Writer: Mamoru Hosoda
Cast: Kôji Yakusho, Shôta Sometani, Aoi Miyazaki, Kazuhiro Yamaji
Running time: 119mins
The lowdown: Wolf Children and Summer Wars director Mamoru Hosoda delivers another beautifully told fable, blending Japanese folktales with cutting edge technology. Spirited Away with a male lead, The Boy and the Beast focusses on Kyuta, a young boy who flees to the magical animal realm of Jutengai when his mother dies. There he becomes apprentice to Kumatetsu, a bear-like creature looking to become lord of the land. But, does the young lad have a thing or two to teach? Fast-paced and funny, a family film to treasure.
The full verdict: Once courted by Studio Ghibli to direct Howl’s Moving Castle before being unceremoniously dumped off the project, Mamoru Hosoda has quietly carved a niche for himself as the best director Ghibli never had.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, Wolf Children and now The Boy and the Beast are the kind of imaginative animated treats the Totoro Studio is known for.
The Boy and the Beast arrives three years after Wolf Children, but is worth the wait. Sharing similarities with the previous film, this too blends animal and human worlds, sometimes in the same character.
Entered through an alleyway in Tokyo’s bustling Shibuya district, Jutengai is a wonderfully realised fantasy land. A place where animals stand upright, talk (and have opposable digits), set in a magical feudal era Japan.
Humans are unwelcome, regarded as violent and corrupt with dark centres – literally when Kyuta spies his reflection becoming an inky silhouette.
Meaning Kumatetsu (Yakusho) is not flavour of the town when revealing he has taken as his apprentice the very human Kyuta (Miyazaki voicing the young boy and Sometani when he’s older). But, the boorish beast must have an apprentice if he wishes to vie for position of lord.
His chief rival is the measured Iozen, respected and with the poise of a samurai warrior. A town square skirmish between the two ends badly for Kumatetsu, but solidifies his relationship with Kyuta when the boy is the only one to cheer him on.
From here begins a tumultuous relationship with the boy and the beast begrudgingly learning each has something to teach the other.
A less ambitious film would have had Kumatetsu’s quest to become lord as the chief story thread. But, Hosoda spans his story over ten years, delving into Kyuta’s background and his life split between the two worlds.
The nicely developed student/teacher relationship pays off well come the spectacular real world showdown with a supernatural enemy revealed late in the day.
Employing traditional hand drawn techniques, including animating over real footage, and digitally augmenting the results, The Boy and the Beast’s crisp, clean animated style is a joy to behold.
Twin this with a story packed with heart and unexpected twists and you have an anime to cheer.
With Studio Ghibli currently taking stock of its future, Hosoda’s Studio Chizu may become the go-to place for premiere quality Japanese family film making.
Watch this space.