Mamoru Hosoda’s The Boy and the Beast

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2015 signaled a very important change in Japan’s film industry and particularly in the anime category. Due to Hayao Miyazaki’s (alleged) retirement, a number of other anime studios tried to usurp the position Studio Ghibli held in the market. In that fashion, Studio Chizu and Mamoru Hosoda (“Wolf Children”, “The girl who leapt through time”) , one of the most acclaimed contemporary filmmakers of the genre, produced “The Boy and the Beast.”

Nine-year-old Ren’s mother has recently died, leaving him in the care of relatives he despises, since his father is nowhere to be found. Eventually he runs away and stumbles upon the parallel dimension of Juntengai, that is inhabited by monsters.

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The lord of that world is about to retire and is set to appoint his successor between two extremely different characters: the noble Iozen and the loner, bearlike warrior, Kumatetsu. Eventually Ren ends up being the latter’s apprentice, in a peculiar teacher-student relationship. After some years, the adolescent Ren returns to the human world and falls in love.

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Hosoda directed a film that was bound to be commercially successful (second highest-grossing film in the year 2015 with a total box office gross of US$48.6 million) due to a number of Japanese fans’ favorite ingredients: lonely teenagers, supernatural beings, humorous moments, and a plethora of epic battles.

Furthermore, he presented a number of social messages, including ones regarding the relationship between parents and children, adulthood, the need for education and the benefits of patience, calmness, cooperation and effort, giving in that fashion, depth to the film. However, the film’s main purpose is to entertain, and Hosoda succeeded in that by also presenting many humorous moments, with most of them occurring when Ren and Kumatetsu are fighting.

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As is the rule with the director’s films, the visual aspect is spectacular, with the production shouting “big budget” from the first scene. The animation is magnificent with the movement of the characters being realistic and fluid, even when a plethora of individuals is moving simultaneously, an event that mainly occurs in the human city. The characters are magnificently drawn, with the drawing and the concept of the animals with human characteristics (boars, bears, monkeys a pig-monk, and the ultimate leader who is a constantly- disappearing rabbit), being cute, beautiful and funny.

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The non-moving scenes are equally artful, with a number of stills having the quality of an actual painting, particularly due to the attention to detail. I was very impressed by the drawing of a pot with flowers, whose depiction was utterly sublime. The same also applies to the background, which at times seems to stretch to three levels in depth, in an absolutely astonishing technique.

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The technical aspect finds its apogee in the two final battles, where the aforementioned characteristics appear in all their glory, thus giving the most memorable scenes of the film, along with those where Ren is shadowing Kumatetsu.

There are only two faults in the anime. The first one lies with some of the voices, since the constant yelling between the two main characters becomes somewhat annoying after a fashion. The second one is that it becomes a bit sanctimonious in the end, trying to include as many values as possible, in a tactic that seems a bit out-of-place in its magnitude. However, these faults are not in any way enough to ruin a true masterpiece of the genre.