Welcome to the world of U.
A hyper-modern quasi-reimagining of the classic Beauty & the Beast fairy tale, Belle is ambitious and riveting eye-candy at the service of a poignant story about our contemporary society and the human condition. Mirai director Mamoru Hosoda's latest imaginative coming-of-age story brings a wild vision of an online virtual world - U - which is basically an endless metropolis where you can live as 'another you'. Make an avatar based on your biometric data and enter a different reality; that's how simple it is. This emotion-packed Japanese tale follows a shy high-school girl, Suzu, who has been anything but happy since her mother died when she was a small child. Still wounded, Suzu one day decides to have a got at the U hype. She creates an avatar and dives into the alternate reality as Belle. Before long, all of U's eyes are fixed on Belle, who - to her own surprise - discovers her singing voice again. But then, at one of her concerts, a mysterious dragon-like figure appears and creates havoc. Who is this beast?
Belle is a visually breathtaking film of almost epic proportions which still foregrounds the intimate. The great filmmaker Mamoru Hosoda has always been a man with limitless eye-popping imagination and perspective. The man behind modern anime classics such as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars and Wolf Children is known for experimenting with exuberant visions of virtual realms and magical fantasies. Hosoda's previous film, the cute and inspirational Mirai was as groundbreaking as any of his other features, becoming the first non-Studio Ghibli anime to pick up a nomination in the Best Animated Feature category at the Oscars.
Maximalist at its core, Belle is a film of grand ideas, of familiar themes, and of the good old beloved anime sentimentality. Add to the equation: a grandiose use of original J-Pop songs that will surely get you teary-eyed. Yet, for all its lush visuals and extravaganza, the film is also a heartfelt commentary on how we deal with pain and sorrow, on how - perhaps - social media can bring us together after all, and on how we learn to be ourselves despite wanting to be someone else.
For its character design, Hosoda teamed up with veteran animator Jin Kim, who is responsible for the look of loads of Disney characters, and with the Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon which produced Wolfwalkers. Enough selling points?