The Boy and the Beast
2015, PG-13, 119 min. Directed by Mamoru Hosoda. Voices by Aoi Miyazaki, Luci Christian, Kumiko Asô, Jessica Cavanagh, Kôji Yakusho, John Swasey, Masahiko Tsugawa, Steve Powell, Shôta Sometani, Eric Vale.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 4, 2016
A huge success in Japan, this thrilling, if overlong, epic from director Mamoru Hosoda (Wolf Children, Summer Wars) is part Karate Kid and part Japanese folklore. It posits a parallel Tokyo ruled by beasts and overseen by aging Lord Soshi (Tsugawa), and is rife with kendo-style battles over who is best to succeed him. (Possibly, they should try this in Thailand, where the ailing and beloved monarch is reportedly at death’s door.) Using old-school, hand-drawn animation, Hosoda directs with flair and interjects some excellent fight and battle sequences into what is essentially the story of a lonely little boy, Ren (later dubbed Kyuta, and voiced by Aoi Miyazaki), who is offered a chance to become the apprentice of the bearish samurai Kumatetsu (Yakusho, in full Toshirô Mifune mode) in the beast-run underworld that exists just behind the reality of Tokyo’s Shibuya district. Kumatetsu is no Mr. Miyagi, though; his violent temper and unstructured life needs a purpose, and he finds it in young Ren. An early montage of the beast and his boy is winning, and the overstuffed storyline only gets more outlandish as the now-grown Kyuta (voiced by Sometani) finds his way back to the real world and falls for a kind-hearted human university student, but then must return to the shadowy beast world to assist his sensei in a climactic battle with more than one interesting reveal. Alongside the political power-plays going on in Kumatetsu’s fabulously realized home world, there’s a subplot about Kyuta’s fascination with Melville’s Moby-Dick that only makes sense toward the end – no spoilers here – when the fate of both the Shibuyan reality and the anything-goes land of the beasts are both imperiled by, well, like I said, no spoilers here.
The Boy and the Beast’s main (mane?) draw for anime enthusiasts is the movie’s fully immersive, albeit dueling, realities. Hosoda employs brief moments of CGI to render Shibuya startlingly lifelike, but it’s Kumatetsu and Kyuta’s unlikely bonding that’s at the heart of the story, skullduggery be damned. Uniformly excellent animation and a plot that draws from both standard anime tropes and far older Japanese mythology, Hosoda’s brawny, occasionally comical anime epic is best seen on the big screen, where the superior sound design and Masakatsu Takagi’s bombastically action-centric score can be fully appreciated.
The film is screening with English subtitles at the Alamo and Arbor and an English-dubbed version at Tinseltown North.