Film Review: The Boy And The Beast (Japan, 2016)

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Receiving high rates from most film reviews, director Mamoru Hosoda has done it again with such brilliant piece about a journey of finding someone’s true self. The Boy And The Beast story of an orphan named Ren/Kyuta (Aoi Miyazaki) who ran away from home and ended up in Jutengai, a world where animals can talk and walk like human. There he met Kumatetsu (Koji Yakusho) who then took him in as his apprentice. Despite their incompatibility with each other, slowly as the years go by their bond becomes stronger, like father and son. But just when everything seems to be perfect, Kyuta stumble across the human world once more and have doubts in his own identity. Which world will he choose? And will he be able to save the beasts world from the chaos that arises?

“Some things you got to figure out on your own” – Kumatetsu

The prologue plays an interesting start to the movie, it was a brief introduction of the setting and hinting the relationship between the boy and the beast. At the end of the prologue, the voice said: “strong fighter though he was, he had no apprentice nor did he have any sons” which later on explains perfectly the relationship between Kyuta and Kumatetsu. It was also smart how the movie did not reveal the character’s appearance, simply by the form of fire silhouette. Fire itself gives off the symbolism of power and sacred, showing how human and ‘beasts’ are different (mentioned how beasts can become God while human can’t). Putting such prologue plays an unconventional narration where the storyline opens with a ‘what, where, and when’ without telling ‘who and why’ making the audience curious. Later on when we meet Ren in Shibuya we learn to know ‘who and why (the reason why he is who he is – personality)’ which later on when he met Kumatetsu and follow him to Jutengai we can start connecting the dots.

I’m not an expert in animation, but I think the execution was high especially the details in the background. It was also able to separate the background from the subject/object through the different style applied, this is good because then we know where our eyes can focus to.

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A play of point of view was also interesting when they viewed Ren through the CCTV. In the beginning when Ren got chased by the policeman and when Ichirohiko (Mamoru Miyano) was chasing Ren later on towards the end. It gave a sense as if someone is watching over them, that there is another ‘character’ out there watching them. It gives a more dynamic approach and a different feeling, there is that mysterious feeling when we view the characters through the CCTV lens.

Ren and Kyuta. One person yet different. It’s like they both live separately in a different world, Ren is this normal orphan boy from Shibuya while Kyuta is this strong swordsman from Jutengai. In Shibuya, where he should belong, Ren is all alone, he’s new in the environment and felt out of place. Yet in Jutengai, where he should be the odd one, he felt at home with family and environment that he’s familiar with. The character was clearly separated into two by the ‘author’ (of this movie) when Kumatetsu decided to give Ren a new name ‘Kyuta’. It’s like Ren becomes completely detached from his previous life. In the beginning he would still see the image of his mother, but later on it never appeared anymore.

Ren, Kumatetsu, and Ren’s little pet, three characters with one thing in common, they are all alone. Ren who ran away from home then met his little pet in the street, “I’m all alone, just like you”. They both then become inseparable and even though it didn’t seemed so, the presence of his pet actually plays a big role in the movie. It was his pet who’s always there when he’s sad and depressed. Later on as well it was because of his pet that he manage to escape when the ‘darkness’ was about to consume him. They were both helping each other, they both are alone yet they are not anymore because of each other’s company.

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This also reflected in the relationship between Ren and Kumatetsu, how two orphans learn to understand each other and become a master and apprentice (a father and a son) of each other. Kumatetsu to Ren and Ren to Kumatetsu. This was highly hinted in many lines:

“how else does a child learn but by imitating his father”, “the same way a baby learns from his father” said the monk, that’s how Ren learned from Kumatetsu, but Kumatetsu did too learned from Ren, “looks like you will be learning from him now Kumatetsu” said the monkey.

Later also said by the Lord “Which is the master and which the apprentice” which enforced how even though Ren was the apprentice but Kumatetsu was also learning in the same way as an apprentice.

A review mentioned how this movie is really different than other ‘fantasy’ movie out there like what Hayao Miyazaki often made, which i totally agree. When in the world of ‘fantasy’, the character will be so immersed that even to the day they have to leave they are still attached to the fantasy world (example is Spirited Away – Chihiro, “will we meet again someday? Promise” and how she was tempted to look back when she was told not to). But in here when Kyuta decided to leave the beasts world and become Ren once more he was completely detached. He live his life normally, he go to study, meet up with his friend Kaede (Suzu Hirose), thinking of his future, meeting his dad. This again reinforced how Ren and Kyuta are two different characters. He did look back in the movie, where he was thinking about Kumatetsu, but this is not about the fantasy world that he missed, it’s more of his connection with Kumatetsu alone. This enforce the relationship of Kumatetsu and Kyuta as father and son.

The ending takes a really interesting turn where Kyuta decided to return home and become Ren. “After that, Kyuta left Jutengai and the world of the beasts, he never held a sword again”. This reinforce the detachment of him with the world of fantasy which is very different than how other movie usually plays it. In here as well his mother image comes back when we can hear how proud she is of her son.

It sparks a curiosity in me when the movie mentioned the story of Moby Dick a lot of times, what could be the connection? It was first showed in the beginning when Ren’s house was being packed up, again showed when Ren was learning to read, and in the end when he have to fight the whale (Ichirohiko). It was mentioned by Kaede, “I think he’s actually in a battle against himself, the whale represents the captain, it’s a reflection of himself”. I am not entirely sure but the story seems to reflects how Ren/Kyuta journey is, it’s a battle against himself. A battle in finding his true self. Most of the movie reflected his hardships in overcoming many things, he was unsure of himself, he was learning constantly, then at the end when he defeated the whale (which in here is a reflection of himself) he finally won. He then knows exactly what he want and who he is. The movie had come to a really rich and beautifully concluded ending.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Boy And The Beast Collector’s Edition is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Madman Entertainment.