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Five Years Later: The Boy and the Beast

24 April 21 words: Sebastian Mann

The Boy and the Beast, animator Mamoru Hosoda’s sixth film as director, is a familiar but occasionally heartwarming coming-of-age fantasy…

Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Starring: Kōji Yakusho, Aoi Miyazaki, Shōta Sometani
Running time: 120 minutes

For fans of anime, Mamoru Hosoda will need no introduction. As a director who started out with film adaptations of Digimon and One Piece, he stands alongside Makoto Shinkai, the animator behind the 2016 hit Your Name, in the new canon of internationally renowned anime filmmakers. Impressively, he is one of the few to carve an oeuvre outside of the masterful production house, Studio Ghibli. 

The Boy and the Beast, Hosoda’s follow-up to the acclaimed Wolf Children, is no doubt a film by a veteran of the craft, but it rests on its influences a little too heavily to be something uniquely enjoyable. It just about fashions something original enough to get by, but when you’re talking about Hosoda, that’s damning with faint praise. 

Somewhere between the human city of Shibuya but not quite the bath-houses of Spirited Away is the Beast Kingdom. The Lord has deemed it time for his abdication to permit his reincarnation as a deity, and so names two successors: the pig-like Iozen (Kazuhiro Yamaji), a father of two sons, and the heirless warrior bear Kumatetsu (Koji Yakusho). Yakusho, who rose to international fame as the tortured detective in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s horror masterpiece, Cure, is fantastic and the film’s most memorable highlight, snarling his words with real vim and verve. 

To strengthen his bid as successor, Kumatetsu adopts the young Ren (Shota Sometani & Aoi Miyazaki), an abandoned orphan living on the streets of the human world. Ren becomes his heir and disciple, being dubbed Kyuta (nine) after his age. The first hour really shines with genuinely funny moments between the teacher and student, who are less two sides of the same coin than they are two halves of the same warrior, both fiery but caring souls.

An easy and comfy animated fantasy

To little surprise, it is stunningly animated with a blend of 2D and 3D computer imagery. For all of its shortcomings, it feels no less masterfully drawn and sequenced than Hosoda’s other films. The balletic fights have some heft behind them, as kendo swords slice through the air and brutes crash against each other with a real satisfying crunch. 

But it’s around the middle that the film begins to lull and it never really recovers. The story shifts between the human world and the Beast Kingdom, and its emotional beats are lost as more and more characters are introduced and too little is done with them. It plays around with some concepts and ideas typical of the genre, literalising the ‘darkness’ that takes over when you cut yourself off friends and others, but ultimately there’s not enough there to cling onto. 

The world-building, which at first feels fantastically playful and exciting, just isn’t given enough room to breathe. Hosoda is directing his own original material, but it has that rushed feeling of a hasty adaptation, existing paradoxically between overly long at 120 minutes while about two hours too short. 

Hosoda is a talented filmmaker and his work shouldn’t be dismissed by The Boy and the Beast alone. Neither, by that token, should the film. It’s a charming and enjoyable bit of family entertainment, and even while it lacks originality its emotional pay-offs do feel somewhat earned by the end. Fans of Hosoda may end up a little disappointed, but people looking for an easy and comfy animated fantasy will be in for a treat. It’s a fun watch, but unlike the best of what the medium can offer, it won’t be sticking with you for very long afterwards. 

Did you know? Although he never completed a film with Studio Ghibli, Hosoda was the first choice to direct its 2004 fantasy film, Howl's Moving Castle. He ended up leaving the project due to creative differences and never returned.

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