The Boy and the Beast (2015)
The latest feature film from award-winning Japanese director Mamoru Hosoda
This year I've been trying to do something a little different with the reviews - I guess really in multiple ways in retrospect. One facet of that is trying to alternate between types of movies - a scary movie there, followed by something light hearted, followed by a drama, and so on and so forth. Part of this is because in any good movie, tension should only really be maintained so long before the audience is given some form of relief - whether it be something as lame as a jump scare or as cheesy as a romance scene in an action flick. Well, I may have done a bit of an underestimation on just what this film had to bring to the plate.
Let's start this off with something nice and easy - animation. Being a prominent feature of the film, given it is an animation after all, it's something that's going to be noticed the quickest and for some be a deal breaker (because some people for whatever reason automatically look down on anything animated). Here, our visuals are stunning, and the animation end of it (being the movement and such) holds up remarkably. The setting within the beast realm also helps bring a large diversity to things - while at the same time not being too far from what we'd expect. The beast realm residents are all still anthropomorphic, so we have the familiarity of that human structure despite them having a pig face, a monkey tail, or even being covered in massive amounts of fur with a bear-like face. On the same coin, it also means there is a vast visual spread in what we are seeing at times - it's not just a bunch of people wearing the same clothes and feeling entirely background, but instead it draws your eyes to the different things - was that a sheep? Is that a lion? Did that thing just turn into a giant pig?
Even though there is a great diversity in the things presented, there's also a stark familiarity that gets presented as the scope of cast is still relatively small and tight nit - we focus roughly on the same four characters for the large portion of the movie, despite having such a variety on display. The backgrounds are also just a treat for the eye - lit marketplaces feel like they actually are aglow on the screen, and a sunrise still holds the same majesty one would think even though it's not a real one. There's also a bit of a watercolor feel at times, if not in texture in color appearance, reinforced at it's edges with sharp pen-like inks. It's all very clean, and helps to allow the details really bristle and pop at times when they want it to - such as when characters might "hulk out" and we see their hairs all bristle and flow as they increase in size.
The audio all plays in suitably, albeit nothing quite as obnoxious as an ear worm makes it's presence known. Actors - and I should note here that I went with the English dub, because that was the default on the disc and I like to roll defaults - deliver their lines well, bringing emotion in when it should be required. Their balance is also wonderful, never really leaving me with a moment that I couldn't hear or understand a character even if they where using a low tone of voice. It's also used quite well to make things feel a bit more living, adding in that bustle of the marketplace or the sounds of cars or footsteps.
And with that, we get to the heavier parts. I'm going to admit, I was expecting more of the typical I would expect from this sort of movie, and to some extent it did give me that. Sure, I heard the praise many sung for this movie - heck, that's why it got added to the watch list in the first place - but I don't think I quite expected it to deliver on all that praise. "Too many movies disillusionment" I like to call it. In this case though, I really have to admit that they weren't wrong in the slightest. The plot of this movie is an absolute bruiser and without a doubt I already know another person whom I will absolutely tell they need to see this if they already haven't.
See, where it caught me off guard - and this seems to be a thing lately - is with the amount of depth it had to provide. It wasn't just a "coming of age" story that I thought it was intended to be, no. There's a lot of introspective stuff that it'll bring up, as well as ties on family, respect, coping, hate, and even a little bit on romance. The part that's probably most impressive is that while it's doing it, it never feels like it's just preaching to the choir. It's there, it doesn't try to hide it, but it's never pushing it into your face like a child trying to fit the square peg in the round hole. It's handled in a mature fashion, even when some of the events that are shown on the screen have that distinct animated wacky silliness you'd at first expect.
Maybe it's just the mindset I went into this movie with, it's entirely possible - who can even think of all the small insignificant things and their larger crushing cousins that have a direct affect on us and how we perceive things. Maybe it's just the movie on it's own. Whatever the case, this thing will undoubtedly make you feel one way or the other. There are moments that are just doing their darnedest to rip some form of raw emotion out of you, and if you never experience it you may have just failed your Turing Test. Yeah, sure, some of the moments aren't quite as heart wrenching or effective at getting that smile out of you as others, but that can really be said of any movie - and by the halfway point this one has totally removed it's kiddie gloves while it's trying to punch those nerves.
The movie isn't without it's lesser moments though. Some moments can really be seen coming from a mile away, either in exact detail or in execution. Sometimes a character can feel like it's a little annoying. When the gloves finally come off, it can feel almost shockingly sudden and in conflict with what you've already experienced. Even the basics of it feel as though I've probably seen it before - potentially even multiple times. With all of that being said though, this is still just a stunning flick, and admittedly I feel I'm going to eventually end up buying this one because I can totally see myself re-watching it later down the road. For a person who isn't usually super emotional unless you call a perpetual state of "being annoyed" emotional, this thing was attacking heartstrings like a thresher maw trapped in a small room coked up on the finest space LSD found in the universe. Heck, I'm not too man enough to admit that it was even successful once or twice at it either. Thus far, I'd have to say this is probably the best film I've seen this year and it would without a doubt set the bar a lot higher for future films I watch if I didn't reset the bar on every movie that isn't a sequel to something.