Belle (or Ryū to Sobakasu no Hime in Japanese), is the latest film written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda (Mirai, Summer Wars, etc.) which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival back in July 2021. At the film festival, Belle received a 14-minute standing ovation after its screening. Now after all this time, Anime Limited have brought Belle to UK cinemas on the 4th of February and due to the overwhelming demand extra screenings have been arranged. So let’s see if Belle is worth the hype.
Suzu Naito is a seemingly average and shy high school student in a rural town. After losing her mother in an accident when Suzu was younger, she had become a shadow of her former self and withdrawn from society. One day, a classmate introduces Suzu to “U”, a virtual online world where people can reinvent themselves. Here, Suzu becomes Belle, a singing beauty in the world of U. One of Belle’s biggest concerts is disrupted by vigilantes chasing an infamous user dubbed Beast by other U users. As the vigilantes continue their quest to find the beast, Belle also begins her own journey to find out who the beast is herself whilst trying to balance this with her daily life as Suzu.
If some of that feels like it is ringing a bell, that is right as the film is inspired by the fairytale Beauty and the Beast. Where some key moments feel like a nod to the original it overall goes in a different direction and modernises some of the messages of the fairytale. It is incredibly well written as observant viewers will catch details to future plot points as there is an immense amount of payoff of events earlier in the film. Yet it is done in a way that doesn’t make the film predictable. Although the middle part of the film is a bit of a lull, from a few too many subplots going on that don’t really fully develop. It is frustrating as it feels some characters needed a bit more interaction to show development in their relationship and cutting one or two of the subplots could have given time for that. Still in the grand scheme of things it is only a minor criticism as there is enough there to work as a film. Keeping all the subplots would have worked better as a tv series, where there could have been more time dedicated to each one.
Visually the film lives up to its name and is stunning. What is also great is the fact that the world of U is animated using 3D techniques whereas the real world uses classic 2D techniques to make the two worlds feel distinct from each other and immersive. Both are vibrant in their own way, and despite being so different are cohesive enough in style to feel like the same film. The 3D particularly helps make Belle’s musical performances feel like a true artistic experience, smoothly animating her movements but also adding visual flares at key moments to create an artistic visual moment alongside the audio. Again only a very minor criticism that in the real world, mainly scenes along the river, the characters don’t always blend with the background, but it is only in small instances this happens.
A truly great voice acting cast has been assembled for this film as the characters have a very real feel to them as the acting truly enhances the emotional moments, which are sprinkled across the entire film. Complemented by the soundtrack that is subtle but effective, there are also some Belle performances as well such as the film starting with U (a collab with millennium parade) which is an RnB style track. There is also a montage showing a few of other genres as snippets, working well to cement the idea of Belle as an idol in the virtual world. Beyond this, A Million Miles Away and Lend Me Your Voice have a more musical ballad feel to them as Belle sings her feelings at key moments of the plot. Although unlike in a musical, Belle is actually performing them, so that alongside the fact there aren’t many of these tracks would make it hard to class it as a musical. This is for the best as it wouldn’t fit the established tone and would dampen the emotional impact of these songs, very much a case of it being rare makes the emotion behind it more impactful and creates a more significant moment.
Without a doubt, Belle is a must-watch for any anime fan and is a true masterpiece. As the writing, animation and sound are all strong, there are only minor criticisms that prevent the film from being truly perfect. Mamoru Hosoda has truly lived up to his reputation and created one of his best works yet. This is bound to go down as a classic anime film for generations to come, do not miss your chance to see it!