Mamoru Hosoda Month-The Boy and the Beast

For those unfamiliar, here’s the introduction, as well as Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. For everyone else, welcome to the finale!

Earlier this year, roughly January or February, Mamoru Hosoda’s latest film, The Boy and the Beast, was announced for a North American release under the FUNimation/GKids label. Unfortunately, the situation got complicated with Canada. Initially slated to be licensed via GKids, it fell through entirely. The film was picked up by Mongrel Entertainment, but was to be screened in a limited run in subtitles only. It bypassed the TIFF Bell Lightbox, aka Toronto’s arthouse theatre, entirely, with the only showing it being well out of city limits. It didn’t even end up mattering, as the film was slated for a DVD release in early-June, less than one week after its Canadian release.

I’ve already discussed my frustrations with this. I’ve mentioned in detail why this upset me in another pice for Infinite Rainy Day. I, therefore, won’t repeat my thoughts outside a reminder of how irritating it was. That having been said, I’ll be retreading my earlier review’s thoughts and ideas. I normally try to avoid that unless I have something new to add, but I re-watched this movie for the sake of this series and feel it necessary. Besides, time has warmed me to the film somewhat.

The Boy and the Beast is the story of Ren, a 9 year-old boy whose mother died in a tragic accident and whose father has been absent for some time. Desperate to be free of his mother’s family, Ren runs away and wanders the streets of Shibuya. He stumbles upon a world adjacent to his own, one where anthropomorphic animals live. The ruler of this realm is a rabbit lord on the verge of retirement and who’s looking for a successor. The two candidates he has in mind are a boar named Iōzen and a bear named Kumatetsu. Equal in strength, the two are polar-opposites in personality, the former noble and refined, the latter brash and scattershot.

As it stands, Iōzen looks to be the next lord. But Kumatetsu wishes to prove himself, so he takes Ren as his apprentice and renames him Kyuuta. The two initially don’t get along, but time forges a strong bond. They spend the next 8 years together, but not all feels right. What is it that Ren wants? And can he help Kumatetsu, or will he doom everyone?

Like the films preceding it, The Boy and the Beast looks gorgeous. This is Studio Chizu’s second film, yet you wouldn’t know from the scenery and character models. Even the animal realm and the human realm are distinct, with the former being colourful and old-fashioned and the latter desaturated and modern. There’s a feeling of life and energy to both realms, making you feel like you’re actually there. Then again, it’s a Hosoda film.

The score for this film, provided once again by Takagi Masakatsu, is good in-film, yet passable outside of it. It does its job to convey ambience, but that’s it. Even its end credits song, “Starting Over”, holds the record of being the most-uninspired of Hosoda’s films’ ending tunes, as, like the rest of the score, it’s solid in-context, yet less-so outside. It’s not even bad, but it pales to what’s come before it. Still, part of that could be the high expectations.

The voice acting is great. FUNimation Entertainment did a bang-up job with the dub, as per usual. Perhaps the stand-outs are Luci Christian and John Swasey as Ren and Kumatetsu respectively. Considering they have most of the major lines, I’d expect their performances to be top-notch anyway. But they go beyond the call of duty, and I commend them for that.

This extends to the characters. Ren, both young and old, is stubborn and loud, yet also contemplative and quiet. His circumstances influence a lot of his behaviour, yet he’s never not sympathetic. And given that he’s working with an arrogant master, who’s also sympathetic, it suits him. The side characters also make due with what they have and contribute to the story. Even Kaede, a character introduced in the second-half, transcends her “love interest” trope to become likeable, although that she’s not fleshed-out much is a tad disappointing.

Then there’s the underlying theme of fatherhood. Like The Wolf Children, Mamoru Hosoda based this film off his childhood relationship with his parents. Except, this time, he focused on his absent father-figure. It’s a little wonky, partly due to Hosoda writing this movie by himself, and somewhat less-interesting than his exploration of motherhood, but it still manages to convey harsh truths about adoption, surrogate relationships and estrangement. It’s not always consistent, but it works.

Unfortunately, the film suffers from a major flaw that keeps it from being a masterpiece. Factoring in that Hosoda’s usual writing partner, Satoko Okudera, was absent from the screenplay credits, you can see wobbly dialogue in spots that’d have normally been more refined. The character conversations are rough, there are quite a few exposition dumps and the the entirety of the third-act goes off the rails. I remember the latter complaint turning me off slightly during my initial viewing, even bringing down the grade of the movie in my initial review. But a re-watch makes it to be nothing more than a major flaw that’s tolerable because of the build-up.

For what it’s worth, the film comes pretty close to being a masterpiece. I remember Jacob Chapman once describing Howl’s Moving Castle as a problematic favourite. He recognized that it was chock full of story problems, but that the characters and themes saved the movie. I suppose that’s what The Boy and the Beast is for me: a flawed movie narratively, yet one that still works character-wise and thematically. It’s an incredibly thought-provoking and contemplative film, so I can forgive its occasionally clunky writing.

In the end, this is an absolute must-watch if you’re a fan of Hosoda’s work. It deals with themes of fatherhood without delving too far into toxic patriarchy and its destructive implications. I even kinda like it more than I originally did the first time around. Will you end up agreeing? Hard to say, but I can’t give it lower than a…

There you have it: four reviews of four excellent films from an excellent director. I’d rank them as follows: The Wolf Children > The Boy and the Beast > The Girl Who Leapt Through Time > Summer Wars. I highly-recommend them to view at your leisure, as you can’t go wrong either way. And, in the end, isn’t that what really matters? I’ll see you next time!


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