Belle (2021) | Film Review
An eclectic kaleidoscope of colour and song in this new Japanese animated film
By Jana Neinmans
In the animated Japanese drama Belle (2021), director and writer Mamoru Hosoda showed audiences a new take on Beauty and the Beast. Set in Japan, the movie explores the possibility of an advanced virtual reality through the eyes of a young girl trying to find her voice.
The film’s protagonist is Suzu, a lonely teenage girl that feels abandoned by her dead mother. She struggles with being unpopular and shy, and with the trauma of her mom’s death, she also loses her singing voice. After getting an invitation, she enters this virtual reality called ‘U’ and makes a virtual character for herself, which is said to enhance everybody’s hidden strengths. In this universe, she becomes a popular singer that people admire, and suddenly, Suzu starts to feel a little better about herself. However, she is still rather shy in real life situations.
While she gets popular in ‘U’ under her pseudonym ‘Belle’, another character, a dragon, appears. Suzu recognizes in him another lonely soul in need of help and tries to aid him, and, in the quest of earning his trust, she finds her inner strength and compassion for others. Therefore, where originally the use of virtual reality was a means of escape— as a way to turn yourself into someone ‘better’— it actually helps Suzu in accepting herself. In the end, she will have to show everybody the real her.
The character of Suzu’s father is portrayed rather realistically. Suzu’s father, voiced by Koji Yakusho, has a small role, but a very powerful one. Her father constantly supports her and tries to reach out to Suzu to help them both heal from the tragedy. This, then, depicts well how a family grapples with the loss of a family member.
photo courtesy of IMDb
Despite the movie’s contemporary version, the character of Suzu’s best friend Hiro is
portrayed rather stereotypically as the ‘computer nerd’. She is intelligent and shy, but can work well with computers and thereby supports her friend in the virtual realm. This depiction of a best friend is not as contemporary as the movie tries to be, as the best friend can be someone with their own strengths. Here, Hiro’s character is there to support Suzu and nothing more. Instead, her character could have been a little more developed to make the story more authentic.
The voice of Suzu, Kaho Nakamura, deserves praise. Kaho is a Japanese singer and songwriter who experiments with different music techniques and styles. Hosoda’s decision to cast Kaho in her first voice-acting role was a success with long-time fans and newcomers of the singer and songwriter. In Kaho’s first album, she uses a similar eclectic style of music to the style in the movie. Therefore, the songs of the movie became popular pretty fast in Japan.
When Suzu sings, her voice easily switches between the two personalities of Suzu and Belle. Suzu’s songs represent her inner turmoil and connect the audience to the story.
Taking all things into account, this movie took me by surprise. I expected it to be a traditional remake of Beauty and the Beast, instead it was imbued with little twists that only added to the movie’s character.