Belle is a beauty and a beast of anime filmmaking.
First official film of 2022!! Let’s gooooo! (Based on U.S. theatrical release)
So, let’s begin with what Belle is because I entered this film with absolutely no knowledge or even awareness of what this film was. It’s the follow up film to director Mamoru Hosoda previous film Mirai, a wonderful anime film released in 2018 about childhood and memories. I entered this film not knowing it was him, but noticed during the real-life moments, he has a wonderful sense of framing and pace. But more on that later.
Belle is about a future where users all over the world can sync themselves into an app called U. In U your avatar is created by the app by measuring different things in you. All by these special earbuds. So, in U your true spirit is created for some that’s weird quirky animals and creatures, for some, like our protagonist, it’s a beautiful performer.
I don’t want to dig any deeper as that would introduce some spoilers, but essentially this film has a bunch of beauty and the beast flavorings. But what really distinguishes this film completely and makes it unique is the app world and the dichotomy of having this virtual reality and reality contradict and co-exist with each other. And what’s really refreshing is how the film portrays our current youth’s interaction with the digital world. Obviously, there are multitudes of bad, and damage from having a world so interconnected, but I love how this film tackles social media, and internet and tech from a different and almost hopeful and healing perspective?
It made me think about the dichotomy of us humans, having multiple realities to dig into and what that does and can cause, but also the benefits and downsides. Interesting stuff. But the film doesn’t bog down into too much theoretical or metaphorical leanings. it’s focused on the emotions of our lead character and her struggles to navigate both her real life and her digital one. Which again, I think was the right move and made for a fun ride.
I love where the entire film goes narratively and emotionally. I was hooked and even teared up during two key moments, though one was extremely deflated moments afterward by a quirky anime-y trope. But I was surprised how great the story was and how emotionally attached I was. I love anime films, but usually the brighter vibrant ones lose me, but this film, thanks to the director managed to balance the tone of quirky fun with the heartfelt mood.
We must talk about the visuals of this piece too, earlier I referenced Hosoda previous work, Mirai which was a beautifully low-key drama, in that he had exquisitely framed off shots, with excellent blocking and movement. This film is almost a film of two tones, and Hosoda understood the assignment, in the real world, he shoots it just like Mirai, almost indie art house esque, with framing pulled back, and slower paced and nice placements and designs, but then when we enter the U-verse. We get Disney-eque shots with huge sweeping movements and a different pace altogether which worked brilliantly to contrast the two worlds but even better was how the art style changed so drastically between the two. With the digital world having awesome chromatic distortions and other digital effects layered over it all and maybe even CGI elements? There were moments where I couldn’t tell if I was looking at traditional anime drawings or if they were fully 3D elements and I say this in the best way. Because either, they made the 3D look as good as drawn, or they made the drawn look as surreal as 3D. Brilliant work.
The other element I want to bring up is the score and songs. Now I wouldn’t call this necessarily a musical, but it does have about 3-4 song performances that play in the film. At first, I was concerned about this as I don’t typically like J-Pop but! I had nothing to worry about as the songs proved to be one of my favorite parts of this film. Specifically, the score and soundtrack that backs all the songs are so wonderful. There were moments where our lead sings her songs, and the score just swells with such gargantuan intensity that I was left smiling. With horns and military esque drums and a full orchestra backing a beautiful, beautiful voice as she belts lyrics out. Especially the final song, it reaches such a great apex musically that I was stunned by the end of it.
So, in ending
Belle = 9/10 Amazing
What Hosoda does with this sweet and touching story about the digital and real world and the interactions and effects it can cause with people is at both times hopeful and emotional. Hosoda has a great visual sense of style. Mixing simple and bombastic visuals in between both worlds and a score that swells with great intensity and songs that sound great. Belle amazed me. Only flaws are a few of the anime quirks but they are expected and minimal.