Starring: Kôji Yakusho, Shôta Sometani, Aoi Miyazaki
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Running Time: 120 mins
The Boy And The Beast is a Japanese film about a poor, homeless boy who wanders into a mystical kingdom, where he becomes the disciple of a powerful but lonely fighter vying to become successor to the lord of the land.
Director of a number of standout modern anime films including Wolf Children and Summer Wars, there’s no denying the talent of Mamoru Hosoda, but that doesn’t quite shine through in such striking fashion with The Boy And The Beast. While it features the same imagination and ingenuity as a number of the director’s other films, it lacks a slick and engrossing story, getting a little too caught up in a world of fantasy that, no matter how striking, just isn’t that enthralling.
But let’s start on the bright side, because while I wasn’t entirely enamoured by The Boy And The Beast, I can’t deny that it’s a delightful and often genuinely brilliant piece of work when it comes to fantasy. Not only is it filled to the brim with colourful characters, exciting fantasy landscapes and a deep look into how its fantasy world works, but it also takes on a clever double-identity, subtling blending the real world with the fantasy in ingenious fashion.
The film starts off following a homeless boy living on the streets of Shibuya in Tokyo, then blurs itself into a completely new world. However, rather than simply following the boy through a portal off into fantasy, the film adds a really nice touch by mirroring the streets of Shibuya in the design of the fantasy world. The real streets are shown early on in the film, from the towering Shibuya 109 to the winding, hilly roads behind the main shops, but the film replicates that landscape in its own wonderland – a really clever and unique touch that I was very impressed by.
The Boy And The Beast doesn’t quite bring its fantasy world in as powerfully vivid fashion as Summer Wars, but it is at least one that’s brimming with imagination, with something different to see wherever you look on screen – something that’s always a recipe for an enjoyable fantasy movie, and plays a big role in making this story as entertaining as it can be.
Unfortunately, as wonderfully imaginative as the film is, it doesn’t quite have the narrative to hit home in the same way. Comparing with Summer Wars again, which brilliantly balances imaginative fantasy and grounded, emotional storytelling, The Boy And The Beast feels a little more generic and ultimately a little more underwhelming, following a rather predictable and master-and-student premise that never really delivers the same emotional power.
As a coming-of-age story, following a young boy from poverty on the streets to becoming a powerful fighter, it’s often an engaging watch, but the core story that follows his rise and development is both repetitive and a little superficial, which I was disappointed to see especially considering Hosoda’s fantastic track record of deeply emotional films.
Overall, I wasn’t hugely enamoured by The Boy And The Beast. It’s an enjoyably imaginative film, with striking and colourful fantasy throughout, as well as some nice subtle touches that make it stand out all the more. But as visually impressive as it often is, it’s not quite as emotionally powerful or narratively engaging as it often seems to promise, ultimately coming off as a little underwhelming, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.9.