I take no pleasure in this. I have long ranked Mamoru Hosoda among my favorite filmmakers of all time. I’ve seen and loved everything he’s done as a solo director in the past and his coming of age fantasy in 2012 Wolf children is a strong contender for my favorite movie. Whatever he does next, it will always be my most anticipated release of the year, no matter what. Like reviews on its latest release Beautiful began to arrive, my expectation grew: rave reviews, a fourteen-minute standing ovation at Cannes (the longest of the 2021 festival, it would have won the Palme d’Or if Cannes judged by applause) and speaks of it as his magnum opus: the summary of his career, bringing together everything he did before him, rejuvenating the timeless story of The beauty and the Beast in the online age. However, now that I have seen Beautiful, I don’t think I’ve been this disappointed since. Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Once Upon a Time.
These critics were right about one thing: Beautiful is in many ways a vertical slice through the last decade and a half of Mamoru Hosoda’s catalog, combining the awkward teenage romance of The girl who crossed timethe 3D-rich visual realization of an online world displayed in summer warsthe growing pains and family drama of Wolf childrenand the epic bestial fantasy of The boy and the beast. Considering the werewolf-man romance of Wolf childrenan adaptation of The beauty and the Beast It seems like a natural evolution for Hosoda and in today’s increasingly online and superficial world of social media, you can see how there could be something in there that a succinct allegory could transform into a profound and poignant experience. However, Beautiful is anything but succinct, presenting a sprawling, hazy mess of a narrative that shifts gears like a learner driver and not the seasoned pro that is Hosoda.
As I go into a brief synopsis of the film and there are as many subplots as possible, the film’s flaws may already start to become apparent. Overture introduces us to its “U” online world, a virtual community where people interact anonymously through their avatars, which are automatically generated by “U” itself, based on the user’s appearance and of his deepest self (acquired by rapid brain-analysis). It also introduces us to “Belle,” a virtual pop megastar whose performances quickly went viral for their eerie, tragic beauty and sincerity. In reality, “Belle” is a cripplingly shy teenager named Suzu, who lives alone with her father in a remote rural village following the sudden and traumatic death of her mother, and who has become an online sensation – via her avatar – when she and her overbearing friend shared one of her songs.
We’re also soon introduced to “The Beast”, a mysterious individual who has gained notoriety for becoming unstoppable in martial arts forums, dropping seven bells on every avatar that challenges him, including administrators trying to unmask him. Remember this episode of South Park with the only player on Warcraft who has reached such a high level that no one can beat him? Suzu becomes intrigued by “The Beast” and tries to get in touch with him, guessing that he is in a lot of pain. Meanwhile, she struggles to connect with her emotionally distant father, to deal with the pain of her mother’s death, to regain her confidence to sing as herself with the local choir, to prove that she can take take care of herself so that the boy she’s crush on sees her as a potential mate and not just someone who needs her protection, and match the popular girl with the goofy underdog, while protecting her identity secret as a virtual superstar and protect The Beast from online administrators trying to identify him while she and her friend try to find out who he is too, and hoo-boy, is that enough already? plot for a movie?
Hosoda movies have sometimes felt a little messy in the past –The boy and the beast mostly, but it’s a whole other level everywhere. When all is said and done, the The beauty and the Beast the plot feels like an afterthought. It’s far too small to hold everything the movie wants, and what remains identifiable has all the narrative and structural integrity of a flowerpot that grew a redwood tree. There’s a lot of potential in a social media rewrite of the classic fairy tale, but with Hosoda’s intensely literal realization of the internet as a three-dimensional space the characters move through, it quickly loses itself in its own world. of incomprehensible density. Again, this seemed to happen in summer wars moreover, it often became difficult to know what was really going on in the real world that we saw embodied in the online avatars on screen, but there the story and themes were at least concise enough to keep track of. of all that. The film seems so focused on creating its hectic visual world that the meaning of all these images is abstracted down to its simplest, shallowest form.
There are no bad ideas in Beautiful-some might even have seemed downright inspired – but they have so little room to breathe, crammed in as they’re nose to nose with half a dozen other concepts, that they never get the chance to really connect like the Hosoda stories have in the past. Delivery has just started. Clearly these ideas are all the product of a whole lot of sincerity, they have so much emotion poured into them. They’re hugely charged, touching on grief, trauma, identity, child abuse and so much more, and the team behind the film had the resources and knew how to deliver an impactful moment: j Still got chills in the climax, despite feeling long disconnected from the story at this point. But the extreme disconnect between events in the real and online worlds – which never feel organically meshed – the inconsistent visual style, the leaden attempts at comedy, the overly brutal writing that often reads more like reference dialogue that they’ll come back and do again later, and the sprawling, disjointed story with too many overdeveloped subplots all combine to make a movie that’s significantly less than the sum of its parts.
The best parts come in the form of real-world segments from the movie. Hosoda has always excelled in using subtle whimsical elements to allegorically enhance an intimately recognizable real-world situation, such as the masterful sequence of Wolf children when the frantic mother wonders if she should take her sick werewolf child to the hospital or the vet (what parent can’t understand that kind of panic?) – and here there are times when Beautiful begins to work at a comparable level. The rare scenes dealing with Suzu’s relationship with her father might be enough to bring you to tears, no matter how under-explored this dimension. The climactic storyline, in which events take a sudden and dark turn, feels eerily neutralized, not to mention convenient, but still anchored in an urgent and twisted reality. This film wants to tear you to tears and it may succeed out of sheer attrition, but certainly not out of elegance.
I’m aware that I seem to be in the minority with this one, and there are certainly enough admirable qualities to say that if you’re at all curious, give this one a try anyway; it might strike a chord with you as it has so many others. I hope this is all a consequence of expectations on my part and as the dust settles I will be happier about it. However, as a lifelong fan of Hosoda’s work, I have the right, with little hesitation and sadness, to tarnish the reputation of this film by calling it the weakest solo feature to date. It felt like a ramshackle, committee-assembled assortment of raw concepts and ideas that he had already explored better in earlier films. I just hope that the best ideas here will also be revisited in the future, because some of them deserve a more efficient vehicle, which has a coherent identity and actually seems to know which direction to go from one minute to the next. other .