Japanese animation continues to play a major part in pop culture, but it seems to be gaining a bigger presence when it comes to the big screen. While the likes of Studio Ghibli and various Anime films have been the staple of this medium in the celluloid formats, movies like Weathering with You continue to appear in western theaters and manage to have an abundance of success. The latest film encompassing this trend is from Studio Chizu and their take on the classic fairytale Beauty and the Beast. This film is Ryu to Sobakasu no Hime-otherwise known as Belle.
Directed by Mamoru Hosoda, the movie tells the story of Suzu Naito-a reclusive high school student who decides to create a persona known as Belle in the virtual world of U. With her music Belle soon becomes an instant sensation, but Suzu soon find herself in the middle of a conflict when she is confronted by a mysterious user known as the Beast (aka Dragon). Since premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation, Belle has garnered several accolades including becoming the third highest grossing Japanese film in 2021. Naturally, after seeing a variety of content on the film, I became curious about Belle and wanted to see this acclaimed animated feature for myself. The movie made its way to the States on January 14, 2022, and after venturing through this virtual fantasy, I cannot deny that Belle lives up to its renowned reputation.
Belle was full of interesting concepts and compelling theme, as evident through its story. Despite its connection with Beauty and the Beast, the story was a loose rendition of the fairytale although it does keep true to the story’s morals-at least in its own way. The mystery surrounding the Beast was captivating and kept me guessing throughout the entire runtime-and the revelation was better than I imagined. Along with its mysteries and parallels, the plot also had a personal center with most of the story revolving around Suzu’s internal conflict. Even with the fantastical elements surrounding the story, this direction kept things grounded which gave the plot more layers to work with. The only issue surrounding the plot was its utilization of the U. The virtual world made for an intriguing setting, but its role needed more clarification and the contrast between the virtual world and the real world could be conflicting at times. Yet, even with this issue, the plot to this science fantasy film was sound in its delivery and with its grounded storytelling made the modern fairytale a captivating experience.
Equally as captivating was the film’s cast. In the case of Suzu, the young protagonist was an enjoyable lead as her compelling dilemma was matched by her unique charm. Along with Suzu was a supporting cast full of surprises. Suzu’s best friend, Hiro, was energetic and engulfing personality countered Suzu’s timidness perfectly. Another solid addition to the cast was Suzu’s old friend, and crush, Shinobu. Shinobu may not have left a grandiose impression, but his nonchalant attitude gave him a practical nature that, surprisingly, worked. Then there were fellow classmates Ruka and Kamishin who, though their roles were minor, had more to offer the cast than I initially expected. In the case of U, the virtual world was filled with a variety of characters, but most of them left a minimal impression. This was evident in the antagonist Justin who, while active, did not have the most compelling of motivations. Last and certainly not least was the Beast who had an endearing presence and had an array of moments, such as his scenes with Belle, that were compelling to say the least.
Along with its good sense of story and character, the movie also had a wonderful presentation-which shined thought in the film’s animation. The animation had a spectacular style to it with a variety of aspects that stood out. Perhaps the most notable attribute was the contrast seen in the animation of the real world and that of the U. The real world had a look fitting of any anime while the U used elements like CG and cell shading to create its visuals; and the differences between these two worlds complimented one worked to movie’s thematic atmosphere. Along with the movie’s vibrant animation was its sense of music. The score had a soothing nature to it, which this led to several touching compositions. Yet perhaps more notable were the original songs sung by Belle. From the opening number “U” to the song “Lend Me Your Voice”, each song stood out thanks to the actress’ performance and the soothing style of the music itself.
Belle is a film full of wonder and complexity. While some aspects could have been stronger in execution, like the balance between the U and the real world, the movie had plenty going for it such as its grounded storytelling, memorable characters and fantastic animation. For these reasons, and several others, Belle is a movie worth tipping my hat to as it is a credit to both anime films and the animation genre itself.