DIR/WRI: Mamoru Hosoda • PRO: Atsushi Chiba, Takuya Itô, Genki Kawamura, Yuichiro Sato • DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema • ED: Lee Smith • DES: Nathan Crowley • MUS: Masakatsu Takagi • CAST: Bryn Apprill, Kumiko Asô, Morgan Berry
Coming-of-age films form a central part of cinema; especially in Japanese cinema. One only need look at the likes of Studio Ghibli’s most popular films, such as Spirited Away and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, to see the deep connection such a genre has to the country and its films. The Boy and the Beast is similar in terms of Japanese cinema as well as director Mamoru Hosoda’s previous work.
Nine-year-old Ren is left alone after the death of his mother. With no father figure to be found Ren wanders the streets of Tokyo. While there, he encounters a beast, Kumatetsu, and follows him back to the beast world. Begrudgingly, Kumatetsu takes Ren on as a pupil granting him the nickname Kyuta and begins training him in the martial art kendo. This causes controversy in the beast world and, as the years pass, Ren finds that severing his connections to the human world was not so easy.
Like many of Hosoda’s previous films family runs deep in The Boy and the Beast. It is, however, less high concept than the likes of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars. It is closer to Wolf Children in terms of his style and not just because of the personified animals. The film has a warm emotional core full of the need for acceptance and a desire to belong. Something that both main characters feel strongly about.
Both Ren and Kumatetsu are very similar to one another. Both are arrogant, stubborn, and brave to a fault. That said, they both have hearts of absolute gold. Both are willing to die for what they believe in and for the people they care about. This is probably Hosoda’s best film thanks to the glaring flaws in nearly every major or minor character. Some are prideful, others are snobbish, while some are just plain annoying. But, on the whole, it makes the film feel very real chock-full of living, breathing personalities.
The animation is perhaps the film’s biggest selling point. It harkens back to the classic designs of anime and manga in the past but also reaches into the future with some very impressive and well blended CG work. Backgrounds look like oil paintings in the beast world or photo-realistic drawings in the human world. Character animations are quirky, fluid, and lively though the background CG crowds leave something to be desired. The fight scenes make The Boy and the Beast essential cinematic viewing while some of the more surreal imagery is sublimely breath-taking; such as an enormous tusked sperm whale made of blue light diving into the concrete of a Tokyo street.
The Boy and the Beast wears its influences on its sleeve from the likes of Alice in Wonderland to Harry Potter right back to Moby Dick. Hosoda owes a great deal to the masters that came before him including those at Studio Ghibli but that’s not to say he isn’t a master in his own right. The Boy and the Beast is a beautifully warm film that rides on a wave of emotion and fantasy. Mamoru Hosoda has made his mark on history with this film and is free to join other great anime directors such as the late Satoshi Kon or Hayao Miyazaki.
The Boy and the Beast is released 11th July 2017