Belle is fast becoming one of the most popular films of the year and if you take just a brief moment to watch any of the trailers for Belle it is easy to see why this is a complete work of art. The perfect mixture of sight and sound, Belle is the reason why people go to the cinema, it is quintessentially everything a true cinema viewer wants. Gorgeous visuals, an amazing soundtrack, and a story that will take you to the depths of your heart, I think it is safe to say that I loved this film. ( I am not the only one who loved this film, at Cannes it received a 14minute standing ovation)
If you are looking for more reasons to watch this film then I should point out that it comes from the mind of Mamoru Hosoda the man behind The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, The Digimon Movie, and one of my all-time favorite Summer Wars. If all this is not enough then sit back and let me tell you a bit more about Belle.
Belle or Ryū to Sobakasu no Hime, literally “The Dragon and the Freckled Princess”, is a modern fantasy fairytale retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Our heroine is Suzu Naito a young girl who never got over the death of her mother, she finds comfort in an online world where she becomes a viral sensation as the Singer Belle. But along the way she encounters a character that is their version of the beast. Where everyone else sees a monster she sees someone in pain and becomes drawn to him and sets out to discover who he truly is. And I am skipping over a lot with this description and oversimplifying so much, but I do want to avoid spoilers.
From just looking at the opening sequence (above) once you enter the virtual world of the Belle you can see that it is going to be a feast for the eyes, yet as crowded as the screen may get it is never too much. The team behind this one struck that perfect chord between too much and Banquet. But on the other hand, it is the quiet moments outside the virtual world where Belle really shines. Yes, the virtual world within the film has some awesome and mind-bending sequences but in the real world, Belle uses stillness and silence to convey some truly beautiful moments. (The film even as a cheeky little nod to the 1990s Beauty and the Beast)
And when I say Beautiful I am talking about more than the visuals, I am talking about the plot and the ties that bind the characters. I won’t get into too many details, because frankly, I do not want to spoil any of it for you. But the film combines some quiet little slice of life moments, with amazing spectacles and then tops it off with some genuine acts of courage. And it is these moments of courage that will melt even the most frozen hearts, sorry if that is melodramatic but trust me if you watch Belle you are going to be feeling emotional.
Thematically Belle covers a lot. It deals with grief and loss and how that can affect us, and make us close off parts of ourselves. It deals with being honest and using the virtual world as a metaphor for how we all put our own personal masks and possibly also deal with our online addictions and obsessions and how we can all be a little quick to jump to conclusions online. Interestingly enough it is at the start of the film where a minor character is ridiculed for doing his own thing, yet he manages to outshine many others in the film, and it is only when Suzu drops her mask that the real stronger her truly shines. Finally, the film deals with domestic abuse, which is not easy to watch but is an important part of the film.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention the music. I have listened to both the English and Japanese versions of the soundtrack and they are both equally beautiful. Any other words that I use would be a complete injustice so that is all I will say.
This is maybe my second anime musical in 7 days, and my third animated musical in the same time frame but this film distinguishes itself from everything else by being bold, brave, and utterly brilliant. Belle is a fresh film in every sense of the word. A truly important and momentous spectacle and one everyone should watch.