The Boy and the Beast

boy and the beast

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015

A troubled runaway human boy becomes the apprentice for a warrior beast after stumbling into a hidden world through a secret passageway in Shibuya.

The charm of the film came from the characters’ development more than the overall story. The dialogue and interactions were strong and it was nice to see how Kumatetsu, Kyuta, and even minor characters changed over time through their shared experiences.

The actual plot was kind of a letdown, and amounted to not much more than one thing happening, which was then followed by another thing. The events just somehow seemed to lack a logical narrative direction and purpose.

The way Ren/Kyuta vascillated between the human world and beast world, all the while messing with the emotions of the people who cared about him, reminded me a lot of Ame from Wolf Children, another Hosoda Mamoru film. In both cases, what the child was actually looking for, what he wanted from his life, never were clearly explored or explained for the audience (or for his loved ones). But Ame was not the focal character in his film, so his enigma status was a little more acceptable.

I wasn’t really into the Moby Dick symbolism/analogy either. First of all, who learns to read using a Herman Melville novel? I mean I get that Ren’s smart, but that’s just patently ridiculous. And then the antagonist randomly decided to take the form of a whale merely because he happened to get a glimpse of the word “whale”? That was a pretty weak contrivance to justify the fantastical, though inconsequential, whale imagery and cool-looking animation which followed.

In the end, the moral of the story was: “Parents, don’t lie to your children,” I think.

The Anthem of the Heart

anthem of the heart

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015

A self-imposed curse caused Naruse Jun to lose her ability to speak following a traumatic event in her childhood. Now in high school, Jun and 3 of her classmates are enlisted to head a community outreach committee and put together a class play.

The basic setup of putting on a musical, with the challenges that ensue, is pretty routine stuff which follows all the familiar plot points of a typical play-within-a-play storyline. That said, it is carried out fairly competently here, and the solutions that the kids arrive at are realistic.

All in all, I enjoyed the film. I was invested in Jun and her classmates and I liked how they inspired and learned from each other. There was a romantic subplot as well, but I think it was clear that that was secondary to the more general friendship theme, which is how it should be.

Also, I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of that musical that they were putting on; the parts which were shown looked pretty ambitious and impressive.

The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2013 in Japan, 2014 in North America

I have to confess that I’m not particularly a fan of Studio Ghibli works in general, however I was looking for an opportunity to see Tale of The Princess Kaguya after watching the trailer some months ago and hearing good word of mouth about the film.

The most remarkable thing about this movie is its gorgeous, fluid animation. In some ways, it looks somewhat unpolished, but surprisingly, it gives a masterful impression of ink drawings come to life.

As for the story itself, it’s about a little girl who is magically found in a bamboo stalk. The bamboo cutter, who discovered her, and his wife become her doting parents. He believes she is destined to be a princess and they do what they can to create a new home and lifestyle befitting of her. But will that bring her happiness?

There are a number of complex themes presented, including familial duty, love, gender roles, social hierarchy, and the meaning of life and death. Some parts are quite effectively emotional. This is the type of film that makes you think and feel but refrains from providing any answers.

Even though I personally find this kind of open, existentialist narrative a little bit unsatisfying, I still have to say I’m glad I experienced the film. I absolutely recommend Princess Kaguya for its incredibly beautiful and unique animation style. It’s an undeniably wonderful showcase for the possibilities of traditional 2-D animation.