Review of 'Belle (Ryû to sobakasu no hime)'

belle.jpg In this spectacular Japanese animation from Mamoru Hosoda we meet Suzu (voiced by Kaho Nakamura), a shy, reclusive girl who is struggling to come to terms with the tragic loss of her mother. When she is introduced to the virtual world of “U” she becomes the flamboyant “Belle” whose emotional songs attract a huge following. One day her concert is interrupted by a group of armed vigilantes chasing a monstrous creature. Belle is intrigued and goes in search of the “beast”, eventually tracing him to his hidden castle finding that he is just as damaged as Suzu is in real life. Forming an immediate bond the two face enormous odds if they are to heal…

This is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” with many visuals a direct translation of the Walt Disney animation (thinking specifically of the dance sequence). The animation while in “U” is mostly computer generated while the “real world” sequences are all hand-drawn giving a striking visual impact (a very intentional choice of the director). The “U” scenes are overwhelming, to say the least, interpreting a virtual world in a way we have seen before but nonetheless looks great: Huge vistas full of moving icons representing individuals, outlandish avatars, a feeling of massive space and imagination…you get the idea. There is also some rather pretty pop music here though they are mostly forgotten soon after they are heard. The director indicated he wished to have the music appeal to an international audience (with a single European song writer alongside several Japanese) but I fear in doing so it might be equally unappealing to all.

The story and characters do feel a bit thin, with a great deal more concentration devoted to the way this film looks, leaving the whole experience a bit empty. Having said that, the trauma experienced by the real-world “beast” is some of the most hard-hitting I have seen in anime and uncomfortable to take in when it is finally revealed. The film moves quite slowly but does have a suitably dramatic finale.

“Belle” looks great but ultimately feels a bit vacuous.

I was lucky enough to attend a screening of Belle in London at the Picturehouse Central at Piccadilly on November 27, 2021 with the director in attendance, answering questions. It was here he explained, though an interpreter, various aspects of the film including working with various creatives around the world (including the UK).

Picturehouse Screening

Rating: “Really good but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2021-11-27

Directed by: Mamoru Hosoda

Studio: Studio Chizu

Year: 2021

Length: 121 minutes

Genre: Japanese Animation

Other reviewed films by Mamoru Hosoda: