in the animated film Belle Three themes that have occupied Mamoru Hosoda for decades come together: the Internet, the humanity of the beast, and the whales. With the general idea that the appearance says little about the interior.
In 2000 he made the short film Digimon Adventure: Our War Game!, your second address. In 2009 she directed summer wars† And now Belle †Ryu to sobakasu no hime† Approximately every ten years, Mamoru Hosoda makes a film that is largely set in an online world; you could call them a trilogy.
“The internet has been one of my main topics for 20 years,” says Hosoda at Cannes, where I had a brief chat with him in July 2021. “Although it has only been around for about twenty-five years.” And without false modesty: “That makes me quite exceptional.”
Those movies were always based on the internet as it was then, combined with futuristic perspectives that have stood the test of time reasonably well. That’s how it became Digimon Adventure: Our War Game! it is still dialed via ISDN, but it also broadcasts live effortlessly around the world.
Hosoda’s internet is distinguished by its design. The exciting new online world of summer wars (for which Digimon was a preliminary study) has white as the background color, with round shapes and lots of pink and turquoise and a crazy amount of colorful avatars. In front of Belle Hosoda contacted the young London architect Eric Wong, who had no film experience whatsoever. Giving him the responsibility for the appearance of such a large project was truly unheard of. But it turns out beautiful: the world of Belle it has become an endless, gigantic city, although in reality it is a city without up or down. Impressive, still attractive, because it is beautiful, but also somewhat intimidating. It is no longer the fresh and fanciful opening of summer wars and more than one real place.
That fits with the changing role of the Internet. On Digimon Adventure: Our War Game! Is the Internet still primarily a means of communication and an information network? on summer wars it has become a virtual reality; and in Belle The Internet has now become a complete second world, in which people experience an important part of their identity. Not for nothing is the online world called summer wars ‘OZ’, a world of dreams, and in Belle ‘U’ – you (and is he in Digimon still unnamed).
The opponents also change. On Digimon Is it a viral creature that shuts down much of society through computer networks? on summer wars a runaway artificial intelligence; but in Belle, the futuristic version of the present, the biggest problems come from the people themselves, with their villainous and vigilante comments. “That is also a real problem in Japan,” says Hosoda at Cannes. “All that online trolling and aggression. Anonymity can lead to cruelty.” Which, by the way, manifests itself in all of its internet versions in clichéd shootouts and brawls, of which it’s unclear why its physics would work as well online as it does offline. And why would its designers allow weapons at all? And can you hurt yourself? Die? Why run when you’re being chased online instead of just logging out? For such highly designed and thought out worlds, this aspect is surprisingly unimaginative.
Much more relevant is another punishment with which in the online world of Belle being threatened: revealing your identity offline. Because then everyone would see that behind the popular and beautiful singer Bella hides a mousy and traumatized schoolgirl, who since the death of her mother can no longer sing a note without getting sick. Which begs the question of which version of it is the more authentic: digital or analog? Which appearance says more about her inner self? Which is the real face of her and which is the mask of her?
And that’s how we got to The beauty and the bete, the French classic of the 18th century. That, too, is a theme that Hosoda has carried with him for a long time. He was even about to quit as an animator, bogged down in his ambitions, when he saw the Disney movie. Beauty and the Beast (Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, 1991) inspired him again. Since then he wanted to make his own version of it.
But for that, he thought, he first had to visit Disney master Glen Keane, who was animating the Beast at the time. “To say how much respect he had for his version of Beauty and the BeastHosoda said. “Of course I also appreciate the Jean Cocteau version [uit 1947]but unfortunately he is no longer alive.”
So international influences, so it’s worth noting that Disney’s South Korean animator Jin Kim (Frozen2013; vaiana2016) the basic design made for Belle, who actually looks like a Disney princess through anime lenses, and that Tomm Moore and his team at Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon (song of the sea† 2014; wolf walkers, 2020) provided Hosoda with such beautiful concept drawings for the nature reserve around the Castle of the Beast, that they were simply used raw. and Moore’s wolf walkers Is it a small step for Hosoda himself? wolf children (2012) and The boy and the beast (2015), in which the theme of The beauty and the bete even though it was recognizable: should we despise, or even be afraid of, a beast, a wolf?
Or a whale, another recurring element in Hosoda’s work. In the opening scene of Belle the title hero stands proudly above him singing as the massive beast flies through the online world. A New Age cliché, in my opinion (albeit a beautifully crafted New Age cliché), of a much-loved animal, but to Hosoda that whale also represents human fears.
“In fact, I often use whales as a motif. And I also really like wolves,” agrees Hosoda. “They are animals that have often been seen as evil by humanity. Like the wolves in medieval Europe. Or the whale that in dick moby the enemy, symbol of nature to conquer.” And precisely for this reason he gives them a place of honor: “I feel sympathy for them and I would like to lend them a hand.”
And yet. As impressive and original as Hosoda’s fantasy worlds are, virtual or magical, with flying whales or talking wolves, it is the domestic scenes that impress me the most. that counts for look (2019), in which a four year old you have to get used to the baby that comes to expand the family, and it also applies to Belle: The online superstar Belle is not as captivating as the offline girl Suzu who hides behind her. Just as U’s spectacular computer animation comes less close than Suzu’s traditionally animated fights in her daily life.
But Hosoda is right in his premise that Bellethat those two worlds are now inextricably linked. So parts of identity that get stuck in everyday reality can also flourish on the Internet. “I’m not saying the Internet is all bad. Young people are going to have to live with that anyway. So I prefer to point out the positive potential.” And, still without false modesty: “The fact that I have always had a positive view of the internet makes me more or less unique in this industry”.
Belle It can be seen from March 28 at Kaboom Animation Festival.