In a busy Tokyo street, a boy called Ren stands alone. He looks at his surroundings with hate and fury. He steals some food and goes to an abandoned corner to eat it. Two hooded figures approach him. One of the figures lifts his head and Ren looks, in horror, that the figure is a beast. The beast, Kumatetsu, asks Ren if he wants to become his apprentice. Ren doesn't say anything and Kumatetsu leaves. After the shock wears off, Ren follows Kumatetsu and enters the Beast Kingdom where beasts live. After a while, Ren becomes Kumatetsu's apprentice and helps his master perfect his technique so he can become Grandmaster and in the process, learn to let go of his anger and discover the meaning of family.
That's the basic plot of Mamoru Hosoda's (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, Wolf Children) latest film, The Boy and the Beast, a delightful coming of age story filled to the brim with spectacular animation, peculiar and compelling characters and a heartfelt story.
The plot is rather familiar and predictable but Hosoda makes sure to avoid the usual cliches by subverting the typical relationship between master and student, Kumatetsu is not Mr. Miyagi. He is lazy, short-tempered, lacks technique and doesn't have any teaching skills. Ren on the other hand, shares his master's bad-temper, has no respect for him and is always complaining. Their banter and fights are funny and their relationship is the main highlight of the movie. Their mutual growth, understanding and respect for each other makes for a wonderful story arc that will keep everyone entertained.
The first hour of the film, deals with the actual training and the relationship between Kumatetsu and Ren. The second hour however, shifts the tone completely as Ren re-discovers the human world, meets a girl and questions his life goals. The second hour of the film is rich with drama as Ren is compelled to the return to the human world and live a normal life while Kumatetsu and the Beast Kingdom become less and less important to him. It all ends with a fantastical grand finale full of action and sure to tug your heartstrings as the film wraps up in a wonderful and meaningful way.
Hosoda is a remarkable visual director, finding the fantastical in the mundane, and The Boy and the Beast is no different. The film is full of superb character designs, amazing landscapes and beautiful special effects making the whole movie a sight to behold. Both the human and beast worlds are expertly animated and feel real and authentic. It's worth noting that while the human world looks like modern-day Tokyo, the beast world looks like ancient Japan with rustic houses and a simpler way of life. I think Hosoda did this as an allegory to show that the beast world belongs to the world of fantasy and myth of old, a world forgotten by the modern age and symbolizes Ren growth throughout the film.
After Miyazaki's retirement (at least for now), no other Japanese director has filled those big shoes like Mamoru Hosoda. His films feature strong protagonists, wonderful and breathtaking worlds and heartfelt stories that delight and move audiences around the world. The Boy and the Beast, his latest film, is also his latest triumph and comes highly recommended. Rating: 4.5/5.