Starring: Kaho Nakamura, Ryô Narita, Shôta Sometani
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Running Time: 122 mins
Belle is a Japanese film about a timid high school girl who signs up to the virtual world of U, in which she becomes a world-famous singer, and becomes embroiled in a mission to rescue an alienated dragon, and the person behind it in the real world.
From one of the best directors in modern anime, Belle is one of the most spectacular movies in the genre for a long time. Complete with typically gorgeous animation, an electrifying pace, riveting character depth, sweet humour and a handful of wonderful songs, this is a film that you won’t be able to take your eyes off from start to finish.
But why exactly does Belle have this spectacular star quality? After all director Mamoru Hosoda has managed time and again to tell incredible stories, from The Girl Who Leapt Through Time to Summer Wars, Wolf Children, The Boy And The Beast and Mirai.
Not only is Belle the latest addition to Hosoda’s incredible repertoire, but it’s also one of the most dynamic anime films of recent years, blending the classic animation style with timeless storytelling and blockbuster-level action and thrills.
It’s a film that really transports you to another world, with the as-ever spellbinding visuals delivering some of the most immersive fantasy you’ll have seen in a long time, bolstering the film’s originality from what at first feels like a mish-mash of different stories.
In the early stages, it’s easy to see Belle as a bit of an update of Hosoda’s own Summer Wars, along with influence from Hollywood’s Ready Player One. What’s more, the film also borrows heavily at moments from Disney’s Beauty And The Beast, although that’s more as a clever homage than a simple reinvention.
However, because there’s so much going on, Belle proves itself to be a lot more than a remake or update of those films mentioned above. In fact, what’s most impressive is the way in which it so effectively balances its focus between life inside the virtual world of U, and the characters who live in the real world.
Much like Summer Wars, the action in the virtual world is brilliantly complemented by the emotional stories of the characters in the real world, in this case a group of high schoolers who are living through all the typical trappings of a coming-of-age story.
This is where much of Belle’s emotional heart comes in, and while the action in the virtual world is absolutely spectacular, you care for the characters because of how they’re developed in the real world, with a wonderful group of friends whose own back stories play in wonderfully to the central action story.
Playing out at an electrifying pace for the vast majority of its runtime, Belle nears edge-of-your-seat levels of excitement, although its finale admittedly isn’t as exhilarating as the thrilling conclusion to Summer Wars.
That said, Hosoda directs Belle with such confidence that it’s a mesmerising watch at every moment, boosted further by a couple of spectacular and memorable songs that are both fun to listen to, and play nicely into the film’s narrative arc.
All in all, I had a whale of a time with Belle. A genuinely thrilling watch from start to finish, the film is a spectacular combination of many of director Mamoru Hosoda’s best films, along with homages to a number of others. However, with fresh storytelling, fast pacing, gorgeous visuals, riveting emotional depth and thrilling action throughout, this film certainly stands on its own as one of the most entertaining anime you’ll have seen in a long time. So, that’s why I’m giving Belle an 8.0 overall.