Ever since I saw the trailer for Mamoru Hosoda's Belle (In Japanese, 竜とそばかすの姫 ryū to sobakasu no hime, meaning "the dragon and freckled princess"), I got so excited and predicted it would become my favorite movie of 2021.

From the very beginning, I got Summer Wars vibes, which was a big plus for me since I am such a fan of that film. In fact, ever since I saw it, I had been waiting for a thrilling cinematic experience which would leave me speechless like Summer Wars did.

Belle, both written and directed by Hosoda and animated by Studio Chizu, received good reviews from the critics as well as a standing ovation (for no less than 14 minutes!) at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

You might already be familiar with many of Hosoda's works, such as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, the abovementioned Summer Wars, Wolf Children, The Boy and the Beast, and Mirai. All of these films were well-received by viewers and critics and are now well-known worldwide. Based on the early reactions, it looks like this will also be the case for Belle.

Watching the movie at the cinema: Plot, thoughts, safety measures

© cinnamonellie

I managed to get a ticket on the 17th at the Toho Cinemas in Chiba, and the cinema was full! I am happy I decided to be safe and bought the tickets in advance.

As for the safety measures, there was no obligation to leave the seat next to you open, but most people did it anyway and properly wore their masks until they left the cinema hall. We had to disinfect our hands at the entrance and also had our temperature taken.

Before the film started, there was an advertisement to remind us of safety measures such as keeping our masks on, for example. However, some people ate popcorn and had other food and drinks. Moreover, most seats in front and behind us were not left open and people were quite close to each other in those rows, so in that respect, I did feel a bit uneasy.

What the film is about

Belle tells the story of a teenage girl, Suzu, who lives with her father in a small Japanese town surrounded by nature. She is described as a plain-looking country girl with freckles, living an ordinary life and going to school every day like a typical teenager.

Suzu went through a lot when she was little, however, and that past still affects her in the present, especially when it comes to her self-confidence. She used to love singing, but a tragic accident locked away her voice, and she can't bring herself to sing anymore.

Things get interesting when she decides to step into the virtual world, called "U," where people are free to live differently than who they are in the real world. She takes on an avatar and calls herself Bell (ベル beru), which is what Suzu means in English. Later in the story, however, she takes on the name Belle, after the French word for "beautiful." Although she has trouble singing in reality, as Belle in the virtual world, it somehow comes naturally to her. She quickly attracts many followers and becomes an overnight singing sensation.

During one of her virtual concerts, a mysterious character, known as Ryū, ruins her performance by bursting into the hall. Suzu, however, is intrigued by him and tries to find out what makes him suffer. At the same time, Ryū begins to open his heart to Belle, and they become closer.

The protagonist's avatar Belle was designed by Jin Kim, known for his works at the Walt Disney Animation Studios, so you might get some Disney vibes while watching the film.

Personal thoughts

First of all, I was impressed with the animation. In my opinion, the mix of graphics is unique and fascinating at the same time. The visuals really drove home the point that there were two distinct worlds: the real one and the virtual one.

I also loved the storyline. There is so much more to the story than what I can reveal here! I was at a loss for words when I discovered the reason for Ryū's scream for help, why he behaved the way he did in the virtual world.

There was also a part that made me a bit confused, but I later learned that it was a tribute to Beauty and the Beast. When you see the scene, it will remind you of that Disney classic since it borrows so many elements from it.

My first thoughts were that an original spin would have been better. Also, it felt a bit copy-pasted. Hosoda was aiming for a virtual version of Beauty and the Beast but I think this can be confusing if you aren't aware of this.

Another point is I felt that there could have been more focus on the last part. The scenes revealing why the characters behaved the way they did felt rushed, but it is understandable as there is a time limit.

It is a challenge to portray such serious topics in a short amount of time, and it genuinely took me by surprise. I didn’t expect the film to take that direction, and I was deeply impressed by it. It made me shed many tears and realize once again that such problems exist in our world, too, and it is up to each one of us to bring about change.

So, in conclusion, is Belle my favorite film of the year? Well, we still have over five months remaining but it's my top candidate so far!

The film exceeded my expectations. I loved it, and would definitely recommend it. I genuinely hope there will be more films like Belle in the future.


Belle: Official Website

By - cinnamonellie.