THE BOY AND THE BEAST | ANIME REVIEW
Updated: Aug 18
Mamoru Hosoda's Beast Throws a Hard Punch at Studio Ghibli!
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Cast/Voices: Shôta Sometani, Aoi Miyazaki, Kôji Yakusho, Suzu Hirose, Lily Franky
The streets of Shibuya never looked so colorful. It was the perfect place to hide the darkness within. The crowds. The lights. The sounds. No one would ever notice a depressed little boy drifting through the alleyways, no one of this world that is...
Introducing The Boy and the Beast
Opportunistic is a strong word, but it seems unlikely that the timing of The Boy and the Beast was coincidental. Two years after Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement, Mamoru Hosoda made a film that honed in on Studio Ghibli’s territory like never before.
Hosoda had a history with Studio Ghibli (which you can read more about in our review on The Girl who Leapt Through Time) and now he had a chance to strike back. Luckily, it was a clean blow. The Boy and the Beast might take some cues from Spirited Away, but Hosoda rather reappropriated than steal while taking a new step towards anime-world domination.
The Boy and the Beast might feel familiar, but neither Ghibli nor Japanese folklore are copied, but incorporated into the world of Hosoda. His Beast might have attacked at an opportune moment, but its aim was to expand Hosoda's artistic vision. This is how he strengthened his legacy.
Hard-Hitting Facts & Opinions
The Boy and the Beast was released in Japan in the summer of 2015. It was an immediate success that overtook Avengers: Age of Ultron as best-selling film in the cinemas. The following year, at the 39th Japan Academy Film Prize, The Boy and the Beast was awarded «Animation of the Year».
Four years earlier, Hosoda had left Madhouse Inc. to start his own Studio Chizu. The Boy and the Beast was the second film he made at his new studio. In terms of success, it strengthened the studio's foothold, both in Japan and abroad.
For his last three films, Hosoda had written the script together with Satoko Okudera. This time around, he took care of the writing himself. This did not sit well with fans of his collaborations with Okudera. Jacob Chapman over at Anime News Network went as far as calling the storytelling «heartbreakingly incompetent».
Variety's Peter Debruge offered a kinder view. After concluding that the story culminates in all kinds of cliches, he argues that the «script has the virtue of expressing itself less via words than it does through truly spectacular set pieces».
The third, and most insightful opinion is presented by Vieilocean from the blog called Hana Ga Saita Yo. He suggests that The Boy and the Beast is an intricate reflection of father-and-son-relationships, and that it mirrors the mother-child-relationships in Wolf Children. Furthermore, he argues that the main message is about self-realization.
A Simple Plot for Kids of All Ages
Chapman and Debruge's critique outlines flaws that might affect the film's longevity. That said, after watching it three times over, JCA are still not bored with The Boy and the Beast. Admittedly, the visuals and the atmosphere fascinate most, but they are so engrossing that we didn't even notice the simple storytelling or the one-dimensional characters.
The tale starts with Ren, soon to earn the nickname Kyuta, a recently orphaned boy who is running away from his family. Wandering aimlessly, he finds himself drifting through Shibuya. In nearby back alleys he meets Kumatetsu, an anthropomorphic bear from a parallel world. Kumatetsu is one of two great fighters competing for the title of champion in his realm.
This devil may care bear (pun intended) has but one problem:
He has yet to find a suitable apprentice.
Enter Kyuta, a boy with major authority issues, whose world is falling apart as we speak. A match made in heaven you might think. If bickering, yelling, and fistfights is your idea of a healthy relationship, then you might be on to something.
Following Kumatetsu's trail, Kyuta stumbles into a parallel universe of fantasy and wonder. It is a medieval looking realm in which the plenitude of creatures and beasts can only be described as Alice in Wonderland or Spirited Away on steroids.
From there on, the real adventure begins, but we won't spoil more in this review. Instead, let us consider the critique once more: The story is indeed easy to grasp, but its implications are far from shallow. Perhaps offhand storytelling was a god fit for this particular subject matter? It certainly makes it easier to never lose sight of the striking visuals.
Between the Strings - Theories of Boys and Beasts
Between the skyscrapers and fairytale creatures there are hints of social critique to be found. Kyuta’s negligent relatives appears to be the cause of his authority issues. They were the family he never wanted. The easily broken bond with them has made him lose his strength and spirit.
In the parallel universe, he forms a stronger bond with a substitute family of his own choice. It might be a stretch, but the idea of choosing your own family seems somewhat akin to the subject matter in Kore-eda’s Shoplifters. With an elder generation struggling to take care of itself, who is to care for coming generations?
