After the success of his previous film Mirai, Mamoru Hosada returns with yet another triumph in the stunningly imaginative and visually astounding Belle. Inspired by both the 1756 French fairy tale Beauty and the Beast and the 1991 animated Disney film of the same name, Belle follows shy high school student Suzu. Still reeling from the loss of her mother at a young age, Suzu finds an escape in the massive online world of ‘U.’ As her online avatar Belle, Suzu meets a mysterious beast like creature and soon embarks on an epic quest to uncover his true identity and protect him from vengeful vigilantes.
Audiences familiar with Beauty and the Beast may think that they already have a good idea of how Belle will unfold, however Belle subverts expectations with its story throughout and is not merely another retelling of a classic. This is a modern fairy tale for the internet age and the issues that it raises about virtual reality and how we conduct ourselves in the online world will automatically resonate with audiences.
Belle deals with dual worlds and dual identities in much the same way that we all do every day. There is the online world which, if we choose, allows us to become whomever we want. We can change our appearance, our circumstances and live out the fantasies that we may be too scared to live out in real life. Then of course there is the real world. In the real world, life can be infinitely harder, and we must deal with real world issues such as loss of loved ones and less than ideal living circumstances. Certainly, this is the case for Suzu who struggles to express herself and finds that ‘U’ allows her to do things that she can only dream of doing in her day to day life.
At its heart, Belle is a searingly effective portrait of grief. Suzu’s loss has shaped her in both ways she recognises and ways that she doesn’t realise yet. Grief is a universal theme and as such Belle has an impressive universality. This is a film that not only speaks to the audience, much like Belle herself, it sings sweetly and powerfully. Belle draws the audience into a world filled with vibrancy, colour and strong emotions and the result is an emotionally resonate and affective film.
On the technical side, Belle’s animation is beautiful and dazzling and is accompanied by a haunting score that will leave audiences with goosebumps. Belle is not only a film but a work of art.
Animation, Adventure | Japan, 2021 | 15 | Blu-ray, DVD | 27th June 2022 (UK) | All The Anime | Dir.Mamoru Hosoda | Kaho Nakamura, Ryô Narita, Shôta Sometani, Tina Tamashiro, Lilas Ikuta