VOD film review: Belle (2021)
Giant whales with speakers10
Bops that absolutely slap10
Jasmine Valentine | On 28, Jun 2022
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Cast: Kaho Nakamura, Ryō Narita, Shōta Sometani
When it comes to anime films, it’s difficult not to compare smaller independents to the powerhouse that is Studio Ghibli. A household name since 1985, its body of work is famed for capturing a fantastical whimsy that’s satisfying, romantic and comforting with a degree of childlike hope. Yet each element that earned Ghibli its reputation is overwhelmingly present in Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle, an epic modern adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. It centres around shy and mousy teenager Suzu, whose life is transformed after signing up to digital reality U — an app that lets users be whoever they’ve always dreamed of. Rising to instant popularity as singer “Bell”, she meets an anonymous beast whose secrecy she cannot let go of.
It would be naive of a viewer to approach Belle as a face-value retelling of a classic fairytale. There’s a plethora of social issues that pepper the updated narrative, from the invasion of digital privacy to the social media-fuelled gossip mill of a new generation. The film dares to go where family-friendly animations wouldn’t tread by directly staring a child abuse subplot in the face. This combination of hard-hitting reality with enriching anime fantasy sends Belle into a stratosphere that’s all its own, maintaining the out-of-world experience anime fans would expect while contextualising life as we know it can be. Polarising views of what society has become could make it easy for a film to instantly play on the negatives, but using a traditional and familiar tale allows viewers to savour the things our digital savvy lives can make better.
Belle is quite literally a feast for the eyes. The jaw-dropping dystopia of U makes for the perfect counterpart to the artistic stillness of Suzu’s everyday life, taking a pause to revel in the craft of its detailed animation. While U provides a framework that viewers instantly want to submerge themselves in, the catchy soundtrack is the jewel in the crown of its thought-out smarts, complementing a cast of characters that are lovable from the get-go. But Belle’s biggest strength? Its ability to translate the magic touch in both the original Japanese and the English dub.
Regardless of whether audiences have a penchant for traditional fairy tales, Belle is undeniably a masterpiece. Taking a beloved framework and running with it into a new world of possibilities, this modern-day epic hits all the right notes.