Belle. You Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore…

At this film’s core is the music that’s just as inspiring as an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

Belle (2021 film) - WikipediaGKIDS
Jan 14, 2022 (North America)
Feb 4 (United Kingdom)
MIld Spoiler Alert

Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle is a triumph on many levels. Not only is the animation astounding because it had assistance with Cartoon Saloon (with Studio Chizu producing), but also it goes beyond being a simple fairy tale. There’s a message of hope in this tale about Suzu Naito (Kaho Nakamura), a young teen who lost all sense of feeling. As a child who saw her mom die, it’s easy to understand why. Nobody else was willing to help a random kid stuck in the middle of a raging river but this courageous woman did.

Suzu turned into a shadow of her former self. She used to love singing, but just can’t anymore. Also, she distanced herself from everyone, including her father. The few friends she has–Shinobu, Ruka, Shinjiro, and Hiroka–do what they can to help. For the most part, she’s a ghost until Hiroka one day suggests trying out U–a virtual world that’s super popular–to help her escape the life she has now. It’s a place designed for people to have fun in. The details of how this world looks and works is similar to the movie Ready, Player, One; all a person needs is the app, an ear piece tech known as “body-sharing” (to immerse the person in VR) and a web-cam to connect. This concept is far better than wearing a headset and being in a hamster ball to look and move around!

Belle review: Mamoru Hosoda's anime fairy tale finds the power in online  connection - Polygon

Hosoda enriched this world with ideas that one can also find in Free Guy. Much of the detailing comes from Cartoon Saloon’s assistance and it’s amazing to gaze at. I’m certain this movie is his imagining of what if Linden Lab’s Second Life was wildly successful and Facebook is second banana. To be judged by likes and dislikes is normal, and by luck everyone loves Suzu’s virtual identity! As Belle, she’s more than just another idol singer coming from the Macross franchise. 

Belle can fly around the city, explore various spaces and busk anywhere. Pretty soon, she gains a following and gets a concert hall to perform. But that gets interrupted by The Dragon (Takeru Satoh) breaking into the venue. He’s chased by a force of militants led by Justin, a self-proclaimed superhero/cop who wants to purge this character from the U.

Anime film 'Belle' highlights when parasocial relationships aren't enough |  Engadget

But Belle senses there’s more to this demon than meets the eye. From this point, the film turns into Beauty and the Beast, but I see something else. There’s a Frankenstein influence; the monster is only as cruel as those who treat him so. He’s a terror because that’s what everyone believes him to be. The digital constructs and the helpers he retains suggest he too is hiding from something. The wall these two built to ‘protect’ themselves from the real world (in classic Pink Floyd fashion) can be torn apart should they allow it. 

At this film’s core is the music that reveals Belle’s pain. We sense she wants to break out of the bubble, and what she sings is as emotionally stirring as an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical–namely Phantom of the Opera. Belle is told to compose a song to help The Dragon. If he doesn’t emerge from hiding upon hearing it, then there’s bound to be trouble much later. This film is smart to leave the singing to one person, because to pull off “The Music of the Night” from the beast’s perspective isn’t needed. Even the director offered his ideas in writing “Lend Me Your Voice.” All these songs matter to navigate this tale to a happy end.

In the Japanese presentation I saw, Nakamura’s singing ability is amazing! Her voice is as sweet and layered as Yuki Saito and Mari Iijima (thematically, I’m thinking of “Kanashimi yo Konnichiwa” and “Tenshi no Enogu“). I’m surprised she only has one album and is considered somewhat young in the Japanese music scene, This talent made her debut back in 2015. One of the best melodies is “A Million Miles Away” because it is so rich in meaning, and this talent can get listeners crying.

Suzu has to learn how to break through the barriers of pain that’s piled up since she closed herself to the world. We watch how she manages to break free with the little help of not only her friends, but also with others considerate of her plight. All that she’s gone through comes full circle when she finally realises why her mom did what she did. That light bulb moment happened when Suzu becomes determined to help The Dragon out in both worlds. The end result is heartwarming, and that in itself is The Miracle. 

5 Stars out of 5

Author: Ed Sum

I'm a freelance videographer and entertainment journalist (Absolute Underground Magazine, Two Hungry Blokes, and Otaku no Culture) with a wide range of interests. From archaeology to popular culture to paranormal studies, there's no stone unturned. Digging for the past and embracing "The Future" is my mantra.

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