THE BOY AND THE BEAST (2015)
Updated: Feb 8
This beast hits hard enough to challenge Studio Ghibli!
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Cast/Voices: Shôta Sometani, Aoi Miyazaki, Kôji Yakusho, Suzu Hirose, Lily Franky
Related films: The Girl who Leapt through Time, Spirited Away, Summer Wars
Mamoru Hosoda continues to hone in on Studio Ghibli’s territory, but when the quality of his films parallel - or even exceed - that of his competitor, who are we to complain. The Boy and the Beast follows in the footsteps of Wolf Children in the sense that it becomes even more Ghibli-like in atmosphere and accessibility.
The realm of fantasy takes total precedence over science fiction this time around. A choice that somewhat distance The Boy and the Beast from the director’s other films. Still, the unmistakable Hosoda-atmosphere seeps through the cracks and makes for a film which both expands on his formula and maintains his legacy.
Our protagonist is Kyuta, a recently orphaned boy who is running away from his home and his unpleasant relatives. With no place to go he finds himself wandering through the Shibuya Crossing. When stumbling through nearby back alleys he encounters 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.
Hosoda’s characters, dialogue and story are more enjoyable, entertaining and family friendly than ever. It is hard not to think of Spirited Away when countless fairytale creatures bring forth this playful and heartwarming story. At the same time the film manages to avoid the pitfall of plagiarism on all accounts, much due to the strong writing and storytelling.
Without revealing the story, the final sequence of the film is arguably 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. It might not be next level computer graphics in this day and age, but it certainly is mesmerizing.
Between the lines
Hints of social critique can found between the skyscrapers and fairytale creatures. Kyuta’s negligent relatives appears to be the cause of his authority issues. The easily broken bond with his blood relatives has made him distrust anyone around him. Instead he forms a stronger bond with a substitute family of his own choosing.
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 the coming generation. It stands to reason that there will be an increase in individuals falling through the cracks of society. Maybe these films reflect the growing changes in the Japanese family system.
That being said, the social critique is kept at minimum. For the most part this is a classic tale of an underdog. As such it might be slightly predictable in its storytelling, but that is also the only complain that can med made about this film. The Boy and the Beast is primarily made to entertain, something it accomplishes on all levels.
In addition to the quirky and humorous dialogue there are a couple of things which really makes The Boy and the Beast stand out in the anime jungle. Up to this point, the hand-drawn animations got more spectacular for every Hosoda-film, and this is no exception. Especially the scenes in Shibuya are so lifelike that you could almost swear they are real.
The presence of hefty CGI-blended animations indicate a certain technological presence. Hosoda never quite lets go of his sci-fi-inclination, which is underlined by the final sequence and its hints of something akin to sci-fi. Again, this being said without mentioning anything about the plot. Sorry for the cryptic descriptions. You’ll thank me for it once you see the film.
Whether you are a Ghibli fan, Hosoda fan, anime fan, fantasy fan or just love good films, The Boy and the Beast is not to be missed. Regardless of genre or country of origin this is one of the best films of 2015. If your anime films are far apart and long between - which we hope they are not - then this should be next in line. It is the kind of film that gets newbs into anime and keeps the already anime-addicted well satisfied.