This was a treat. This is what I like.
Mamoru Hosoda’s been a director I’ve really liked for a long time. He has a special place in my heart for directing the first two Digimon short films, and one of my absolute favorite episodes of that series. In 2006 his directing career really took off with the film The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Despite a limited release in Japan, positive reviews and word of mouth helped the movie succeed. It set Hosoda up on a career arc where he’s now pointed at as possibly becoming the next Miyazaki. That’s a ridiculous thing to try and say about someone, but the point is that this is the guy doing serious, big, 2D animated films that have emotional resonance. (Hosoda’s films have a much different character from Miyazaki’s and frankly I just like his films better. I always kind of felt like what Miyazaki really cared about was the message of his films, whereas Hosoda’s films are much more centered around the charters themselves.)
I don’t even remember how I heard about The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, but I was totally in love with it when I saw, only after the fact finding out the work Hosoda had done on Digimon. It was just one of those “of course” moments for me, where it was clear to me that his storytelling sensibilities just lined up with my own taste really well.
But it was Hosoda’s next film, Summer Wars, that really blew me away, because that movie is a beat for beat remake of Digimon: Our War Game, which he had directed nine years earlier; of course with a much better budget and all the Digimon stuff removed and replaced with analogues. Watching that was a total trip and kind of a mindfuck as I watched in delight as the film slowly revealed itself. Just knowing that a Digimon movie had been turned into something that was getting critical acclaim made me so happy. Summer Wars has more going on in it and is better and more satisfying than Our War Game, but that lineage and progress makes it matter that much more to me.
So now that I’ve made it clear how much I love Summer Wars; The Boy and the Beast is Hosoda’s best film to date, and also my new favorite.
This is a big audacious movie that’s trying to be and do everything, and it pulls off all of it. It’s structured similarly to Hosoda’s last film Wolf Children, in that it’s a coming of age story that just keeps pushing forward, but it has a much clearer idea about where it’s going and is much more successful in getting there. There are at least six movies worth of plots going on and overlapping with each other, and the movie is broken up in a way that fells like it’s three movies in a row. If the movie didn’t succeed at all of its parts it would have fallen apart.
At first the movie is a fairly straightforward tale about a runaway child who enters into another world where he grows up with animal people that is also a martial arts training movie about a stubborn and surly master and an equally stubborn apprentice who both come to learn from each other despite constant bickering. But then the boy has grown up and finds out how to get back to our world and now you’re watching a movie about him learning how to read from a girl he meets at the library. And then the movie gets to psychic battles and there’s a giant whale with boar tusks causing explosions in the real world.
It just goes all out. It’s full of earnestness and determination as a film. The way it makes metaphor literal reality is so goddam on the nose, cheesy and glorious. It’s exactly what I want. This is a movie I watched and just went “This is for me. This is my kinda shit.” I love the characters, I love the way they’re built to interact with each other, I love the plot, I love the way it shifts between legitimate serious emotional impact and ridiculous over the top, emotions on the sleeve, ridiculousness.
On top of that the 2D animation is gorgeous, and the action scenes are great. You can say 2D animation is dying, that’s totally fair, it’s nowhere near as popular as CG movies. But if we keep getting movies like this occasionally I really don’t care. That’s enough for me. This movie is a treasure; I fucking love it.