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Belle (12A)

Cast: Shota Sometani, Kaho Nakamura, Ryo Narita
Genre: Drama
Author(s): Mamoru Hosoda
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Release Date: 04/02/2022 (selected cinemas)
Running Time: 121mins
Country: Jpn
Year: 2021

Seventeen-year-old high school student Suzu Naito has never recovered from seeing her mother drown while attempting to save a child from a flooding river. She retreats emotionally from her father and childhood friend Shinobu. Classmate Hiroka invites Suzu to join a virtual world called U where a recent photograph and biometric data generates a colourful avatar. Suzu's alter ego is a self-confident, candyfloss pink-haired singer called Belle, who becomes a sensation with other denizens of U.


LondonNet Film Review
Belle (12A)

A tale as old as time is turbo-charged for a quick fix TikTok generation in Japanese writer-director Mamoru Hosoda’s lushly animated fantasy. Set in an immersive digital wonderland called U, where every tumble down the rabbit hole promises reinvention behind a mask of anonymity (“You can’t start over in reality. You can start over in U!”), Belle grafts eye-popping visuals and unexpectedly dark subject matter onto the Beauty And The Beast fairy tale, replete with a ballroom waltz that echoes the Oscar-winning 1991 Disney version…

Unlike some of his peers, Hosoda doesn’t view the internet with dystopian doom. He sees his world of ones and zeroes as a limitless playground where insecurities can be soothed through meaningful real-time interactions. Admittedly, he engineers one sequence where trolls swarm to tear down the heroine but another character coolly observes that no-one scaled the dizzy heights of superstardom on compliments alone.

Hosoda’s script reserves the heaviest emotional blows for a structurally haphazard final act that ricochets between real and digitised realms to explore child abuse at close quarters. Thankfully, Belle dodges a sinkhole in the storytelling to achieve a deeply satisfying moment of catharsis reminiscent of the filmmaker’s earlier work.

Painfully insecure 17-year-old high school student Suzu (voiced by Kaho Nakamura) has never recovered from seeing her mother (Sumi Shimamoto) drown while attempting to save a stricken child from a flooding river. The teenager retreats emotionally from her grief-stricken father (Koji Yakusho) and shies away from a blush-inducing crush on childhood friend Shinobu (Ryo Narita), who adopts the role of her surrogate big brother.

Gregarious, tech-savvy classmate Hiroka (Lilas Ikuta) invites Suzu to join a virtual world called U where a recent photograph and biometric data generates a colourful avatar. Suzu’s alter ego is a self-confident, candyfloss pink-haired singer called Belle who becomes a sensation with her extravagantly staged performances on the back of a humpback whale encrusted with amplifiers.

As Belle’s popularity soars, denizens of U speculate about the identity of the real person behind the mask, which terrifies Suzu. “Nobody would guess that Belle is a mousy country bumpkin like you,” snorts Hiroka. Back in U, Belle is drawn to an explosively violent outcast dubbed The Dragon (Takeru Satoh), forging a tender bond that enrages the realm’s threatening chief protector Justin (Toshiyuki Morikawa).

Belle would benefit from sharper, more economical storytelling – the middle section noticeably sags – but visuals are gorgeous and deserve to be savoured on the biggest screen as the camera explores the nooks and crannies of U. Hosoda’s film is released in two versions: Japanese with subtitles and English language dubbing. As a purist, I always recommend the former because subtleties in original vocal performances are sometimes lost in translation.

– Kim Hu


London Cinemas Showing Belle


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UK and Irish Cinemas Showing Belle


From: Friday 13th May
To: Thursday 19th May

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From: Friday 20th May
To: Thursday 26th May

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