God damn it.
Okay, look, I know what I said. No anime movie review at the first of the month. I made it a resolution, and claimed those things were unbreakable.
Turns out, I was wrong. They are very breakable. Like, super fragile. Cause, yeah, I’m reviewing an anime film at the first of the month, and setting a really bad example for what the rest of the year is gonna be like.
What can I say? I’m not very reliable. I think you guys know this by now. Even when I make plans, nothing goes according to plan. That’s the main reason I never make plans. If I made plans, they’d just go wrong anyway.
Kinda like with Wonderland, which was gonna be a blog thing, then maybe a Kindle thing, and now it may be a published thing. I made a plan, plotted the thing, and now, all the plans have gone wrong. Plans are bad.
If I teach you nothing else, let it be that. Plans are bad. Just live life by the seat of your pants, full of dread, despair, and constantly sure that everything is going to go the worst possible way it can. It usually will, but when it doesn’t, hey, you get to be pleasantly surprised.
It’s possible I may just be a terrible role model. Yeah. Pretty sure that’s it.
Okay, slight revision. If I teach you nothing else, it’s to not be like me. Unless you already are, then yeah, it’s too late. The glass is half empty, rainbows are just refracted light, everyone really is a horrible person, and no matter how hard you try, things will always go wrong.
I dunno about you guys, but I feel better.
How about we review a movie?
The Boy and the Beast is a 2015 feature film from Studio Chizu, who also made Wolf Children, and was founded by Mamoru Hosoda, the guy who directed Wolf Children, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and Summer Wars, all movies I have previously reviewed, cause I am a massive honking fan of Mamoru Hosoda.
No, seriously. I have seen almost every movie this guy has directed, and loved all of them. While I never reviewed it, he did direct the 2000 Digimon Movie, which I loved, because I’m a big Digimon fan, at least through the first three seasons. I have not seen his One Piece film, because I don’t get One Piece, at all. That’s not his fault, though.
Yes, I will probably be reviewing Mirai in the very near future, so I can collect on that Hosoda Achievement. I plan to display it proudly where none of you will see it, cause I’m an asshole.
Back to this movie.
The story follows nine year old Ren, who recently lost his mother. With his dad MIA after the divorce, which happened before his mom died, obviously, he is taken in by relatives that, from what I understand, were in the service of a temple, and planned to raise Ren to do the same. He wasn’t cool with that, so he ran away.
After living on the streets for a while, scrounging money and food where ever he could, he befriended a small… mouse… thing. I dunno what’s it actually suppose to be, but it’s the weirdest looking mouse ever, so I’m guessing it’s suppose to be some kind of spirit or something. Anyway, it’s adorable. I want a plushie of it.
What? I can want plushies of things.
Anyway, during a moment of deep despair, Ren happens to see two very not human people wandering by. They are discussing one of them taking on a disciple, but Ren just kind of ignores all that. At least, until the big, bear looking one decides Ren should be his disciple. Freaked out, Ren still decides to follow the thing, and soon finds himself in the Beast World.
Okay, so, there’s this parallel world, that can be reached through a back alley in Shibuya, because of course it can, populated by humanoid animals. The city Ren finds himself in is ruled by a grand master, who has recently decided he will retire, and reincarnate as a god. He has two potential successors to replace him.
The first is Iozen, a boar guy, who is known for his mastery, kindness, family values, and many disciples. The other is Kumatetsu, who is known for being a jerk, with no disciples, or family, or friends, or anything remotely approaching manners, civility, decency, or common sense.
Guess which one Ren just became the disciple of? Yeah, it’s the second one.
At first resistant, Ren soon finds he can’t return to the the human world, and decides he may as well take advantage of the situation, and learn to be strong. Kumatetsu renames him Kyuta, and along with the closest thing he has to friends, the monkey like Tata, and the pig like Hyaku, starts studying… sort of… under Kumatetsu.
This goes well.
Actually, Ren sort of learns how to kick Kumatetsu’s ass, which infuriates the guy a ton. So, they reach a compromise. Ren knows how to predict his master’s moves, and evade him, but isn’t strong. In exchange for learning martial arts, and sword skills, he will teach Kumatetsu how to read his opponents moves, and use them against any foe.
For the next eight years, the two train each other, and gradually, become family.
