In Review

Film review: Belle 

Japanese animation film about our online selves

A marriage of “dazzling spectacle, high-octane action and social commentary”, this animated film from Japan received a 14-minute standing ovation when it premiered at Cannes, said Tara Brady in The Irish Times. The story revolves around Suzu, a 17-year-old high school student who’s unremarkable but for her extraordinary singing voice – which she can’t bring herself to use in public. At school, she isn’t a big hitter socially, until she signs up to “U”, a virtual world “pitched somewhere between Instagram and The Fifth Element” that allows its users to live as idealised avatars. 

In this metaverse, Suzu is reborn as Belle, “a pink-haired, singing beauty” who becomes an overnight sensation. The film’s best scenes are not the “riotous tableaux” that play under her J-pop ballads, however, but “the blushmaking adolescent exchanges, the family concerns”, and even, in a late plot twist, a powerful (but delicately handled) dramatisation of childhood abuse. 

This finely observed, gorgeously animated sci-fi fairy tale is one of director Mamoru Hosoda’s best to date, said Robbie Collin in The Daily Telegraph. Long “enthralled by abstract digital spaces”, he has created here a twinkling metaverse that “overawes you through sheer volume of lunatic detail”. And though the plot owes much to Beauty and the Beast, the film’s exploration of “our online-offline double lives” is entirely fresh. 

Belle’s central message is a powerful one, said Simran Hans in The Observer – that the closer our online personas capture who we really are, “the more powerful” they become. All in all, this is anime to swell the heart.

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