The Boy and The Beast
(Catch my previous Hosoda anime film review here: Wolf Children)
In 2015, Studio Chizu released its second film: Mamoru Hosoda’s sixth feature film The Boy and The Beast. The film was Hosoda’s fourth collaboration with producer Yuichiro Saito and second collaboration with composer Takagi Masakatsu (whose work here was not quite as ethereal and emotionally gripping as the soundtrack on Wolf Children). However, where Hosoda was really starting to build a team of constant collaborators in a few directions, he was also striking out on his own in another key area: screenwriting.
Hitherto, Hosoda’s films The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, and Wolf Children had all been drafted by screenwriter Satoko Okudera. After the production of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Hosoda began to co-write screenplays and develop stories for his films alongside Okudera, which produced increasingly better, more dramatic, and more personal works. By 2015, it seems that Hosoda decided it was time to try his hand at the complete work of drafting his own film’s scripts (as he has continued to do on 2018’s Mirai of the Future). And although The Boy and The Beast is possibly his weakest film since his time as a contract director for franchises like One Piece and Digimon, that claim does little in the way of belittling this film, which is quite good. His previous films are just better.
The film is a work about determination, friendship, family, coming of age, and overcoming one’s limitations. It is the story of a young boy named Ren whose parents are divorced. He lives with his mother, who dies inexplicably of an illness and leaves Ren behind in the care of her extended family. He resents the fact that his father has not come to claim him as he ought to and will only learn much later in life that his father was not informed of the goings on until a few weeks after his mother passed. The man wanted to claim Ren and raise him himself, but by that point he was too late. Ren ran away from his extended family and took to the streets of Shibuya where he was eventually picked up by a large Anthropomorphic Bear named Kumatetsu (‘Iron Bear’ or ‘Piercing [martial] Bear’) who was out searching for an apprentice to teach the ways of the martial arts.
The boy returns with the beast back to the land of Jutengai where all residents are anthropomorphic animals of various species and kinds. In this anime Universe, gods exist. They become gods, and undergo the liminal act of apotheosis, only after becoming the Lord of their province and then voiding their office after finding a worthy successor. The current Lord of Jutengai is a rabbit known for being extremely indecisive. He plans to become the god of decisiveness as some sort of tongue-in-cheek reference to his inability to be decisive in normal life and plans to void his office and cede it to one of two champions: Kumatetsu or the Boar Warrior Iozen. The next Lord will be the one to claim victory in a battle between the two champions set to begin when the current Lord makes a decisive decision to begin the ceremony.
However, the old rabbit has a few things he wishes to accomplish first. Although Iozen is a skilled fighter with an honorable demeanor, and Kumatetsu is bumbling oaf with no manners and only brute strength, he believes that Kumatetsu is worthy of fighting Iozen and of thereby potentially becoming the next Lord. To this end, the Lord pushes Kumatetsu to gain an apprentice. And although human beings are not allowed in Jutengai as they cannot ascend to the level of gods or lords on account of the evil always residing within their hearts, the Lord of Jutengai makes an exception for Ren as he hopes his presence will push Kumatetsu to train harder. The Lord also sends the two on missions and journeys to visit the other Lords of different provinces in the hopes that they will gain some knowledge and wisdom about the nature of strength along the way.
When Ren arrives in Jutengai, he is only 9 years old. He begins his training unable to even hold a sword, but over the course of the film, he studies Kumatetsu’s every move. This allows him to defeat his rather predictable master in battle, as a young human boy, using only a broomstick handle. Kumatetsu takes on the challenge to train and better himself with relish and for the next eight years, the two develop a rapport and a fighting style that is totally unpredictable, very disciplined, and extremely difficult to fight against. Hordes of trainees flood their home and pay high fees to become the students of the boy and the beast and all seems well with the world in Jutengai.
However, at this point, the plot rolls into motion and tons of events begin to occur. Ren accidentally finds himself back in Shibuya one day. He decides he wants to learn how to read and happens to find a girl with whom he has an immediate affinity. The two become close, Ren reestablishes contact with his father, and as he studies, he finds he can take college entrance exams even without having gone to middle or high school. Meanwhile, Iozen’s sons have been growing up and growing stronger day by day as well. But the youngest of the two boys, Ichirohiko, is unlike his brother or father as he was adopted from the human world as an abandoned infant by Iozen. And the darkness in his heart has been festering and threatening to bubble up to the surface and cause trouble within Jutengai and in the human world. As the Lord of Jutengai sets a date for the battle between Kumatetsu and Iozen, tensions are high and tale turns into an action film that manages not to jump the shark (too much anyway) like many action-oriented anime tend to do.
Like all three of Hosoda’s prior films, The Boy and The Beast was critically beloved and generated an impressive revenue for anime feature film: $49 million USD. It won Animation of the Year Awards at Festivals worldwide including the prestigious Japan Academy Prizes (which seem to award Hosoda a win for every film he makes now). However, Hosoda’s next film proves to potentially be even more lucrative and prestigious than any of his past efforts combined as Mirai of the Future has already premiered at the Cannes Film Festival as well as the Annecy International Animation Film Festival alongside Kitaro Kosaka’s new film Okko’s Inn. Mirai is set for theatrical release in Japan later this month on July 20th and is sure to play in theaters worldwide, probably releasing wider than any previous Hosoda film, and hopefully making a ton of money in the process, which can then in turn be used to keep Hosoda employed as a filmmaker of interesting, auteur films for years, if not decades to come.
[Next up: Mirai of the Future]