Now showing in Hong Kong

Film review: The Boy and the Beast – delightful tale of street urchin in a fantasy world

Mamoru Hasoda reinforces his claim to be successor of Hayao Miyazaki as Japan’s top animator, his breezy directorial style making light of film’s weightier themes about growing up

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 December, 2015, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 December, 2015, 12:01pm

In the years since Hayao Mayazaki announced his retirement as the de facto king of Japanese animation, many have pointed to Mamoru Hasoda to take up the mantle. With films like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars and Wolf Children, Hasoda has developed a winning blend of escapism, charm and thoughtful narrative insight to back up his claim.

That continues in The Boy and the Beast, a delightfully assured tale of a young Tokyo street urchin who stumbles into a fantasy world, where he becomes apprentice to a bear-like warrior.

To Kyuta (voiced by Shota Sometani), the beast Kumatetsu (Koji Yakusho) represents the father and role model he never knew. Conversely, this young human will hopefully inspire responsibility in Kumatetsu, who is vying to become the next Lord of Jutengai. Over time their relationship morphs from teacher-student to father-son, and eventually comrades-in-arms as Kyuta comes of age.

Inevitably, Kyuta is shunned by the other young beasts, especially Ichirohiko (Mamoru Miyano), the son of Kumatetsu’s rival, who wields an unearthly power he seems unable to fully control. Ultimately this conflict spills over into the real world, and Kyuta is forced to man up and fight back.

While Hasoda’s screenplay tackles a wide array of themes familiar to such adolescent narratives, including responsibility, self-restraint and a burgeoning romance, his breezy directorial style and visual flair ensures the film is never bogged down by its weightier themes. Similarly, the all-star voice cast injects the film with plenty of humour and genuine warmth.

The Boy and the Beast opens on December 31