Belle (Japan/2021) Direction and script: Mamoru Hosoda. Edition: Shigeru Nishiyama. Music: Taisei Iwazaki, Ludvig Forssell, Yuta Bandoh y Miho Sakai. List: Kaho Nakamura, Takeru Satoh, Ryo Narita, Shota Sometani. Distributor: BF Argentina. Duration: 124 minutes. Our opinion: very good.
It is no longer worth saying that Mamoru Hosoda is “the new Miyazaki”. That hook that invites a sector of the public, perhaps familiar with my neighbor totoro The Spirited Away, to approach the work of that filmmaker, can be not only vague, but also false. Because Hosoda, at 54 years old and with six of his own films (plus two commissioned, based on the popular franchises of Digimon Y One Piece), it’s too old to continue carrying that backpack. And while Miyazaki feints but (luckily) does not withdraw, Hosoda demonstrates with Belle a point of enormous maturation, which confirms him as an author with his own recognizable sensibility.
Belle quickly stands out for its more immediate features, its reformulation of Beauty and the Beast, his reflection on social networks, and a certain need to heal wounded through virtual alter egos. Here the heroine is Suzu (Kaho Nakamura), a shy young woman who, in the digital world called U, transforms into a popular singer nicknamed Belle. In one of the concerts that the artist offers in this reality 2.0, the appearance of the monster known as Dragon (Takeru Satoh), begins to obsess the protagonist, who wants to discover who this creature is, and what secret it hides.
Through this formula, Hosoda returns to many of the usual themes in his work: the appearance of the extraordinary as part of the everyday; the digital worlds that are a refuge from pain; or the characters capable of establishing affective bonds in places where identities are hidden and corporeality is lost. From The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, the film that in 2006 positioned him as one of the new voices in animation, Hosoda did not stop reflecting on characters who find in fantasy a place of belonging that their everyday life denies them. It is about protagonists who relate, define themselves and mature through extraordinary abilities that they can only develop in fantastic worlds (The boy and the beast), or in digital realities (Summer Wars The Belle). In this way, Hosoda achieves a perfect balance, a look that brings together classic aspects with other modern ones, without losing sight of what is revealed to be the great seasoning of his films: a central figure who feels incomplete in the face of some kind of loss.
In Belle, Suzu bears the pain of a death she does not understand, that of her mother when she chooses to sacrifice herself to save a girl who was about to drown in the river. “Why would a mother choose her life over that of a stranger, leaving her daughter an orphan?” is the painful question that torments the protagonist. And that question that serves as a trigger allows the heroine to embark on a journey of maturation, capable of moving any viewer, whether or not they are an animation lover. Because in the end, what it shows Belle (and Hosoda), is the versatility of Japanese animation, and how anime can give color to a billboard crossed by franchises, sequels and reboots.