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Mamoru Hosoda's Belle: Form and Function in a Tale as Old as Time

Belle is Mamoru Hosoda’s most artistically accomplished work to date.

As a longtime fan of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars, I don’t make this observation lightly; all of the director's previous films are sublime. But the limitations of budget and technology have frequently stymied his creative vision, preventing his mixed-media approach to animation from realizing its full potential (the infuriatingly clunky computer-generated crowd scenes in the otherwise immaculate Wolf Children are particularly egregious in this regard). In this Internet Era adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, however, the stiff, unnatural movement of the 3D models serves a thematic purpose, emphasizing the inherent artificiality of the idealized digital avatars and the deceptively-utopian online metaverse that they inhabit.

That’s not a backhanded compliment, by the way; the jerky, gravity-defying weightlessness of the 3D characters is obviously an intentional feature, not a bug—especially when one considers that they are, in every other respect, just as expressive as their cel-shaded counterparts. Whether the action is unfolding within the vibrantly kaleidoscopic simulation or out in the oppressively dreary (albeit no less lushly detailed) “real world,” the emotional stakes are always clearly and elegantly communicated through graceful, fluid, colorful motion.

And those stakes are both enormous and deeply personal. Hosoda eschews the traditional “love story” of the fairytale source material, instead delivering a poignant meditation on grief, trauma, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness. While he isn’t the industry’s most consistent auteur in terms of overall quality, Belle stands as a monumental cinematic achievement, effortlessly combining the frenetic style of a Masaaki Yuasa acid trip with the compelling substance of a Makoto Shinkai tone poem.

In short, the movie offers the viewer sizzle and steak in equal measure—a rare treat in the homogenized and commoditized landscape of modern anime.

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