The Boy and the Beast (2016)
Directed by Mamoru Hosoda
Disclaimer: I’m no expert in the art of anime. Actually, my personal experience with the Japanese cartoons ended whenever I stopped watching “Pokemon.” That said, even as a novice, I can see some of the appeal of “The Boy and the Beast,” the newest work from writer/director Momoru Hosoda (“Wolf Children”). Maybe not all two hours’ worth, but still.
At age 9, having already been abandoned by his father, Kyuta (Aoi Miyazaki) loses his mother in a car accident. He flees when distant relatives try to adopt him, and after getting lost in a twisting alleyway downtown, finds himself in the secret beast world of Jutengai (basically a more severe, adult version of Zootopia). Trapped there, he’s taken as an apprentice to the bear-like warrior Kamatetsu (Kôji Yakusho), who is training to compete with his rival Iozan (Kazuhiro Yamaji) to become Jutengai’s lord and put himself on the path to reincarnation. Kyuta agrees to help him train, and in return, Kyuta receives food and shelter. Over time, Kyuta (now 17, voiced by Shôta Sometani) grows to be a formidable opponent for Kanatetsu, but longs to go back to the world he once knew. So he sneaks back through the alley and meets Kaede (Suzu Hirose), who encourages him to go to college. Thus begins Kyuta’s internal struggle, as he tries to decide to which world he truly belongs.
The animation, much like in anime movies I’m sure you’ve seen before, is a discontenting mix of beautiful and absurdly silly. I find it difficult sometimes to watch a bear/man thing using curse words (“The Boy and the Beast” is rated PG-13) and have a heart to heart with a teenage boy. It strikes a balance between realism and imagination that actually ends up hurting it, since you’re never sure which side to go with. And to me, as someone who doesn’t seek these opportunities out often, the Japanese humor in “The Boy and the Beast” never translated for me. Last complaint, I promise: the length. At a full two hours, I began to lose interest. Thankfully, the very satisfying ending ultimately made up for the brief boring stretch. In the end, “The Boy and the Beast” is just like so many animated movies: a powerful theme, a happy ending, and a (mostly) light and comedic tone.