It stands to reason that there will be an increase in individuals falling through the cracks of society. Perhaps films like The Boy and the Beast and Shoplifters reflect a growing change in the Japanese family system.
Chapman brings up Hosoda's own experience with fatherhood as an alternative message in The Boy and the Beast. It was the first film Hosoda made after becoming a father himself, an experience that perhaps reminded him just how monstrous a child's anger can become.
What it all boils down to, which is kind of spoon-fed to the audience, but also makes the message applicable to pretty much everyone, are the questions of strength. What is it? Where does it come from? And more importantly, how can we cultivate strength in ourself?
Humans are not allowed in the beast world, because our emotions are considered an uncontrollable liability. Humans are experts at running away from problems, and letting anxiety build up to monstrous and explosive outburst of anger or rage.
On his journey, Kyuta develops a more nuanced view on strength. As a kid, he thought it was all about being tough. As he gets older, he understands that his inner strength was hurt by his inability to trust those around him. Reconnecting with his humanity makes him able to see the bigger picture and control his rage.
Kyuta comes to the realization that he must find his own strength. Kumatetsu is no Mr. Miyagi, and his teachings are not half as helpful as the life-lessons he offers in everyday situations. These are the lessons that set Kyuta on the path to rediscover his humanity, to regain his spirit, and to find the true self that slipped away from him all those years ago.
Producing an Unforgettable World
Both plot and characters might be one-dimensional, but the dialogue is definitely cheeky, nonetheless. The attention to detail and atmosphere makes me think that the downplayed storytelling might have been intentional.
Up to this point, the hand-drawn animations had gotten more spectacular for every Hosoda-film, and The Boy and the Beast was no exception. Especially the scenes in Shibuya are so lifelike that the boundaries between fantasy and reality are almost whisked away.
There is an evident presence of CGI-blended animations, though, which indicates a certain technological presence. Even though The Boy and the Beast leans less on science fiction than The Girl who Leapt Through Time or Summer Wars, Hosoda never completely forgo his sci-fi-inclination.
In this relation, without spoiling the story, the final sequence needs to be mentioned. It is loaded with hints to something akin to sci-fi, and might be one of the most captivating spectacles in anime since the magnificent Metropolis or Makoto Shinkai’s The Garden of Words.
Just like these films, The Boy and the Beast also showcases an outstanding blend of CGI and animation. In this day and age, it might not be next level computer graphics, but it certainly is mesmerizing. Sorry for the cryptic descriptions. You’ll thank me for it once you see the film.
It's hard not to think of Spirited Away when countless fairytale creatures bring the playful and heartwarming story to life. At the same time, The Boy and the Beast manages to avoid the pitfall of plagiarism, much due to character chemistry and spectacular design.
The story has as much in common with Karate Kid and Super 8 as it has with Ghibli and Alice in Wonderland. In this sense, it's like a postmodern mishmash of influences, whose originality lies in its composition rather than its creative output. It is all built on a standard coming-of-age story that juxtaposes childhood innocence with grown-up problems and fantasy.
As for the animations and the visuals, we've already mentioned Metropolis and the Garden of Words, which brings up an interesting point. Hosoda has long since established his own anime style. The Boy and the Beast might be his only film that moves into Makoto Shinkai's territory, which is probably best left alone.
Final Verdict for The Boy and the Beast
Just like its protagonists, The Boy and the Beast is far from perfect, but it has heart. The story might be simple, and the characters underdeveloped, but still, it harbors layers of hidden depth. This is why I argue that it is a good film for beginners to anime. It's easy to get into, with a careful approach to character development and sci-fi elements.
Check out our Beginner's Guide to Japanese Film for a good entryway to Japanese cinema.
On the other hand, it might be tedious to die-hard anime fans, to which the clues and formulas of the film might be all too familiar. To this lot, The Girl who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, or Wolf Children are probably better options. Their critique is worth noting, but for the most part, these anime intellectuals contradict the public consensus.
Whether you are a Ghibli fan, Hosoda fan, anime fan, fantasy fan, or just a film lover, The Boy and the Beast is an extraordinary experience. As far as JCA is concerned, regardless of genre or country of origin, it was a highlight of 2015.
If your anime films are far apart and long between - which we hope they are not - then The Boy and the Beast should be next in line. It is the kind of film that gets newbs into anime and keeps the already anime-addicted well-satisfied.
Anime News Network: The Boy and the Beast
Film Inquiry: The Boy and the Beast: The Power of a Well-Told Story
Hana Ga Saita Yo: [Analysis] Bakemono no Ko – The Boy and the Beast
Variety: Film Review: ‘The Boy and the Beast’