A visual and musical masterpiece, Belle is a stunning movie that brings characters and emotions to life. It’s sure to delight fans of any age and is a must-see film of 2022.
Produced by Studio Chizu and directed by academy award nominated Mamoru Hosoda, Belle is based on the fairy tale we all know and love, Beauty and the Beast. The film entwines the classic story with a modern-day twist, dark themes, and beautiful music to create an original and unique experience.
We follow Suzu Naito, a shy and damaged student who dwells in loneliness and quiet. A sudden traumatic accident results in Suzu’s inability to sing. But that changes when she enters the world of U, a virtual experience that allows anyone to be anything. Captivated by the world, Suzu finds she can sing as her avatar, Belle, and quickly becomes a worldwide sensation. But The Dragon, a violent and dark avatar, disrupts one of her concerts and spurs a relationship of secrets, curiosity, and hope.
Though the storyline has roots in the classic fairy tale, its tweaks to bring it into the extraordinary U universe and Suzu’s modern world adds freshness and vibrance. The story doesn’t feel dated or reused, and it isn’t easy to discern the fairy tale until viewers look back at the movie’s end. The U universe allows the story to feel more ethereal and fantastical, while Suzu’s world brings it back to the harsh realities of life. These worlds balance the movie, highlighting the emotional rollercoaster within the story.
“I wanted in my movie to take into account the good and bad sides of both,” says Hosoda. “The story by which this movie is inspired, Beauty and the Beast, also has these extremities that coexist. So whatever angle you look at this movie from, I wanted to make sure there were different contrasting elements sort of pulling at each other.”
The contrasting elements certainly showcase the emotional storyline indeed! The character development is focused on Suzu, and viewers feel a connection to her trauma, resentment, and fear. Scenes focused on her pain quickly draw tears, and hope for her growth and happiness develop steadily as the movie goes on.
However, one drawback of the focus on Suzu means there’s very little character development for anyone else. We find many holes in other characters and sometimes wonder what part they played in the storyline. Take Ruka Watanabe for example. She is a popular and beautiful classmate who attempts to be friends with Suzu. She plays a specific role in the movie. When her part of the story is completed, she completely disappears as a character. There’s no real purpose otherwise.
Despite this, the storyline is still fulfilling, enhanced significantly by the captivating animation and music. Music serves to support the storyline throughout the film, rising and falling to the tone perfectly. The lyrical songs sung by ‘Belle’ are flowing and imperfect, quickly capturing audiences and making them believe a high school girl sang them. They’re addicting and beautiful, and both the lyrics and the melody showcase the emotional feel of the moment.
The detailed animation only further creates a unique experience for viewers. Bold, bright, and futuristic, the animated scenes are stunning. The colors and angles are deliberate yet delicate, particularly in the U universe, making the world fantastical and breathtaking beyond belief. Hosoda notes that his goal for Belle was to shoe the internet world as a “space to give younger generations hope.”
“Animation has always been seen as this extra addition to the art of movie-making,” Hosoda says. “My background in fine arts, or more specifically in western art, helps me view the animation through a much different lens…I like to think that what we’re doing is in some ways at the forefront, and I want to take a lot of pride in what we do with the animation medium.”
Even in Suzu’s world, the scenes are detailed and realistic, though the tone is more muted to reflect reality. However, many of the nature-related scenes are still otherworldly and glowing. Due to that, some scenes containing the muted characters seem disconnected. The animation is just so stunning that it creates a whole new level of beauty and awe-inspiring graphics.
While the film is an overall masterpiece, it does have some minor flaws that draw me out of the experience. We don’t meet the antagonist until about 30 minutes into the movie, and by that time, it feels like the storyline is going somewhere else entirely. Introducing the villain felt sudden and jerky, especially with the next jump into their relationship and Belle. As a viewer, I found myself confused about Belle’s initial fascination with them. Many questions were also left unanswered about their backstory and situation.
However, while these small plotholes are bothersome, they’re not enough to take away from the fantastic film as a visual and musical sensation. Belle is on a new level of animation and has set the bar high for any upcoming anime films. Its deeper meaning will also impact fans, especially as we are still amidst the global pandemic.
“In a very shifting and changing society, it’s tough to figure out, well, how do we live, what’s the answer,” Hosoda says. “But hopefully, this movie will help people in some ways come up with their answer of how to navigate the present-day social constructs that we have.”
Belle premiers in North America on January 14. Its world premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival in July 2021 was met with high praise, followed by a Japanese theatrical release. Viewers loved the film, and Belle became the third highest-grossing Japanese film of 2021.