Belle is a dark story for Studio Ghibli fans

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WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle, a film currently in theaters in the United States.

The new film from director Mamoru Hosoda Beautiful has finally arrived in US theaters. It was presented as a modern account of The beauty and the Beast, but its virtual setting isn’t the only twist applied to the beloved story. Like Studio Chizu Wolf children and summer wars, Beautiful wastes no time delving into themes of death and loss.

However, Beautiful takes its mature themes one step further, introducing a discussion of child abuse, self-sacrifice, and community responsibility. These heavy subjects set it apart from more kid-friendly and renowned Studio Ghibli films like Taken away as if by magic and Howl’s Howl’s Moving Castle. Also, movies like Beautiful to provide audiences with modern stories and nuanced perspectives that resonate with today’s issues.

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Beautiful in the digital world U

Beautiful ranks among animated films like your name and A silent voice, distancing itself from the Disney-esque Ghibli films. It’s a coming-of-age story that follows a young girl named Suzu, unable to sing since the death of her mother. Once she joins the virtual world called U, however, she regains her voice and becomes the overnight pop sensation known as Belle; but things are quickly turned upside down when someone known as Dragon appears to be wreaking havoc on U.

At first, the audience may assume that the Dragon is actually someone known to Suzu, perhaps a friend or her childhood crush. In the end, it turns out that the Dragon is an alien – a young boy named Kei. It is revealed that he and his brother are being abused by their father, and Suzu is able to help the boys after revealing her true self to the World of U to gain the traumatized siblings’ trust.

The unexpected twist diverts the film’s focus from the fantasy world of U and places it on the dangers of the real world. The revelation of what really happens behind closed doors – and computer screens – is surprisingly dark, which is what differentiates Beautiful other such stories like Taken away as if by magic. Suzu and Spirited Away Taken away as if by magic must navigate a treacherous terrain filled with actors whose true intentions are not always clear, but BeautifulThe real beast of turns out to be nothing more than a father. Due to its mature themes, the film may not be easy for young audiences to understand, but adults may find value in its honesty and urgency.

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Kei with Suzu in Belle

Studio Ghibli also tackles important subject matter and gives agency to its heroines, but some – including Hosoda – have criticized the idealization of its female characters. It’s hard to say that Suzu completely escapes idealization given her extreme talent for singing, exceptional compassion, and impressive courage, but overall, Beautiful provides a more relatable story thanks to its fairly realistic setting and conflicts. While a metaverse quite like U doesn’t yet exist, the abuse and loss certainly does. As a result, Suzu is less of a Disney princess and more of a regular girl that modern audiences can connect with.

Although Beautiful may be considerably dark, it nurtures a hopeful undercurrent regarding something that is often reviled in fiction: the internet. Specifically, this movie paints social media in a surprisingly positive light, as it’s the virtual world of U that gives Suzu the ability to express herself.

Beautiful encourages people to live and do good in the real world without downplaying the value of the virtual world, while its feminist undertones embolden and inspire young women to find their own voice. If Studio Chizu maintains the current quality of its films in the future, it will be exciting to see where Hosoda’s direction takes for the next feature.

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