I have been watching movies for years and have immersed myself in many different genres, but one that I haven’t connected with a lot is anime. I’ve enjoyed a few of the the Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki films, Akira, Ninja Scroll, Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell, but I know all of those are some of the films that are the obvious mainstream selections of this style of movie. Most of the other less popular titles have been something that failed to connect with me story-wise or emotionally, leading me to have a pretty limited opinion of these film. So, when I saw that a new anime film was getting a wide release in Vancouver, I was a little on the fence believing that I may be the wrong critic to write about this movie.
Coming from filmmaker Mamoru Hosoda, the film was sure to have a far different look to it, as he is known for using a lot of digital work within his animation, much like Appleseed did. Not having a huge amount of success internationally, aside from the Digimon movie in 2000, and could have been bigger in North America if he had directed Howl’s Moving Castle, as originally planned in 2004. Instead, he abruptly after failing to come up with a concept that appealed to Studio Ghibli and went on to make a smaller, more localized impact with 2006’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, 2009’s Summer Wars, and 2012’s Wolf Children. With his new film The Boy and The Beast, Hosoda looks to make a worldwide impact with a film that is instantly accessible even if it’s local is foreign.
The film follows the two titular characters but opens on a boy named Ren, newly orphaned after his mother passes away. Ren has no options as his father’s whereabouts, being divorced from his mother for years, is unknown, his legally appointed guardians can’t seem to contain the rebellious youngster and he runs away to live on the streets of Shibuya, his only companion being a little mouse that nestles in his hair. Filled with anger, Ren tries to survive on his own means but, with a deep resentment to everyone he comes across, including a hooded figure who offers to bring him home with him, to become his disciple, an idea he staunchly refuses.
The hooded figure is revealed to be Kumatetsu, a powerful warrior who resembles a sort of dog and bear hybrid, living in the Beast Kingdom, a secret world that exists through a winding series of alleyways in the city. The head beast lord of the land has requested Kumatetsu appoint an apprentice, something the warrior is very much opposed to, content with his lazy lifestyle. The beast lord is unwavering in making this happen as he needs to have one of his potential successors work out so that he can retire and be reincarnated as a deity, and the candidates are either Kumatetsu or the very popular, Iozen, who already has two trainable kids of his own. Kumatetsu sets his sights on Ren, and only Ren, to be that pupil, renaming him Kyuta, which pertains to the young boy’s age. Together the two end up changing each other’s lives, both flourishing in ways they never could previously believed.
I can’t lie. When I was setting up my screening link on my computer, knowing I was getting into a style of film I wasn’t hugely interested in, a film that’s runtime was close to two hours, I was on the low end of positive energy. I’m surprised to say that The Boy and The Beast had me absolutely captivated within the first fifteen minutes. Hosoda’s filmmaking is unlike any I’ve seen in this field. He operates an animated film within the parameters of a real live action film, each shot something that could be obtainable by a real crew with pans and camera tilts that make everything feel as real as the background in each shot would lead you to believe it is. Hosoda’s blend of traditional animation across a canvas made from a rich and lifelike backdrop, making every scene in this film a visual treat. He also exhibits a kind of patience with lingering shots that seem original in the fast pace this genre usually takes.
The story is also something completely endearing as, from the outset, the film very much seems to be a master teaching apprentice type of film when the main goal of it is way beyond that. The film, instead, gives the inspirational and motivational story that everyone is capable of learning and growing no matter where they are in stature. As much as Ren/Kyuta is learning the ways of the warrior, Kumatetsu’s entire life philosophies begin to shift as his laziness fades and his temperament as a teacher and fighter begins to strengthen as it calms. It’s truly endearing, but this theme doesn’t stop here, especially when Ren starts to return to the human world to learn more there with the same type of teaching relationship transpires between him and a mousy librarian named Kaede. A romantic relationship also start to bloom from these teaching sessions too.
The emotional connection I made with this film seriously staggered me and made me rethink how much of this genre I was missing out on. Mamoru Hosoda’s ability to craft a story that was relatable worldwide and to back that up with a visual component that both furthers the story along so beautifully and also leaves your jaw on the floor, not only compels me to dig further into his work but also made me constantly marvel over the deep human connections I was seeing from characters who were definitely not human. This is a film made to be seen on the big screen and I’m glad that in Canada, audiences will be given the opportunity to see it in that grand fashion. If you were like me, not completely sold on the anime genre, The Boy And The Beast is a movie that will shift that opinion. I give it a four and a half out of five.