Film of the Month: Belle
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Starring: Kaho Nakamura, Ryo Narita, Ikura
This thematically-rich fantasy from Japanese writer-director Mamoru ‘Mirai’ Hosoda mixes an awe-inspiring array of anime styles to often beautiful effect. Suzu (voiced by Nakamura) is an awkward seventeen-year-old high-schooler living in a rural village with her well-meaning single parent father. She still has emotional scars from losing her mother at an early age. When her sole friend, irreverent tech geek Hiroki (Ikuta) introduces her to ‘U’, an elaborate virtual world with five billion subscribers, Suzu becomes ‘Belle’ an ultra-glamourous pop star who rides around ‘U’s vast wondrous geo-dome on a huge whale stacked with sound speakers (like you do). Despite her newfound virtual fame and acclaim, in the real world Suzy is still shy and unable to speak to Shinabu (Narita), the schoolmate she fancies. Just prior to a mega-concert in ‘U’, in which Belle will consolidate her pop supremacy, she is interrupted by The Dragon, a coarse, black-robed beast with the face of a hog. A band of self-righteous flying superheroes appear and chase the monster away, but Belle, sensing goodness in the Dragon, traces him to his lair. After the ‘Beauty and the Beast’-inspired middle act, the narrative audaciously shifts to thriller mode as Suzu must call on her virtual and real-life friends to locate some vulnerable children. Hosoda manages to juggle the fantasy elements and real world issues with dazzling dexterity, while the presentation of the virtual world, replete with peevish bickering avatars, is as witty as it is richly detailed. The picture also offers a refreshingly nuanced take on the pros and cons of social media. When Suzu agonises about the behaviour of her alter-ego’s online trolls, Hiro blithely assures her that it’s all part of the deal. Belle’s songs are suitably catchy pop bangers and the conclusion is genuinely stirring.