle of cousins and a goat named Leaf, and he idolizes his father, Alamein (Waititi), who’s been in prison for most of Boy’s life.

When Alamein is released and sets out looking for a load of cash he buried before his stint in jail, Boy begins to realize his father isn’t the swashbuckling hero he is in Boy’s fantasies. In fact, he’s kind of a screwup who still asks his own mom for money, and his “gang” consists of two dimwitted buddies.

Boy, Alamein and Boy’s younger brother, Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu), all have vivid fantasies that give the film a Wes Anderson-style flair. Boy dreams of his father finding the money and buying a mansion where they can ride dolphins all day, while Rocky is sure he has superpowers. And Alamein has dreams of his own.

“All three of those boys are living in their own fantasy worlds, which all comes from needing to replace something that was lost — the mother is the central thing missing in their life,” says Waititi.

But it’s Alamein’s absence, says Waititi (who also wrote “Boy,” which is the highest-grossing New Zealand film of all time), that makes him such a powerful figure in Boy’s mind. “With most children, the less the fathers are present, the more children want to impress them. You feel your loyalty to your mother, but there’s this thing where fathers who are absent do become this mysterious thing. The parent who’s there the least gets the most love.”


Landmark E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW; opens Fri., $8-$11; 202-452-7672, . (Metro Center)