Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Writer: Mamoru Hododa
Starring: Kaho Nakamura, Takeru Satoh, Kōji Yakusho, Lilas Ikuta, Ryo Narita, Shota Sometani, Tina Tamashiro
The latest film from Mamoru Hosoda, writer and director of Wolf Children and The Boy and the Beast, is Belle, a modern interpretation of the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast for the digital age. Hododa takes the fairy tale, removes the Stockholm Syndrome, and replaces it with social media.
Suzu Naito (Kaho Nakamura) is a shy and quiet teenager. At an early age she lost her mother, who she was very close too, and hasn’t been able to sing like she used to since. She feels like an outcast at school, never being part of the popular group. In an online virtual reality, known as U, Suzu has the chance to reinvent herself as Belle, a virtual singer with nothing holding her back. At one of her virtual concerts another avatar on U, known as The Beast (Takeru Satoh) barges in, bringing a battle along with him. Outside of the virtual world Suzu starts to become obsessed with finding out who the real person behind The Beast is, as the world inside U starts to hunt him down.
Belle is simply a gorgeous film. The animation is absolutely stunning all the way through. The real-world segments are shown in a more traditional hand-drawn style reflecting the slice of life anime tone, while the world of U is computer generated. There are also other styles that pop up, including a moment that looks like a mobile phone game as Suzu and her friend try to calm down a brewing war at school.
While there are elements of the story, including the ballroom dance scene, that are familiar, it’s a completely new interpretation of the classic story. It goes off in a completely new direction, updating it with the online virtual world, as well as the story focusing on the grief of Suzu’s mother and domestic violence. There are moments of this film towards the end, where it feels like a gut punch. It may be a fantastical adventure of music and gaming, but when it gets grounded and real, it’s chilling. It would be going too deep into spoiler territory to say anything more.
The film is filled with music, to the point that it’s a borderline musical. Each song is catchy and the score between them is fantastic. It completely absorbs you into the story. The soundtrack combined with the beautiful visuals makes a great pairing.
Running at a little over two hours, the film does feel a little too long. You feel like it’s coming to an end, with a goosebump inducing song, and then there’s still a little while to go. It doesn’t feel like there is a real conclusion to one of the plot threads either, it just feels a little rushed despite how long it also feels. It’s not the biggest issue and easy to overlook with everything else the film is doing.
Belle is part fairy tale, part coming-of-age, and all stunning animation. It’s mesmerising to watch. The music is fantastic. An essential watch for anime fans.
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