While for decades animation was derided as being solely the province of children, increasingly filmmakers are using it to impart serious messages to a much wider demographic. Japan tends to be ahead of the game in this, with Manga already firmly established within popular culture. The late Satoshi Kon and Mamoru Hosoda have both exploited the medium successfully to tackle social issues. Hosoda continues to produce beautiful and brilliant films such as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Wolf Children and the Oscar-nominated Mirai. Belle is his most ambitious work yet.
Seventeen-year-old Suzu (Kaho Nakamura) is shy and lacks confidence in herself. After her mother died trying to save another child when she was six, the high school student has felt alienated and isolated from her classmates. Except for her childhood friend and now school heartthrob Shinobu (Ryô Narita), the sporty yet eccentric Kamishin (Shôta Sometani), and computer whiz Hiro (Ikura). At the behest of the latter, she signs up to the popular virtual reality platform ‘U’ and creates the characters ‘Belle’, who gives Suzu back her voice.
Belle is a beautifully rendered and spellbindingly soundtracked anime which tackles a number of social issues through the lens of the online world. There are so many elements at play here that at times there’s uncertainty around how it’s all going to come together. Never doubt Hosodo though, and he deftly ties everything up in a way which is both extremely powerful and incredibly clever. Belle is a film which lives up to its name. Tackling a number of difficult subjects within a complex and captivating narrative.
There are select IMAX previews of Belle on 12 January ahead of a wider US theatrical release on 14 January.