Directed By: Mamoru Hosoda
Studio: Studio Chizu
Classification: 12 A
Running Time: 124 mins (2hrs 4mins)
Audio: English, Japanese
Distributor: Anime Limited
From the Oscar nominated director – Mamoru Hosoda (Wolf Children, Summer Wars, Mirai), comes his latest animated feature film – ‘Belle’.
We return to an integrated social media society, with technology that allows a user to dive right into a whole other world where they can recreate themselves using their ‘biometrics’. Which is exactly what 17 year old Japanese high school girl Suzu does in order to escape her self isolating life. Through her new form and online identity, she finds the courage to sing aloud again through the social networking platform – ‘U’. Her performance soon begins to gain immense momentum, as she rises to the top of the music charts, with regular performances and expert promotion from her classmate – Belle becomes an online icon.
Belle is idolized by her fans, although much like reality there are also many that scrutinize her, with cyber bullying and trolls being a constant presence. Just like how many are hoping to unmask Belle and discover her real life identity – just as many are also after the ‘beast’ known as The Dragon. A highly skilled fighter that has been making a name for himself in the online combat circuit, who is also being chased down by a self-righteous vigilante group led by superhero wannabe Justin. As Belle and the ‘Beast’s’ paths cross during one of her performances, Suzu develops a fascination into doing all she can to uncover just who The Dragon is. From here Suzu seeks him out, only to find his castle and the story of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast begins to be recreated almost scene for scene. The similarity in this film is too on the nose for my taste.
However there is plenty of character development, a very entertaining music score and performances, as well as real depictions of everyday life in a Japanese countryside town. As well as a high school girl’s normal life, as she struggles with her feelings of not being enough, the loss of her mother, developing a first crush and the complexity of ‘mean girl politics’ in school. But then there is a massive curve ball I never saw coming! One that was so shocking, that I don’t think the viewers were really prepared for it. This film is emotional, for instance with Suzu who lost her mother in a very tragic way several years ago, she has since grown distant from her father every day and also has so little confidence that she instead prefers to sing underneath a table than stand with the local choir club she is with. There are a number of interesting characters within this film, ones I wish were explored just a bit more, perhaps with an extra 30 minutes this may have been achieved. ‘Belle’ doesn’t feel entirely original, it has so many similarities to a number of Hosoda’s other works including the first Digimon film and Summer Wars. It is still far from Hosoda’s best, but it is still worth checking out even just for the visuals and music.
And if that wasn’t enough, I have to give a massive shout out to the Oscar®-nominated team of Tom Moore and Ross Stewart from Irish animation studio – Cartoon Saloon (Wolfwalkers, Song of the Sea, The Secret of Kells), who brought to life the fantastic scenes that are part of the virtual world “U”.
‘Belle’ is currently playing across Irish and UK cinemas, thanks to the hard working people over at Anime Limited (https://www.alltheanime.com/). So make sure to catch it if you can on the big screen, as I am sure Anime Limited are already working hard on bringing out their physical release of ‘Belle’.