- Posted by Giaco Furino
- On March 2, 2016
- 2 Comments
- Mamoru Hosoda, Studio Ghibli, The Boy and the Beast
In August of 2014, famed Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli announced they were going on hiatus as director Hayao Miyazaki retired. Since then, many have wondered what the shape of Japanese animation would look like following this absence. With the release of writer/director Mamoru Hosoda’s The Boy and the Beast (which finally lands here in the U.S. this weekend), it seems like the future of the genre is bright, clean, well-told, and smart.
The Boy and the Beast tells the story of a young orphan named Kyuta. With his father gone after a divorce, and his mother deceased in a tragic accident, Kyuta runs away to live on the streets of modern-day Japan rather than move in with distant relatives. He’s full of anger, he’s a bit of a brat, and he runs from police and sleeps on the street. Eventually, he stumbles upon a secret alleyway that takes him to Jutengai, or the Beast Kingdom. Here, animal-like humans walk on all fours and live in a provincial, 1700s style-Japan. Kumatetsu is a bear-like beast fighting for a shot at being the lord of Jutengai, but he needs an apprentice to teach if he wants to be successful and taken seriously. He’s cranky, a slob, a loud mouth, and considered a bit of a brute.
Without any better option, Kumatetsu takes on the human Kyuta as his apprentice, much to the chagrin of those around him. Here we get to the meat of the tale, Kyuta is a human in a world of beasts, and these peaceful beasts believe he, like all humans, has a darkness in him. Kumatetsu doesn’t care, and attempts to train him. But the only person more stubborn than the bear Kumatetsu is the human Kyuta, and we follow them as they learn from each other, struggle, scream at one another, and fight to learn what it means to be a great leader, warrior, and teacher.
This is one of the most satisfying viewing experiences I’ve had so far this year, but don’t go into this film expecting a quick and easy eighty-minute anime. This is a movie that takes its time, and clocks in at almost two full hours. We see Kyuta grow up, we see him explore the human world again, and we cover over nine years of his life. This is what I would best describe as a “clean plot.” It moves in a natural way, it doesn’t unhinge and drop ridiculous surprises on the audience, it just tells a wonderful little story from start to finish.
The blending of thoughtful, emotionally charged content with martial arts practice and implementation is a lot of fun, and keeps the pace of this movie bopping along pleasantly. There’s the word best used to describe this movie: pleasant. With gusts of wind blowing the leaves on trees, ripples of water, the steam rising from bowls of rice, this is a transportive film about a simple life of training and growing stronger, both emotionally and physically. The animation in the film is a bright but muted, with vibrant pastels painting the scene. The character designs are unlike anything I’ve ever seen, with anthropomorphized animal-people looking more like mythical creatures, and less like you’ve stumbled into a cosplay convention. Everything from the way a character’s hair falls on his head to the posture of our heroes has the look of careful planning and much deliberation.
It’s worth nothing that this is a very male-centric story. Much like classic fairy tales of the past, this is a boy-and-his-surrogate-father story we’ve seen before. We meet our first important female character halfway through the film, and though she’s been absent for the first hour, it’s great that she isn’t sexualized, and isn’t romanticized instantly. She’s a friend, a smart friend, who rebukes people who assert that Kyuta is her boyfriend.
Director Mamoru Hosoda’s been through the anime wringer in his career. Working as a key animator for a Dragonball Z movie, a director for Digimon movies, and other odd projects, Hayao Miyazaki came to the attention of the anime world for being fired as director of Howl’s Moving Castle because the Ghibli studio heads weren’t impressed with his concept work. Since then he’s directed the features The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, Wolf Children, and now The Boy and the Beast.
If you’re a fan of Japanese animation, or you want to see where the genre is heading during the wake created by Ghibli, check this out in its limited release this weekend. And while I’m a fan of long, slow, contemplative anime (I loved Miyazaki’s lazy The Wind Rises) I think there’s enough action to sustain more plot-and-battle oriented anime fans. This is an absolute smash, a quiet, emotional smash about the struggles of growing up.
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