The Boy and the Beast (4 stars)

The Boy and the Beast

Japanese anime beautifully balancing visual spectacle and heartfelt emotions

There is a level of imagination and wonder in anime epic The Boy and the Beast that is every bit the equal of JK Rowling's fantastical creations. The latest hand-drawn animation from Wolf Children director Mamoru Hosoda even has similarities with the Harry Potter story, as a young boy enters a parallel world that is unseen by humans and finds himself challenged and inspired by an unpredictable mentor.

The boy is Ren (voiced by Aoi Miyazaki), an angry nine-year-old struggling to cope with the death of his mother and the absence of his father. A runaway in the big city, not unlike Oliver Twist, he follows the bear-like Kumatetsu (Kôji Yakusho), and his sidekick Tatara (Yo Oizumi) down a narrow alley and finds himself in Jutengai, a world inhabited by shape-shifting creatures. The rabbit-like leader Soshi (Masahiko Tsugawa) is about to retire and reincarnate himself as a God. First, there is the matter of a successor. Iôzen (Kazuhiro Yamaji) is the natural choice but Kumatetsu is considered the outsider. All he needs to compete in a final showdown is to attract at least one disciple, even if he is human.

The Boy and the Beast has a dense, elaborate plot (there are significant elements of Moby Dick along the way) that unfolds across eight years and two different worlds. In essence, it is the tale of a master and an apprentice and the unexpected bond that grows between them. There are echoes of The Karate Kid and Kung Fu Panda in a beautifully animated training sequence through changing seasons and all weathers. The animation is impressive throughout, but it is the balance of visual spectacle and heartfelt emotions that cuts deeper and makes this film more appealing than many a soulless live-action blockbuster competing for your attention this summer.

Limited release from Fri 7 Jul.

The Boy and the Beast (Bakemono no ko)

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • Japan
  • 1h 59min
  • Directed by: Mamoru Hosoda

An angry nine-year-old struggles to cope with the death of his mother and the absence of his father in the latest hand-drawn animation from Wolf Children director, Mamoru Hosoda. The animation is impressive throughout, but it is the balance of visual spectacle and heartfelt emotions that cuts deepest.

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