Until the day Ren discovers a way back to the human world, and meets a girl named Kaede. Since Ren hasn’t been to school since he was nine, there’s a ton he doesn’t know. Kaede becomes his tutor, and his friend, and something more. Together, they accidentally discover where his father is, and Ren learns that his mother’s family hid his mother’s death from his father. When he finally learned of it, he tore Japan apart searching for his child, even when his mother’s relatives, and the police, told him it was hopeless.
Suddenly torn between his life in the Beast World, and his life in the Human World, Ren struggles with this, and discovers a vast emptiness inside himself. One that, thanks to exposure to the Beast World, has grown powerful enough to physically consume him. Kaede helps him control it, and Ren realizes he needs to make peace with both worlds, leading to him returning to Kumatetsu, so he can say a proper goodbye.
Upon returning, however, he learns the time has come for the match between Kumatetsu and Iozen, to determine which will be the new grand master. Going to the arena, he watches for a bit, as Kumatetsu is outclassed, and beaten down by Iozen with ease. Angered that his useless master is such a failure, Ren calls out to him, and realizing his student, his son, has returned, Kumatetsu gets his shit together, and defeats Iozen.
Unfortunately, this causes Iozen’s son, Ichirohiko, to go a little crazy. It is revealed, Ichirohiko is also human, found by Iozen as an infant, and raised as his son. Like Ren, he has a vast emptiness in him that is threatening to swallow him up, torn between his human heritage and his desire to be a Beast, like his father. Ichirohiko uses the powers this emptiness grants him, to stab Kumatetsu with his father’s sword, but when Iozen is displeased, Ichiro goes full bananas, and is consumed by the emptiness within him, vanishing.
Ren pursues him back to the human world, where the two battle, with Kaede getting caught in the crossfire, refusing to abandon Ren. As this fight begins to affect the Beast World, Kumatetsu awakens, and demands to be allowed to reincarnate, choosing the form of a sword, and goes to Ren, to become the sword in his heart, filling the emptiness with in him, and allowing him to cut away Ichiro’s own darkness, saving him.
Ren decides to stay in the human world, with his father, and Kaede, bidding farewell to his friends in the Beast World, knowing he will always carry Kumatetsu within his heart, which has now been made whole, by the love of his master, and the Beast who became his father.
Now, obviously, the big themes the film explores are that of family, a common one in Hosoda’s work. What separates this from his previous stuff is how it tackles the idea of solitude, and fear of belonging. This is largely what Ren’s story line revolves around.
The emptiness inside him is symbolic of his anger and resentment towards his own family, from his mother’s relatives to his absentee father, and how that caused him to isolate himself from others. Basically, he closed his heart to the world, and no matter how much he was surrounded by those who would treat him as family, he kept a part of himself distant, and separate. He refused to allow himself to love.
Kumatetsu is somewhat similar, though he has no horrible consuming darkness with in him. Early in the film, he speaks to Ren of the sword in his heart. Metaphorically, this is his passion, his zest for life. While he is isolated, and largely friendless, Kumatetsu knows that some day, he will find others he can call family. He believes that, and constantly searches for it, never giving in, or closing himself off to the possibility. Not the way Ren does.
This is what leads to the beauty of the finale, as Kumatetsu literally becomes the sword within Ren’s heart. He fills that emptiness with his love, and in doing so, makes Ren whole. He gives up his own physical form, to become an aspect of Ren, for the rest of his life, out of love for him. Having that, carrying it around in you, would make it impossible to keep your heart closed off. How could you, when there was literally some one inside you, filling you up with their love?
The symbology of this is rather obvious, I think.
For me, though, it’s the exploration of Ren’s refusal to be loved that is most fascinating. He remembers what it is to be loved, and cherishes his memories of his mother. Part of him feels that allowing someone else to love him would tarnish that memory, so he rejects it. He closes himself off to love, to keep pure the memory of his mother.
Yet, he knows this is wrong. He knows it, because even his memories of his mother advises him against it. He still does it, however, because he doesn’t know what else to do, or how else to be. His mother was the only person he could ever truly trust, or believe, after all. Her own family was obviously made of jerks. He reacts out from a place of emotion, and for a long time, this is enough. He lives, and in a way, is happy.
