The Boy And The Beast

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Boy And The Beast
"For all its supernatural stylings, it's the natural connections that count."

The Boy And The Beast marks the first time an animation film has been included in the Official Competition at San Sebastian Film Festival and though it is perfectly robust, its surprisingly that this should be the film to admitted when the likes of, for example, the techincally impressive Futbolin, was not - although it could be said that Juan Jose Campanella's film paved the way for others when it opened the festival in 2013.

Mamoru Hosoda's hand-drawn film tells the story of nine-year-old Ren (first voiced by Aoi Miyazaki before growing into the vocals of Shota Sometani) who, after the death of his mum, runs away from home only to be spotted on the street by the Beast of the title. The Beast, Kumatetsu (Koji Yakusho), is a selfish and easily enraged creature who, because of this, has struggled to find an apprentice in Jutengai a land inhabited souly by beasts and where humans - who all too often carry inner darkness - are forbidden.

The lack of an apprentice is a bit of a sticking point as, despite his quick temper, Kumatetsu is one of two candidates in line to take on the leadership of the place once the latest incumbent - a sort of White Rabbit/Yoda hybrid - becomes a god. The other, more likely successor is Iozen, a boar-based beast with a noble attitude to match his lion-like mane. Ren is intrigued and follows Kumatetsu, and with a bit of special dispensation that gives him leave to remain in Jutengai, soon embarks on an apprenticeship which will, in the best spirit of fable, teach both of them something about being an adult.

Hosoda, whose previous film Wolf Children dealt in half-human/half-animal kids, is interested in the intersection between beasts and boys - and a world of fairy tales show it has plenty of potential. He also plays around with the idea that adults can often learn from children as much as they make an impression on them. The director does a decent job of keeping things under control as he expands his plot in outlandish directions - encompassing teenage rivalry, a love interest, reconnection with Ren's dad and, for adults, a boatload of Moby Dick metaphors. That said, modern day Tokyo and its drippy inhabitants can't compete with Jutengai. Ren's gal pal Kaede (Suzu Hirose) and dad never make the impact they should in the face of the great chemistry between the boy and Kumatetsu.

A sudden change of direction that sees a new villain emerge and the humans' 'heart of darkness' idea come to the fore feel decidedly bolted on but they bring with them some enjoyable set-piece fighting including a destructive whale wreaking havoc in the streets of the real world.

In the end, it's the well-drawn characters that prove the best reason to watch, from the gruff and impetuous Kumatetsu and his dry-witted monkey-like sidekick Tatara to the smallest, silent character we meet - a ball-of-fluff mouse that Ren picks up in an alley. For all its supernatural stylings, it's the natural connections that count.

Reviewed on: 05 Oct 2015
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A runaway human boy becomes apprenticed to a supernatural beast.
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