Belle (2022) movie review
Belle, or Ryû to sobakasu no hime, is an anime that premiered at Cannes Film Festival in 2021. The film follows a high school girl who, struggling with her own self-confidence, finds herself as a famous singer in a virtual world called “U”. However things begin to change when she sets out to find a mysterious creature in U. Belle opens this weekend in a fairly wide release with outstanding critic and audience reviews, boasting a 96/95% score on Rotten Tomatoes respectively.
Look I don’t know how to ease into this, but Belle is outstanding! Even if you’ve never seen an anime, this film has tremendous universal appeal. The film was written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda, who directed a slew of recent anime, including Mirai (2018), which was one of the best films of 2018. Studio Chizu hasn’t really dropped the ball yet, but this is easily a high bar. (Also we saw it subbed, but if dubbed gets you to see it, hey I won’t complain!)
So before I get into story, I want to talk about the animation. Belle actually blends 2D and 3D animation, using 3D for the world of U and 2D for real life. Not only was the 2D animation top notch as always, with some genuinely breathtaking moments and the always impressive ability to use its style to capture human emotion, but I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever seen 3D animation like this.
When it comes to anime or anime inspired media, I typically don’t like 3D animation. It often feels like a betrayal of how wonderful the traditional animation that defined anime is. Not Belle. In fact Rachel and I were debating on the way back from the theater if it was 3D or just really really layered traditional. It’s 3D, but done in this outstanding way where the particle animation and movements all feel traditional, but like a digital version of what traditional animation would look like in this world. And I would go watch it again just for the visuals. (Actually I might.)
We saw it with the original voice cast, and while I am not too familiar with Kaho Nakamura, I think the work she does as Suzu (Belle) in this film is impressive. I also don’t know if she does her own singing as either character, but even if she doesn’t it doesn’t take much away from such a layered vocal performance. This director has such a mind for realistic characters, but Nakamura really sells Suzu in this film.
Look I know I haven’t even gotten to the story yet. I apologize. It’s not often that I go into a January film and completely fall in love with it…
Now the music in the film is a blend of the score from (mostly) Yuta Bandoh and Ludvig Forssell, and the songs performed by Belle in the film, which by the way. The songs are incredible; just the most moving, unique- okay I don’t know how to talk about songs, but wow! And the score! Ugh it’s like the perfect blend of The Social Network (2010) and a fantasy epic! Which is a highlight of having two composers handle two different styles. It absolutely works, and I’m so happy to have one of the best scores of 2022 just two weeks in!
So I’ll talk about the story and wrap up! Thematically, Belle shares some obvious similarities to another story with Belle and a Beast… That said, I really adore the connections this film has to Beauty and the Beast (1991). I say 1991 because I don’t think it shares too many connections with the 1740 story other than the obvious connection between the characters. That said the film really stands on its own with a unique story and strong themes, never leaning on the Beauty and the Beast angle except to really sell that particular element of the film- which is a fine line that so few films manage when paying homage like this.
Now I’ll be vague because, well I didn’t know too much going into this film. Belle tackles plenty of themes and issues in a wonderful way. The film is compelling and funny and dramatic and emotional and exciting, meanwhile taking on themes dealing with the connection between the real world and the digital world, high school, grief, being yourself- look I’m not going to do this film any justice by just listing things. Sufficed to say, if you pitched me Belle in its entirety, I would say you need a nearly three hour film to capture all that as well as it needed to be. And Belle is two freaking hours long. And it. Works. Gosh I an simply astounded.
Okay last thing I promise! So of all the virtual world movies, Belle is not only the best that I can think of off the top of my head, but it uses its world (U) so much better than your Ready Player One (2018) or your Free Guy (2021). That said, if I had a complaint, it would be that- I want to know more about how the world works! I get it, and it would take away from the heart this film has to get into the details. But Every now and then I simply wanted to know more! That said, Belle uses its world as more of a thematic device, and I totally followed the world in that sense.
To be honest, I have had trouble getting back into writing since just before Christmas. It’s been a long month and somewhere between a slew of disappointing films and a dozen other reasons, I never felt the urge to sit down and just get my thoughts out. Until last night. Look there’s not much not to love about Belle. The universal appeal of a story like this and the film’s ability to juggle so many tones and so many themes and even as many characters as it has, all effectively? It’s genuinely amazing. I am in complete awe of this film’s visual style, the music should win an Oscar for original song, beating itself on a close call of course, and- well I talked about the story plenty. Just go see Belle. I can’t believe I am saying this in January, but yeah, Belle is an easy 9/10 for me.
So Belle? Did you see it yet? What did you think? And what is your favorite film from Studio Chizu? Be sure to leave a like or a comment (or both would be cool) below and let us know! And if you liked this review, do consider letting us know what we should talk about next! We are one Witcher and Hawkeye away from being caught up, so we need some ideas!
As always, thanks for reading!
-review by Ryan Prince