Meeting Kaede, however, changes all that. Kind, sweet, smart, and so like him he can’t ignore it, Ren struggles with the new love he starts to experience. Love that allows him to keep the emptiness within from consuming him. Only by accepting that it is his own unwillingness to change does he begin to understand what that emptiness truly is, and what it has cost him. Much less what it will cost him if he does not let it go.
Ichiro serves as a counter point to this. He has known love all his life. His adopted family has cherished him, even his younger brother. His emptiness comes from not knowing who, or even what, he really is. He feels out of place, like a fraud. He has no right to be his father’s son, in his own mind, and this leads to despair. Seeing his father bested by someone Ichiro thinks is beneath Iozen, and backed by someone so like himself, makes that despair spiral out of control.
He’s human, but to him, Beasts are superior. If they are not, then what does that make him, who has always longed to be like his father? Rather than face this, he transfers all his anger onto Ren, and blames him for everything, causing him to be consumed by the darkness within. He loses all sense of himself, as a person. Wracked with rage, guilt, fear, and doubt, Ichiro lashes out at Ren, desperate to prove that Iozen, and by extension, Beasts, are superior to humans like Ren, and himself.
In saving Ichiro, Ren calls upon both his human nature, and the things he learned living all those years in the Beast World, proving that neither is superior. They are just different, and that isn’t bad. It’s okay to be who you are, and that regardless of those differences, you belong were you are loved.
Yes, I like this sort of thing. And plushies. Sue me.
The whole film is just a giant metaphor for accepting yourself, and the love of those around you. That’s pretty awesome, no matter how you cut it.
Which brings me to the animation. It’s gorgeous. The character designs are amazing, and the whole thing moves, and flows, with this stunning beauty. It’s just eye candy all the way through, though I think the back drops really do a ton of the heavy lifting here. The washed out look of Shibuya, contrasted against he vibrant colors of the Beast World, help build Ichiro’s side of the story, while Ren’s return visit to the human world sees him surrounded in points of nature, which are brighter and more vibrant than the down town area we see so much of, setting up and delivering the concept that beauty is where you find it.
The movie was written and directed by Hosoda, continuing his trend to fill both of those duties. As a director, he is now just showing off how good he is, something I thought he’d mastered in Summer Wars. He outshines even that, though, with gorgeously choreographed fight scenes, richly detailed world building, compelling character arcs, and a grab bag of cliches that he twists in fun, interesting ways, to tell a compelling story of love, loss, and family trough striking visuals.
Seriously, I never get tired of Hosoda’s work. He’s one of my favorite directors working in the anime industry today. Every time he makes a movie, he delivers something beautiful.
Back in Summer Wars, he delivered the fate of humanity down to a card game. Here, he delivers the fate of two human souls down to love, and it is no less compelling, and just as grand. The guy really knows how to make you care for the characters, and their journey.
The music is from Masakatsu Takagi, who previously worked on Wolf Children, as well as composing the soundtrack to the documentary on Studio Ghibli, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. Honestly, though, I think his work on Wolf Children compares better here.
This is a beautiful soundtrack. Takagi relies heavily on classical Japanese instruments and styles, but makes them modern, and wraps this whole story in this moving, breathtaking sound, that builds the characters, their journey, and the two different worlds, both in their differences, and their similarities, with amazing deftness, and wonder filled style.
I loved the music for this. Especially the theme that plays whenever Kumatetsu is being a twat. There’s a humor to the music, yet also a sense of sadness, and loneliness, that slowly grows to be fuller, richer, and more complete, as Kumatetsu’s relationship with Ren changes. It’s brilliant.
Overall, while I admit to being a huge fan of Hosoda’s work, having never failed to enjoy one of his movies immensely, this is, so far, one of his most engaging offerings. I dunno what else to say, really, past that.
If you enjoyed any of his previous works, then you will enjoy this one. It is every bit as beautiful, moving, meaningful, and detailed as his past offerings, and it continues the one thing that I think Hosoda has become most lauded for, at least from me.
It is overflowing with heart, and hope.
Those are things this sad old world of ours can never get enough of.
Well, and plushies. We can always do with more plushies.
Oh, shut the hell up. I have a thing for plushies. I can be a cynic that loves plushies.