For about as long as I’ve been reviewing anime films there has always been a persistent question I’ve heard: When do you think we are going to find the next Hayao Miyazaki? This is a flawed question because I do not want the world to discover another Miyazaki, I want the world to discover new directors with fresh voices and unique visions of their own. No one does Miyazaki like Miyazaki does himself. When you view a film that is trying to be like one of his films we instantly recognize it, and the movie always suffers as a result. Granted, you can be inspired[itialized] by an artist, but you do no one (including yourself) any favors to mimick said artist. Mamoru Hosoda is a director whose been described as the new Miyazaki. I assume this is the case because he is Japanese and has made some great, visionary animated films in the past.
If “The Boy and the Beast” is any indication though, the claim that Hosoda is the next Miyazaki is complete hogswash, and we’re going to delve into why. The story revolves around a young boy whose mother has died and his fathers whereabouts are unknown. He doesn’t like the family who has been entrusted to take care of him, so he walks the streets of Tokyo, scrounging for food with his furry pet (I have no idea what kind of animal he is, but he is small and fluffy, so I immediately wanted a doll of him to exist so I could get him for my niece). He stumbles into a world made up entirely of beasts and monsters, who live in a secluded world away from humans for political reasons that the film does get into, but would be far too mudane to explain here. There he meets Kumatetsu, a bear warrior who wants to compete in a competition to become the next lord of the monster world.
He can’t compete for this title unless he has pupils though, and he’s far too ill-tempered for anyone to want to be his. Since this young boy has nothing else going for him though, he decides to be this monsters student. Kumatetsu happily takes the boy under his wing and names him Kyuta. What follows is a fun story of two people, both who have short tempers, learning to trust each other and gain respect. The boy gains a father figure and a mentor, while the beast gains a son and student. In many ways, both gain a new perspective on life that neither would have had had neither of them met each other. If this is where the story began and ended it would be a fun but uninspired film. Yet Hosoda has the reputation he has for a reason, and “The Boy and the Beast” takes a wild left turn at the midway point where the film grows up and becomes something far different than what it was originally supposed to be.
The change in the film is so unexpected, that I hesitate to explain the details of what happens. What I will say is that the films opening fantastical sequences end up taking a backseat to Kyuta returning to the human world and finding out that he might have a place in it after all. It’s here where the film starts to take a more realistic look on the characters world, yet one that is never as bleak as you’d think. The monster world is not the savor to Kyuta’s human world, it simply fits a different need for him in his life at a particular moment in time. The conflict comeswith Kyuta having to decide if he is going to return to the human world and give up everything (and everyone) he has come to love over the years. In an interesting twist, whatever he decides to do there will not nessicarly be a wrong choice involved. Hosoda has tackled themes of growing up and moving on in life before.
“The Girl Who Leapt Through Time,” “Summer Wars,” and “Wolf Children” were all films about kids who come to a turning point in their life and must chose their own unique path in life. In all these cases the choice will be theirs and theirs alone, and there isn’t a bad one to be made. It would seem that writing a screenplay like this would be anticlimactic since movies thrive on conflict and making the right choice, but Hosoda has been wise to make the process of the choice the conflict rather than the destination. It gives his films a unique voice and his characters personalities that are uniquely his. As a result, this film has the kind of character development that other films can only hope and pray they have.
So does “The Boy and the Beast” cement Mamaru Hosoda as the next Hayao Miyazaki? No, it does not. It doesn’t even come close. What it does do is coment Hosoda as a new visionary in the field of animation, film, and fiction in general. Miyazaki has nothing on Hosoda. Miyazaki can not make the kind of movies Hosoda makes, and Hosoda can not make the films Miyazaki makes. They are two masters of their craft, working in the same field, but they both utilize their gifts very differently and thus produce different kinds of films. Hosoda makes movies primarily about people and the choices they have to make while growing up. Pixar delt with such themes earlier this year with their wonderful “Inside Out,” yet Hosoda has been tackling the same themes for years and “The Boy and the Beast” is a great example of that. Hosoda is not the next Miyazaki; he is the next great director in the making for the wonderful history of cinema at large, and “The Boy and the Beast” is a great introduction to his creativity!