Ren is left alone in the world after his single mother passes away. Not wanting to go live with his mother’s family and instead his dad who his mom divorced. Realizing that his biological father was never coming back, Ren ran away to live on the streets. Even though he was only nine years old he decided that he would live the rest of his life along.
Then a hooded beast Kumatetsu, half-monkey and half-bear, appears and asks Ren to become his apprentice on a sheer dare from a fellow beast friend. Terrified of being caught and sent back home, Ren follows Kumatetsu into the world of beasts and is branded the name Kyuta. At first, Kyuta hates his new life and master, but slowly realizes that living with Kumatetsu might be better than being alone.
Another Hosuda Flop?
More than I’d like to admit I was genuinely luke warm about Mamura Hosuda’s new film The Boy and the Beast. After viewing it I was trying to really decide whether what I liked about the movie was, the movie itself, or the name behind all the previous movies that I loved, like Summer Wars and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Maybe there was another part of me that just didn’t want to admit that they’re were two movies in a row that Mamura Hosuda has made that were not that good. Which is almost fitting in a way since the tying themes between Wolf Children and The Boy and the Beast are portrayals of single parents. So part of this movie’s failure is the undeserving success of Wolf Children, and Hosuda’s desire to tackle single fathers this time. Somehow though it seems he got worse.
At a glance The Boy and the Beast is nothing more than a nice fun family film that you can show to your kids when attempting to ingrain anime into their life. Which is not a bad thing, but its clear that the movie is trying to trade in much deeper feelings and emotions. This shouldn’t seem hard since all of Hosuda’s other movies have this emotional impact. So to figure this out I had to look into what changed between Wolf Children and this movie. Satoko Okueda is known to be the sweetness behind Hosuda’s films, giving them the feminine charm that makes them so emotionally engaging and really helping his films stand out. Since The Boy and the Beast is a story almost exclusively like fatherhood, Hosuda decided that he would head this script on his own. What came out of his endeavor is a jumbled up emotional mess of a story that’s bare bones/ametuer. Having put aside his most precious asset when it comes to storytelling, it seems his storytelling has suffered, imagine that.
In his other works it was clear that there was a lot of thoughtfulness put into the writing and how the story would convey its themes and emotions. The Boy and the Beast suffers from a complete lack of that subtleness and the story comes across as very overwrote. Throughout the movie there is a lot of characters flat-out explaining how they are feeling and what circumstances brought them to their situation. This kind of writing would make even the little kids watching this, roll their eyes saying, “We get it!” It gets so bad that they actually have two characters whose sole existence is to reiterate what is happening in the film through expository dialogue between themselves. This is a shame because they have interesting personalities and are reduced to part-time narrators.
As for the overall message about fatherhood, the film has a lot of ideas but overall comes across not really taking a stance of addressing any issues about parenting. At first it seems like the moral is that Kyuta needs a brash overbearing father like Kumatetsu to whip him into shape. Unfortunately it doesn’t really turn out that way. In fact almost everything that Kyuta learns in the beast world is by his own efforts and by chance. Honestly I think Kumatetsu’s character could be replaced by a TV. The only genuine dynamic they have is their constant bickering. Which doesn’t really contribute to any familial commentary the movie is going for.
The movie actually has a few father figures it can play around with besides Kumatetsu. Theres Iozan (Kumatetsu’s foil and opposite) and then there is Kyuta’s real father. All different aspects and portrayals of fatherhood, that the movie does nothing with. The movie is too busy and caught up with looking awesome (which it does), that it doesn’t take any time to creatively incorporate its themes and they come across as no stance or opinion. Not even a basis for an opinion to be made. You would think that it would at least give some stance on what makes a good father since the main conflict is set off between two different styles of parenting, but nope. Instead all fathers are fathers in their own fatherly way. And I’m not saying that there had to be some demonized portrayal of a father, but having a two-minute conversation about lying to your kids as being bad doesn’t make for cinematic weight or development.
So is there anything redeemable about The Boy and the Beast besides the amazing art? Yes, for one, the english voice cast does a real good job of making the dialogue seem more engaging than what they are actually saying. I can tell that they must have had a hard time trying to make the script seem more engaging than what it probably was, so kudos to them.
Another great thing was the portrayal of kids just being angry little assholes. As opposed to a Miyazaki movie flooded with strong and promising kids, Hosuda’s movies tend to star self-centered and troubled children. There were many times where Kyuta would get furious and angry for no reason and it was totally in sync with what a real kid would do. This is one of Hosuda’s developing strengths and it should only get better with more time. Sure some of the actual scenes made for some awkward moments with kids screaming that played almost comically, but there was enough well executed scenes to dwell on if you enjoy that kind of stuff.
The romance aspect also works well and flows with similar Hosuda works, but there isn’t enough emotion or justification that makes it feel earned or important enough. I felt like it could have been its own movie and it was stifled by being shoved into this one. It did make the movie seem to go by quicker and was probably the most engaging part of the film.
Unfortunately there are just too many problems that this film has and all the good things that are found in it have been in better movies, some by Hosuda himself. This is something good to put on in front of your kids but I don’t see adults getting much more out of this after an initial viewing. I certainly haven’t given up hope on Housda and looking towards his next work.