Arts Review, Movies
Mamoru Hosoda, director & script
Animation featuring the voices of Shota Sometani/Aoi Miyazaki (child) (Ren/Kyuta), Koji Yakusho (Kumatetsu), Suzu Hirose (Kaede), Kazuhiro Yamaji (Iozen), Mamoru Miyano (Ichirohiko), Kappei Yamaguchi (Jiromaru)
Anime director Mamoru Hosoda’s critically acclaimed film The Boy and the Beast, was the second biggest box office hit in Japan last year, garnering nearly $50 million in domestic sales. It’s now receiving a North American commercial release, which should increase Hosoda’s profile considerably here.
The plot line for The Boy and the Beast is nicely complicated. Ren, a nine-year old boy, runs away from his new guardians after his mother dies, only to find himself in a land of humanoid beasts, operating in a dimension just next to our own. There, he ends up becoming the apprentice for the slightly buffoonish warrior Kumatetsu, who greatly enjoys the lad, whom he dubs Kyuta. Even before the two genuinely establish their relationship, Kyuta witnesses a harsh, very public battle between Kumatetsu and Iozen, who are vying to become the leader of Jutengai (the Beast Kingdom) when their current lord retires to become reincarnated. As Kyuta sees Kumatetsu lose, he realises that he greatly cares for him and decides to become his trainee.
Eight years pass. Kumatetsu becomes a true mentor to Kyuta and finds that many other lads want to be trained by him. Even Iozen’s son Jiromaru becomes Kyuta’s friend. But by the age of 17, Kyuta finds that there’s a darkness within him that needs to be addressed. He finds the corridor between the beast world and that of the humans and begins to reclaim his identity as Ren. Thanks to a lovely studious girl, Kaede, Ren catches up on his learning—his favourite book is Moby Dick—and is soon ready to apply to college. Ren also finds his father, who has missed him and wants to reestablish their familial ties.
But there’s another figure who also loves Ren/Kyuta as a father, Kumatetsu. The boy finds himself struggling to establish his own identity. Where does he fit—with the humans or the beasts?
The final quarter of The Boy and the Beast turns into a thriller, which is more typical of the anime genre. There’s another epic battle between Iozen and Kumatetsu and an even more fearsome struggle, which pits Ren/Kyuta against Iozen’s mysterious son Ichirohiko. We even get to see an anime version of Herman Melville’s whale before the film finishes.
The Boy and the Beast is, at its heart, a coming-of-age story. Ren has to deal with his childish inner beast and then, in late adolescence, the darkness that envelopes so many as sexuality and the need to establish one’s own identity, strike with great force. There are many layers to this film, which is more than a genre piece. While it’s unlikely to be a North American hit, kudos to Hosoda, whose three previous features won the Tokyo Anime Award for Animation of the Year – Wolf Children (2013),
Summer Wars (2010) and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2007).
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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