Written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda, Suzu, a teenager living with her father in a small town in the mountains, but in a virtual world called “U”, Suzu is Belle, a musical icon. Starring: Kaho Nakamura, Ryô Narita, Shôta Sometani, Tina Tamashiro, Ikura, Ryôko Moriyama and Michiko Shimizu.
Where else to start with this film but with the visual? Belle is absolutely bursting with colour, creativity and energy. From the second it starts until the credits roll it immerses you into this beautiful world of animation, not just in its virtual world but in its entirety. The real world scenes have a lovingly familiar quality to classic Japanese animation, but while the idea of a virtual world is hardly new, “U” does feel entirely fresh. There’s a huge dose of imagination going into this film, with such wonderful detail, particularly in all the virtual characters, each with their own unique style. It’s entirely unsurprising from a filmmaker with Mamoru Hosoda’s background but expected or not, it’s a joy to watch.
The next key element is the music, it’s rare to see a film successfully blend performed songs into its story without feeling insincere or out of place but here, it works perfectly. It flows so easily and manages to be constantly weaving between reality, virtual and part musical without ever feeling jarring or like separate pieces. The music itself is extremely catchy, while Belle’s songs capture that teen, pop with an edge of emo or ballad, the score overall is also energetic, emotional and brings all the aspects of the film together. There’s a huge variety in the styles of music throughout which add a strong personality.
Belle is undoubtedly very much a teenage story with all the usual over sensitivity and heightened emotions but there’s still plenty for everyone to enjoy. One of the most surprising elements is how genuinely funny it is, it brings out a natural comedy, especially from the typical teen awkwardness, and its hugely enjoyable. Hosoda gives Beauty and the Beast a modern translation, but sincerely retains its themes of trust, love and self-acceptance. The emotions at times, particularly from Belle herself, voiced by Kaho Nakamura, can be over the top and unnecessarily exaggerated but that’s to be expected for portraying a teen girl. Its story may not quite hit a deeper emotional level but it is sweet and touching.
For the most part it moves well but it starts to slow down quite significantly towards the end and loses focus on its ultimate goal. If you looked at the writing alone, the story is somewhat thin and a touch predictable but thankfully, that doesn’t stop it from being entertaining. There are however a few choices in its finale which younger viewers will probably entirely overlook, but the adults of the audience might be left with some unanswered questions.
Belle is vibrant, imaginative and a beautiful blend of genres, mixing animation, drama, fantasy, sci-fi, musical and a dash of comedy. It’s a joy to watch unfold and while its story could be built up more and sped up at points, it doesn’t hinder your enjoyment of the film. Everything simply comes together wonderfully, it’s visually superb, the music is emotional and catchy, the characters are sweet, it’s entertaining and creative.