The Boy and the Beast is a film I have wanted to talk about for quite some time, but have only just found an opportunity to do so. The film was released in Japan back in 2015, however it briefly received a limited release in America last March, in fact, it was the same weekend as Zootopia. I was expecting it to receive a British release on DVD shortly thereafter, however, that did not materialise.
I did manage to see the film when it played in Birmingham at the Flat Pack Film Festival and did make the decision that I was going to review it as soon as it got a British release. That was meant to happen in September, however, at the last minute, Studio Canal pulled the release of the DVD and Blu-Ray and went very quiet with it. I assumed it had been outright cancelled. That was until it was announced that it would be received a very limited weekend release in July. Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually make that cinematic screening, however, it is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray and I decided that I am going to give myself an early Christmas present and review this bad boy.
So why was I so excited to see this and I went all the way to Birmingham to see it? Well, it’s the film’s director. This film is directed by Mamoru Hosoda, who is a name you are not that familiar with, however, you really should be. If it wasn’t for Miyazaki coming out of retirement, I would probably say Mamoru Hosoda is probably my favourite working director. Ok, Digimon has a lot of good and bad in it, but most of the really great stuff of that series came around the time when Hosoda was the show runner. He may be accredited for doing a lot of the Digimon movie, but don’t blame him for that, that was clearly an American shop job! But that is not the reason that I am into Hosoda, his solo films have been fantastic, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a brilliant film and while I have not read the book it is based on, I think it’s worth a watch. Then he moved on to an even better film with Summer Wars, a fantastic movie that I have highly recommended. It’s kind of his re-make of Digimon Our War Game, which you may recognise as the second segment of the Digimon film, but man did he had a ton of heart to it. It is such a good film. Then he moved on to Wolf Children, which should really be his magnum opus, it’s a phenomenal movie, probably in my ten favourite films of all-time list. I absolutely adore it, please if you take nothing else from this review, go track down a copy of Wolf Children, don’t download it off the Internet illegally, don’t do that, buy it, this deserves to be in your DVD collection. You can understand that with all that, I would be very, very keen to check out Hosoda’s latest film, which he also co-wrote the screenplay and developed the story for. However, this is my review of my second viewing of the film, so keep that in mind, this is from the perspective of someone who has now seen the film twice.
The Boy and the Beast is the story of Ren, (played by Aoi Miyazaki and Luci Christian). After his mother dies and his mother’s side of the family take control of his life, seeing as how they don’t believe his father is capable of taking care of him, he runs away to live on the streets. He is then approached by a beast named Kumatetsu (played by Koyo Yakusho and John Swasey). Out of curiosity, he follows him into the beast world where he discovers more of Kumatetsu and ends up living with him, or at least spending the night with him for the time being. Next morning, not wanting to be Kumatetsu’s apprentice as requested he discovers that Kumatetsu is in conflict with Iozan, (played by Kazuhiro Yamaji and Sean Hennigan), both are battling to see who can become the new grand master after he ascends to become a god. After seeing the lack of respect that Kumatetsu gets from his community, Ren decides that it is worth a shot and decides to become his apprentice, being renamed Kyuta.
I won’t go into any more detail about the plot from then on, because frankly, you are missing out the best moments, it’s best to go into this film as blind as possible. If you are very familiar with Mamoru Hosoda’s films though, this film won’t entirely be a surprise, he does the same sort of themes about family bonding that he has done in all of his films prior to this one, with the possible exception of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Something I am hoping he will distance himself from in his next film since I am hoping he hasn’t become a one trick pony. That being said, however, if he has, he is very good at this trick because The Boy and the Beast is yet another phenomenal film. It’s one heartfelt, well-crafted movie, that at the time I first saw it, I thought might be disappearing with Studio Ghibli, and luckily, between this film and the previously reviewed Your Name and A Silent Voice, I can definitely say that everything I love about Japanese film making still exists. It’s a well-crafted story about fathers and sons and the nature of adopted families, something that I think will really transcend with a lot of its audience. Just everything about it is not only exquisitely looking, it feels like it has come from the heart. Mamoru Hosoda’s is rather like Miyasaki, in a sense of, you get a sense that his films feel like passion projects, they don’t feel like they have been made to appease someone. I can see why Hosoda was initially given the job of directing Hal’s Moving Castle, which he was later booted from, because he wasn’t fitting the template they were asking for.
Let’s now discuss the characters. My goodness, the characters are great in this film. They are distinct, recognisable in both personality and look and it just feels a joy to be in their presence. Kyuta is probably one of Hosoda’s best main characters because he feels very relatable. He is just a lost kid looking for a home and he goes through an excellent character arc. The other thing that sells it is his relationship with Kumatetsu. Their progression together is just fantastic. Like most of Hosoda’s films, you really feel for the character, even some of the characters which in other films would probably be written to be a lot more one dimensional than they are here. In fact, a later plot twist involving some other characters really highlights the themes well, especially that of father’s raising their sons. Anyone who has seen the film will know what I am talking about with that one.
Now Hosoda has had full control of this work. This is not based on a Munga or light novel or any sort of previous intellectual property. However, unlike most directors that now get the chance to make their own intellectual property, he doesn’t pace this like he is adapting another work. Yes, something I have noticed about modern Anime trends is that a lot of the original works don’t tend to still be paced like they are attempting to adapt an intellectual property. Even some of the good ones like Princess Principal. It’s not necessarily a knock, it’s just a bit of a curious thing.
