Mamoru Hosoda (“Wolf Children” & “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”) is rapidly climbing up my chart of animated filmmakers. He’s showcased his remarkable abilities as a storyteller on more than one occasion, and his latest film “The Boy and the Beast” is no different.
Centering around a young boy whose parents recently divorced from one another. A tough pill to swallow, a tougher pill to take when you learn that his mother has recently passed away. The film begins with that heartbreak in which we see this estranged boy lost and scavenging around the streets of Shibuya, screaming “I Hate Everyone.” Soon he's confronted by a small, adorable, and furry creature which becomes the precursor to our introduction to the Beasts. One tall red, bearish-type looking animal named Kumatetsu (Kōji Yakusho and John Swasey) and his monkeyish friend, Tatara (Yo Oizumi and Ian Sinclair).
Kumatetsu (Kōji Yakusho and John Swasey) turns to the boy demanding for him to speak, but our young orphan finds himself drowned in sorrow, unable to respond. Kumatetsu (Kōji Yakusho and John Swasey) informs him of the apprentice that he requests. A challenge laid before him by the lord of the beast world, a challenge he must complete to become the lord's newest apprentice. It all makes sense when this child follows these beasts through the hidden doorways to find himself inside of an unfound world where animals walk on two legs, cook food, sell at food markets, and continuously surprise with their revitalized outlook on life. This is Jutengia.
Arriving upon Kumatetsu’s (Kōji Yakusho and John Swasey) home, the boy is given a name after refusing to reveal his identity, Kyuta is that name, in reference to his age. We soon learn that these two strangers are star-crossed brothers, separated by neighboring worlds that display the similarities of ruggedness, stubbornness, and selfishness.
It becomes clear to Kyuta (Aoi Miyazaki & Luci Christian) when he watches Kumatetsu (Kōji Yakusho and John Swasey) battle Iozen (Kazuhiro Yamaji and Sean Hennigan), a tough, centered, and leader of a beast that has learned the valuable lessons of raising another, being the father of two children. He’s a crowd favorite too, one that exhumes roars and cheers, while the group goes silent for Kumatetsu (Kōji Yakusho and John Swasey). Kyuta (Aoi Miyazaki & Luci Christian) notices and silently admits “No one’s cheering for him, he’s all alone.”
This is where the similarities begin and where our magical journey begins to lend itself to a magical experience worth watching. The film never sticks with any specific theme or tone; it grows like that of Kyuta (Aoi Miyazaki & Luci Christian) who matures into a teenager depicted through the voices of Shōta Sometani and Eric Vale. The film evolves into an observance of his journey, ranging from how he catches up on the educational teachings he has missed, seeing as he’s been out of school for more than three years.
He finds himself meeting and connecting with a nerdish girl whose loneliness matches his own. Her name is Kaede (Suzu Hirose and Bryn Apprill). She becomes a tutor of his and a special person in his life like that of Tatara (Yo Oizumi and Ian Sinclair), who was there in the very beginning, and Hyakushubo (Lily Franky and Alex Organ), a piggish monk whose wise words become a constant source of exposition like most of our characters. Seemingly a recurring problem with anime films, they struggle to assert their meaning without literally stating them to the viewer. It becomes frustrating to watch, just as much as the slow beginning which in response to the buzz surrounding this film began to counter my hopes.
Luckily, I would not leave the theater disappointed as “The Boy and the Beast” doesn’t just grow on you, it merely leeches itself upon you refusing to let you out of its imaginative grasps that capture you both visually and emotionally. It matures, as I said, growing from a joyous watch that aspires and elevates, to something that reflects both us and the character we've come to love. The hidden darkness lying within him and us, a study on morality you might say.
Something you wouldn’t find in a Pixar film, but for anime, this is no groundbreaking achievement, but Mamoru Hosoda leaves behind a unique touch that utilizes it's hand-drawn, cell, animation to its fullest potential. The scraggles of fur, the vividity of the colors, the sheer breathtaking moments of magical wonder, it becomes something of a Spielberg experience in which your staring at the screen with your mouth agape, left with nothing but awe-inspired feelings of imagination.
“The Boy and the Beast” delivers in both it's natural Japanese language, and it's dubbed English, with both voice cast's delivering on each occasion. Have I watched this movie twice already in its two days stay in the anime oblivious community of Lubbock? Yes, yes I have. It’s an anime film that pulls at the heartstrings as much as it plays them to their loudest harmonies of exhilaration. It’s a pure, escape-filled, journey of a story that reminds you of the magic that the undervalued sub-genre of anime can present.
It will be in and out of theaters in a flash, as American Funimation distributors are marketing this film to no one else but us crazed anime fanatics. Anime is not for native language speakers and genre-fetishists only though, “The Boy and the Beast” is one of 2016’s best. Bright, brilliant, and a baptizing-like event for those unfamiliar with the enchanting experience that anime can provide. It’s an experience worth your ten dollar ticket, don’t miss it.