An elab­o­rate, sin­gu­lar tal­ent

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

THE BOY AND THE BEAST (BAKEMONONOKO) Di­rected by Mamoru Hosoda Star­ring Koji Yakusho, Aoi Miyazaki, Shota Sometani, Suzu Hirose Club, Light House Cinema D7, 120mins

Or­phaned nine-year-old Ren (voiced by 29-year-old ac­tress Aoi Miyazaki) es­capes the streets of con­tem­po­rary Tokyo into Juten­gai, the myth­i­cal king­dom of the beasts. There he be­comes dis­ci­ple to the boor­ish, ur­sine Ku­matetsu (Koji Yakusho), one of two an­thro­po­mor­phic an­i­mal can­di­dates poised to in­herit the realm’s throne when the cur­rent lord (Masahiko Tsug­awa) rein­car­nates as a de­ity. Ren – re­named Kyûta by his mas­ter – be­comes a promis­ing mar­tial artist and de­cent young man. Com­pli­ca­tions arise, how­ever, when he dis­cov­ers the route back to the hu­man world.

The res­i­dents of Juten­gai warm to the in­ter­loper hero, de­spite their col­lec­tive fear of the “dark­ness of the hu­man heart”. That dark­ness – and a riff bor­rowed from Moby Dick – pow­ers along an en­tirely sur­pris­ing third act as Kyûta seeks out the mys­te­ri­ous son of Ku­matetsu’s chief ri­val.

Mamoru Hosoda first emerged as a key an­i­ma­tor on Dragonball Z and the di­rec­tor of Digi­mon Ad­ven­ture. Few could have guessed watch­ing those rel­a­tively un­so­phis­ti­cated smash-’em-ups that the film­maker, who stud­ied oil paint­ing and fine art, would grad­u­ate on to such splen­did look­ing, emo­tion­ally in­volv­ing and cere­bral sci­ence-fic­tion as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Sum­mer Wars. In com­mon with the won­der­ful Wolf Chil­dren (2012), The Boy and the Beast sees the di­rec­tor re­con­fig­ur­ing mythol­ogy, bil­dungsro­man, and the tra­di­tional kendo movie.

Iron­i­cally, Hosoda, who was once at­tached to Howl’s Mov­ing Cas­tle, has come to be re­garded as the new Hayao Miyazaki. It’s rather more ac­cu­rate to say that Hosoda, a unique cin­e­matic tal­ent, is the new Hosoda.

Util­is­ing The Boy and the Beast’s imag­i­na­tively ren­dered par­al­lel worlds, the di­rec­tor ex­plores loy­alty, fa­mil­ial bonds, prej­u­dice and de­pres­sion. There are old-school mar­tial arts show­downs and ir­re­sistible echoes of The Karate Kid and The Jun­gle Book as Ku­matetsu and Kyûta im­prove one an­other. There are even – anime geek alert – nods to Digi­mon, the show that marked Hosoda’s break­through. These fa­mil­iar beats cun­ningly co­a­lesce into an elab­o­rate plot, set to Tak­agi Masakatsu’s bustling score.

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