Sunday, January 16, 2022

Belle / 竜とそばかすの姫 - Movie Review

The Movie: Belle / 竜とそばかすの姫

The Director: Mamoru Hosoda

The Cast: Kaho Nakamura, Ryō Narita, Shōta Sometani, Tina Tamashiro, Lilas Ikuta, Kōji Yakusho, Takeru Satoh

The Story: Suzu is a shy high school student living in a rural village. For years, she has only been a shadow of herself. But when she enters "U", a massive virtual world, she escapes into her online persona as Belle, a globally-beloved singer.

The Review:
As the movie's title might suggest, this story is a modern take on the classic Beauty and the Beast story although instead of castles and cottages there is a virtual reality world where people exist as they were truly meant to be. It's an idealized existence which I feel resonates with how we all perceive our current online experience through social media and other forms of online content. Mamoru Hosoda is spot on with every aspect of what this story has to offer and there really is a lot going on. So many themes from bullying and domestic violence to self worth and different forms of love.

The style of animation for this movie has the look and feel of classic anime and in a lot of ways feels like it could fit into Disney' pre-CGI catalog right alongside the movie that it is inspired by. That being said, the whole thing is just gorgeous with so many stunningly beautiful scenes, I highly recommend seeing it in a theater to get the full effect. The scale of the virtual world is huge as you can see in the image above and then Hosoda  flips that in the real world by creating a more intimate visual style that emphasizes the small town life of the high school students that make up most of the characters in the movie.

The main character Suzu is voiced by singer Kaho Nakamura both for the speaking parts and for the songs which are all beautiful and each one adds layers of depth to the storytelling. I read up a bit on Nakamura and it seems that she is a very dynamic singer which makes sense because all of it comes through in her performance. The transformation of Suzu into Belle is stunning but what happens after that is really where the heart of the story is as it is ultimately a coming of age tale.

As I mentioned earlier, there is so much going on throughout the world that Hosoda has created with each character being given time to have their own experiences and confront their own issues all while the director weaves all of it together. There are a few key moments, no details here since they are pivotal to the story and take place in the third act, that have such a huge emotional punch which is accentuated exponentially by the imagery that is put on screen.

The Verdict:
Belle is a beautifully crafted and completely satisfying cinematic experience. Director Mamoru Hosoda has created an emotionally charged visual spectacle that is equal parts classic fairy tale and modern science fiction, coming of age drama. This movie is an absolute must see for fans of animated movies and there is an English dubbed version available if you prefer that over subtitles.

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