The Boy and the Beast
Directed by: Mamoru Hosoda.
Directed by: Mamoru Hosoda.
Written by: Mamoru Hosoda.
Starring: Koji Yakusho (Kumatetsu), Shota Sometani (Kyuta), Aoi Miyazaki (Kyuta – child), Suzu Hirose (Kaede), Yo Oizumi (Tatara), Lily Franky (Hyakushubo), Masahiko Tsugawa (Soshi), Kazuhiro Yamaji (Iozen), Mamoru Miyano (Ichirohiko), Haru Kuroki (Ichirohiko – child), Kappei Yamaguchi (Jiromaru), Momoka Ono (Jiromaru – child).
The Boy and the Beast is the latest anime film from Japan to get a cursory release in North American theaters, before heading to home viewing options. Even if these films often do not make much waves when they are released theatrically – they are often among the best the world of animation has to offer in any given year. Animated films made in Japan tend to treat children with more respect – they don’t coddle or comfort them too much, and certainly do not shy away from some darker, more realistic aspects of childhood. In some respects, that is true of The Boy and the Beast – which really does try and treat children with more respect, and draw an interesting contrast between the real and fantasy worlds in the film (a staple of children’s stories – but rarely handled this way). Unfortunately though, all of the good stuff in The Boy and the Beast is buried under a disjointed, repetitive and not particularly engaging story. There is some good stuff here – just not enough to make The Boy and the Beast a good movie.
The hero of the story is a 9 year old named Ren, who is shipped off to live with some relatives after his mother’s death (his father is no longer in the picture) – and almost immediately runs away. He ends up in a fantasy world, as the apprentice to Kumatetsu – a giant bear-man creature, who could become the ruler of this fantasy land, but first needs to prove himself to its current ruler – a wise, old bunny-man. It has come down to Kumatetsu and his arch-rival, Iozen, for the “promotion” as it were – and while everyone loves Iozen, no one seems to much like or respect Kumatetsu – and for good reason. He is lazy, crude, rude and quick to anger – and unlike Iozen, he doesn’t even have one apprentice. With Ren, he hopes to show that he can be a good leader and teacher – and as the years pass, it becomes clear that both are learning from each other.
In the second half of the film, the film skips ahead about 8 years, to when Ren is 17 (strangely, the decision regarding who will be the next ruler, still has not been made). In that time, Ren has matured in some ways – and is actually returning to the “real world”, developing a sweet romance with a shy bookworm, who helps him learn to read better, and prepare for things like college, while at the same time, he tries to reconnect with his real father, who he barely knows. In some ways, he has outgrown Kumatetsu, who is a creature that only an angry 9 year old boy would find cool in the first place. The film is ultimately about that anger and rage that young men of all kind have to deal with and overcome – in the fantasy world Ren has escaped to, humans are feared, because it is assumed that they will eventually become monsters incapable of controlling their rage.
In some ways, all of this makes for interesting subtext to the movie – but as is the case with most films, if the text itself isn’t very good, you don’t much care for the subtext. The film kind of beats you over the head with its message, and drags on its minimal storyline for nearly two hours, even though it doesn’t have enough material to fill it. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the animation of the film either – its fine, and the action sequences are well handled, and yet, I don’t think there’s a memorable image in the entire film – not that that sticks out anyway.
I appreciate that The Boy and the Beast is trying to do something here – trying to show how Ren outgrows Kumatetsu, and that world, and tries to forge his own path – that essentially, he can only hide from the real world for so long. Yet, all that is buried beneath a surface that just isn’t all that good.