REVIEW: “BELLE” + Interview with Writer/Director Mamoru Hosoda

Back in October of 2021, I was thrilled to attend the Los Angeles premiere of BELLE at the Animation is Film Festival. I also had the honor to interview the film’s writer/director Mamoru Hosoda. After covering the red carpet, when I entered the theater, the only seats available were in the very front row. Now, I have not sat in the front row of a movie theater since I was probably ten years old – it is just too close for me. However, for BELLE, it was perfect. Reading the subtitles was a little tricky though – trying to look all the way from left to right on the screen quickly enough. But this front row seat made it feel as if you were in the film. Like his previous films such as Summer Wars, Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and Wolf Children, BELLE is visually stunning and absolutely beautiful. If you are able to, I highly recommend watching this film on the biggest screen you can. 

Thanks to technology, the other day I was able to catch up with Hosoda-san and ask what it is like seeing what he imagined brought to life on the big screen. I also asked how he writes his female characters authentically and how he approaches emotional themes in his newest film, BELLE.

The film BELLE is inspired by the classic French story of Beauty and the Beast so do not go in expecting anything like the Disney version. Although, BELLE similarly has a phenomenal soundtrack! I have listened to the songs over and over after seeing the film and they still evoke an emotional response. The music is part of the story as Suzu, a shy everyday high school student, is a singer who, due to a major life event, has lost her ability to tap into her talent. When she enters “U”, a massive virtual world, she is able to escape everyday life and be bold as her online persona, Belle, a gorgeous and globally-beloved singer. Hosada showed audiences he has an incredible imagination and was able to visualize a virtual space back with Summer Wars (2009) years before the novel Ready Player One came out and many years before Facebook’s rebranding as Meta. BELLE dives even deeper into the possibilities of existing in a virtual space and Hosada explores growing up in a social media driven world as well as how much our online persona reflects who we really are. Can we break free from the mask we use online? Can we honestly connect with someone online through a digital space, and could that become something more?

BELLE opens in select theaters starting Friday, January 14th. For more information and to purchase tickets visit BelleFilm.com

For more info on GKIDS Films visit gkids.com.

— Kari Lane

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