However, with all that in place I would have thought this film would have been longer than it was. Again, I think it’s perfectly paced but I am surprised that Hosoda didn’t try to make this film longer. One of the reasons I think he has worked so well with this is because if he had over extended it, he would have over worked the characters and every character arc would have been stretched out beyond belief. In this sense, we get just enough with all of them, we see the growth and progression. We get to a stage where Kyuta is learning from Kumatetsu and Kumatetsu is also learning from Kyuta. (Kyuta is meant to be a play on the Japanese word for nine, which is the age that he comes to Kumatetsu in).
Without giving too much away, the film eventually has a time jump to where Kuyta is seventeen and he is played by Shota Sometani in the sub and Eric Vale in the Dub. Now, again, without giving too much away, this segment also introduces a love interest called Kaede played by Suzu Hirose and Bryn Apprill. She is an interesting character, since she is meant Kyuta back to his humanity after he almost goes full beast. She doesn’t come into the plot too much, but I kind of liked her contribution. It was kind of fortunate that she wasn’t in the film too much as I think the romance between them might have been a bit dragged out. Not to say it’s bad, far from it, it’s just not so good as Hosoda’s writing in a film like Summer Wars, but on another sense, it is actually kind of better than that film since it seems a lot more natural than Summer Wars. I would say they are about half and half on a level, though Summer Wars slightly eases over, but that is ok because that was not meant to be one of this films main themes. She does confuse the plot in other ways, but again, I don’t want to spoil this film for you. Let’s just say, she is in just the right amount of the film and I would be remiss to mention her. One of the most interesting characters who I felt didn’t get enough screen time was Iozan, who is meant to be Kumatetsu’s rival and meant to be a stronger, more well trained beast, who has many more apprentice’s since Kumatetsu only has Kyuta as his apprentice since no other beast would take on the job. I kind of wished we had seen a bit more of him, he seems like an interesting character, though he does get a good amount of development down the line, though we really see more of his sons, Ichirohiko and Jiromaru, who are the only other characters who age and time skip. I won’t go into too much detail about them since I would have to give away too much, but let’s just say, they play a much bigger role in the film than first thought and also are some of the best characters in the film. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Chico, who I own a plushy of, thank you very much Loot Anime, who is frankly going to adore anyone else who sees him and of course the Grand Master is just hilarious, this is one of Hosoda’s funniest characters to date, but they never forget to mention how he genuinely is a wise man, but what makes him so funny is the fact that they don’t overplay him.
Is there much to say negatively about the plot, not really, this film is one dam near perfect film. I just really think it is fantastic in every sense of the word. It has tons of amazing set pieces, tons of amazing world building it explores its themes very well and to the point to tell a very beautiful heart-warming story, it’s a seriously amazing plot.
As for the actors, well, I saw this film initially in its sub-titled version with the original Japanese actors, but for the purposes of this review, I did see the English dub, which the studio now has licensed for the European market for distribution, but the dub itself was handled by Funamation Entertainment, who seem to be one of the few dub companies still standing right now. If you are aware of Funamation, you will recognise quite a few of the voices, since they do tend to repeat voice actors. The dub is actually very good, this is a very passable dub. If you are aware of the Japanese voice actors, the casting of the English voice actors is perfectly serviceable and I think they do the job just fine. In fact, some of my favourite voice actors are in this film, including Luci Christian, Ian Sinclair, Sean Hennigan as well as Eric Vale, who played Sanji in one piece Trunks in Dragon Ball Z, Loki in Fairytale and also now voices Phoenix Wright and I must admit one of the best performances in the film is John Swaysey who voiced Shinigami in Soul Eater as well as Shinji’s father in Evagellion.
Now despite the fact that I think this is a very good dub, all things considered, I am going to stand by my next opinion and not to sound like a sub purist, which I am definitely not, I think you should try and watch this on in the original Japanese. As good as the dub actors are and they are doing a good job with this one, the English localisation team should be very proud of themselves, I don’t think it quite holds a candle to the amazing performances by the Japanese cast, in fact when I watch it again, I am going to watch it in the Japanese this time. The performances are simply phenomenal. Special mention definitely to Koji Yakusho who is brilliant as Kumatetsu as well as Aoi Miyazaki for the younger version of Kuyta.
The Boy and the Beast is something that needs to be in your DVD collection now.
The big question is, do I think this film is better than Wolf Children, no, as much as I loved this film, I think Wolf Children is slightly better in a couple of ways, but I still think this is his next best film, it’s just amazing. Please, give this one a go, you will not regret it. I will probably run out of things to talk about when it inevitably gets into my Best Films of 2017 list. Go out a buy the Mamou Hosoda collection, it contains all three of his previous films that he has had complete control over and then buy this separately, it’s an excellent purchase, you are getting four amazing films.
Well, that’s it for me this week and you remember when I said I would never review a Christmas film, unless it was another adaptation of A Christmas Carol, since that’s one of my favourite stories and I think it has some staying power in which to review it. Well, I’m kind of breaking the rule a bit for the next week, but then again, at the same time I’m not. Next week I am going to do my review of The Man Who Invented Christmas, starring Dan Stephens and Christopher Plummer, chronicling Charles Dickens time writing A Christmas Carol.
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