‘Belle’ Review

To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, Belle (竜とそばかすの姫, Ryū to Sobakasu no Hime, literally “The Dragon and the Freckled Princess”) is a Japanese anime sci-fan musical written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda (Mirai, The Boy, and the Beast). Featuring Kaho Nakamura, Ryō Narita, Shōta Sometani, Tina Tamashiro, Lilas Ikuta, Kōji Yakusho, Toshiyuki Morikawa, and Takeru Satoh in the original version with Kylie McNeill, Manny Jacinto, Brandon Engman, Hunter Schafer, Jessica DiCicco, Ben Lepley, Chace Crawford, and Paul Castro Jr. providing voices for the English dub. Inspired by the 1756 French fairy tale Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, the story follows Suzu Naito, a seventeen-year-old Japanese high school student who struggles to sing and write music after witnessing her mother drown after rescuing a child from a flooding river when she was young.

A voice (Asami Miura) comes on screen and explains that the “U” is the ultimate virtual community that was created and governed by its five wise architects known only as the “Voices.” The platform has the biggest internet society in history with over 5 billion users and the number is still growing. The camera then pans into a digital cityscape filled with countless unique avatars, known in the “U” as “AS”. The view then shifts to an “AS” in a flowery red dress singing on a whale covered in speakers. The other “AS” cheer for her as she passes by.

In the rural Kōchi Prefecture of Japan, Suzu Naito (Kaho Nakamura, Kylie McNeill) awakens startled in her bed holding a microphone. Her father (Kōji Yakusho, Ben Lepley) asks if she’s okay to which she replies yes, clumsily falling from her bed. While on his way out for the day Suzu’s father asks his daughter if he can do anything for her, but she declines. As she sits on the porch the camera pans to her phone revealing her “AS” is Belle, the one shown singing in the “U” earlier.

I’ve always loved anime and seeing films like Belle prosper today just makes me happy. Growing up the only cinematic anime films you could find were from Studio Ghibli. As time went on and anime became more popular in the U.S. more anime features were dubbed and released for home entertainment. Features such as Spirited Away have even won an Academy Award. I would like to see more Japanese cinema continue to make its way over to US theaters as it will increase future cinephile’s love of international film.

Unlike your typical anime, Belle does not have a lot of action and it’s not even a love story per se, but more of a commentary on the influence of social media, parental abuse, and dealing with loss. The main characters of Suzu Naito/Belle and Kei/Dragon have a connection in that they both have lost their mother’s, but have to deal with it in different ways. Suzu felt abandoned and began to distance herself from her father while Kei’s father became abusive towards him and his brother Tomo. It’s this connection that allows them to grow closer as the story progresses.

The feature can be viewed as a cross between Ready Player One and Beauty and the Beast. Hosoda even pays homage to the 1991 Disney animated movie with a dance scene between Belle and Dragon. This is special in and of itself as the overwhelming commercial success of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) is what inspired the Japanese animators to begin making longer films. In terms of connection to the former film, there is an entirely digital world where most people spend their time. Users can even earn large amounts of money by gaining followers and sponsors.

This is very relatable to how we live today as most children grow up aiming to be social media influencers these days. Basically, a job where you can get paid to be yourself and do what you love. Whether that’s singing, fighting, or talking junk about celebrities. With the growth of the Metaverse, this is getting closer to becoming a reality than the fantasy once presented in movies.

Belle sports amazing animation that has become synonymous with Studio Chizu. Nobutaka Ike (Perfect Blue) does a great job with the art direction by helping to distinguish the different animation styles of the “U” and the real world. The “U” has cel-shading to give the characters a 3D effect while the real world is more traditional. The one thing most people will leave this film enjoying most is the music. The tunes are catchy and are original to the story. This is also an anime film with a good dub so it can be viewed in English for those who do not wish to read subtitles.

If you enjoy anime and music this is the film for you. The animation is beautiful and the story is deep and meaningful on many levels. I give Belle a Decent 8.1/10. Mamoru Hosoda has proven himself as a great writer-director and hopefully, his partnership with Studio Chizu and Toho continues.

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