News that Hayao Miyazaki’s decision to retire back in 2014 may have been a tad premature, and that as of earlier this year he was back working with Studio Ghibli – possibly on a feature-length version of his new short film, Boro The Caterpillar – was doubtless enough to get even the most apathetic anime fan prancing around the living room like a bounding Totoro on a moonlit night. However, one can’t help but be concerned that this return of the form’s undisputed master may draw the focus away from the wealth of other talent that has prominently emerged since Miyazaki put down his pencil.
While perhaps not as distinguished a visionary as either Makoto Shinkai or Michaël Dudok de Wit – who have both made waves in the last 12 months with Your Name and The Red Turtle, respectively – Mamoru Hosoda’s latest feature, The Boy and the Beast, proves that he too is a director worth taking stock of. Working from his own script, Hosoda explores familiar coming-of-age tropes as he tells the story of Kyuta, a homeless orphan who accidently stumbles into an enchanted world of beasts, and inadvertently becomes the apprentice to the bear Kumatetsu: a powerful warrior with an appropriately grizzly personality, who aspires to become the next great lord of the beast kingdom.
During its finer moments the film successfully smacks of The Karate Kid combined with Spirited Away, but the broad characterizations within the narrative, coupled with a protracted running time, do invariably chip away at your patience. What enchants us though, are the visuals; a seamless blend of hand-drawn animation and CGI that allows for a number of arresting action sequences, but most strikingly brings this magical realm to life – the bright, pastel hues providing a profoundly vivid contrast to the washed-out colours that illustrate Kyuta’s life lived on the streets. Granted, Hosoda’s characters may be basic, but the world he creates for them is simply breathtaking.
The Boy and the Beast is out now to buy on Blu-Ray and DVD.