JANUARY 14TH, 2022
STARRING: KAHO NAKAMURA, RYO NARITA, SHOTA SOMETANI, TINA TAMASHIRO
DIRECTED BY: MAMORU HOSODA
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
In the history of literature and movies, there have been countless amounts of iterations of Beauty and the Beast. Just because of that it does not mean the interpretations and efforts should stop, it just means a director needs to be more inventive with the material at hand. That’s exactly what director Mamoru Hosoda has done with his anime spectacular Belle, which is a mixture of Ready Player One meets Beauty and the Beast, but also finds its own narrative path. Visually stunning is a standard part of Japanese animated films and there’s no exception with Belle, a visually immersive, and new age expression of loving someone behind the computer and not what their avatar looks like. It may run a bit too long but Belle is an eye-popping experience and a romance more relatable to the lives of teenagers today than anything Disney could put together.
The lead character is Suzu (Kaho Nakamura), a 17-year old girl that just wants to get through each day, feeling unrecognized, and traumatized by the death of her mother. Her relationship with her father is simple passing conversations of how was your day and rejected advances of a shared dinner. Suzu’s best friend Ruka (Tina Tamashiro) shares with her in obsessing over the popular girls in school and decides to set Suzu up with the new social network called U. In this world people can be whoever they want to be, cleverly created avatars that sync with the human personality, and a variety of other interests. What is created is Belle- a pink haired singer, who’s angelic voice captures the attention of billions of other users- and creates a world of popularity for Suzu she’s never experienced. Through her online journey, just before she is going to sing to the world, she is interrupted by a ferocious beast that looks like a warthog and a dragon, being chased by a group of internet warrior avatars. It’s after his introduction that Belle becomes fascinated by this mystery disruptor. Belle’s journey to help the person behind the avatar becomes a real adventure, while also finding redemption for Suzu in finding confidence for herself.
For director Mamoru Hosoda this is a bit of territory that he has investigated before, taking teenagers, or children with a lost sense of self. He dug into those themes with The Boy and the Beast, Mirai, and Wolf Children. With Belle he’s doing a better job of removing the Stockholm syndrome or the strangeness of humans falling in love with a beast by injecting it into the digital age. These characters are all a mask for who these people really are, which reveals a sense of fear, and a freedom for Suzu to be her true self. It’s within that unconventional approach by Hosoda that allows for great unpredictability in the story, which takes a turn on who is behind the avatar of the best, and strays away from the standard love story we have come to know from Beauty and the Beast.
The only negative side of Belle is the moments of filler, where Hosoda expands the internet universe, adding various other avatar characters- although inventive- which only create the true immersive experience of being on the internet. We see meme’s, videos of fans loving Belle, and chatrooms of people hating Belle for her music. It’s when the story focuses on who Suzu is, her relationship with classmates like Shinobu (Ryo Narita), a boy that Suzu has a crush on, but has always been a platonic relationship of him looking out for her, that’s the kind of connection that matters most. The internet stuff can be too much noise and distract from the more human story at the center.
Either way, Belle won me over, especially as a truly new and inventive way of telling the Beauty and the Beast story. There’s amazing, vibrant colors here, gorgeously hand crafted animation, and a third act ending that develops into being about protecting those in need, no matter how much you know them. This is Beauty and the Beast for the social media era. No dancing candlesticks or singing teapots, but a beautiful new expression on a tale as old as time.
BELLE IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS FRIDAY JANUARY 14TH, 2022
Written by: Leo Brady