The Boy and The Beast
Original Title: バケモノの子
Genres: Animation, Fantasy
Director: Hosoda Mamoru
Meet Rin (played by Miyazaki Aoi), a poor boy whose mother has passed away, with his estranged father nowhere to be found. With no one to support the young lad, he runs away and finds himself lost in the busy Tokyo neighborhood of Shibuya. There, he meets a mysterious figure in a hood, who turns out to be a giant talking bear!
Rin follows the bear into the winding back alleys, and finds himself in Juutengai, the world of the beasts. With no reason to travel back to the human world, he finds the bear, named Kumatetsu (Yakusho Koji). Kumatetsu – one of the top brawlers in Juutengai – decides to take up Rin as a disciple, christening him as “Kyuta”.
At first, it’s apparent that Kumatetsu takes up Kyuta as his disciple because having followers is one of the requirements to become a candidate for the next Grand Master of Juutengai. But in reality, it’s because Kumatetsu sees a similarity in Kyuta’s loneliness to his own.
That sets up a typical theme among Hosoda Mamoru films – human relationships. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time dealt with friendship, whereas his follow up hit Summer Wars dealt with a large family’s love for each other. Hosoda’s next masterpiece, and his Studio Chizu’s official first, Wolf Children‘s central theme was a mother’s love with her two drastically different children.
This time, in The Boy and The Beast, we talk about the titular duo forming an unlikely father-son bond. It’s heartwarming, seeing Kyuta and Kumatetsu’s relationship, as it grows from one of a kid copying his guardian’s every move. Eventually, the boy has to make a choice whether he should stay in Juutengai as Kyuta, or return to the human world as “Rin”.
The parental bond between the two main characters is the result of one of the film’s central themes – loneliness. Both boy and beast are drawn together because they have holes in their hearts that they learn to fill with the other. When we meet the film’s antagonist, we see him suffer from the same loneliness, and the result of what happens when he can’t find a way to overcome it.
Another of the film’s central themes is strength, as we are talking about a brawler who aims to be Juutengai’s next Grand Master. Kumatetsu loses a fight early in the film, but trains and strives hard so that he could be strong enough to take his title. His strength rubs off on Kyuta, as he becomes a worthy fighter in his own right.
But make no mistake; this isn’t a story about fighters, so don’t expect fights on the same scale as Summer Wars. However, the fight scenes do have a better sense of realism in the way the animation captures everyone’s movements.
Visually, the film is a masterpiece, worthy of being a successor to Hosoda’s previous films. Little details are handled with care – even the sweat that beads from Kumatetsu’s furry body. The world of Juutengai, and the thousands of beasts that inhabit it, are beautiful.
Also noteworthy is how the neighborhood of Shibuya is kept almost completely intact. Usually in animated films, the names of businesses and shops are drawn into fictionalized versions, like Burger King becoming Burger Wing. However, no such change was implemented into this film’s Shibuya, making the world feel very real, and the contrast between it and Juutengai feel that much more drastic.
If there was anything that could have been improved upon, it is the film’s antagonist and his development. For the majority of the film, we see him as a side character with no real interaction to Kumatetsu or Kyuta. The character’s rise to becoming to film’s villain during the second half of the film felt very quick and not really well fleshed out.
Hosoda Mamoru’s Studio Chizu is on the rise to becoming the successor to the legendary Studio Ghibli. Though only officially releasing two films, Hosoda’s previous releases before founding the studio have been successes. The Boy and The Beast is a worthy edition to Studio Chizu’s library, with its star-studded voice cast (composed of renowned and upcoming film actors) and its carefully crafted world. We definitely hope to see many more in the years to come.
Watch this film…
…if you enjoy a heartwarming film that feels both fantastical and real at the same time.