The Belle of the Ball
Buckle up animation geeks, creative genius Momoru Hosada’s next film Ryu to Sobakasu no Hime (“The Dragon and the Freckled Princess”), or simply Belle, is just around the corner! First announced in December 2020, Hosada’s Studio Chizu has officially set its to release to July of 2021.
Belle marks Hosada’s ninth project and follows the protagonist Suzu as she traverses between reality and a virtual world called ‘U’. Suzu is a 17-year old high school girl who lives with her father in the rural town of Kochi as Japan’s countryside population continues to decrease. Seeking comfort and direction after the loss of her mother, Suzu finds and enters an online world called ‘U’, where she becomes her avatar “Belle,” a famous singer in this alternate reality. As Belle increasingly becomes the center of attention, a mysterious and infamous dragon-like creature appears before her. Amidst the ever blurring boundaries between reality and the virtual, the two of them must embark upon a courageous journey of challenges, discovering love, friendship, and perhaps who they truly are along the way.
Mamoru Hosada and His Belle
Hosada’s previous work, Mirai, which premiered internationally at the Cannes’ Directors Fortnight in 2018, garnered an overwhelmingly successful reception and was nominated for both the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. The film went on to win the 46th annual Annie Award for “Best Animation of the Year.”
Hosada is not by any means new to this degree of positive reception. His worldwide recognition had been amassing long before the success of Mirai, winning over many an animation fan’s hearts and staunch support with his prolific storytelling. The most notable of his past work includes The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, Wolf Children, and The Boy and the Beast. Known for their deeply emotional and thought-provoking narratives, Hosoda’s stories have a penchant for drawing extraordinary experiences from seemingly ordinary characters living worlds touched by hints of fantasy. From the first looks of Belle, it certainly looks like Director Hosada aims to continue that trend.
In his official statement released by Studio Chizu, Hodsada said “BELLE is the movie that I have always wanted to create, and I am only able to make this film a reality because of the culmination of my past works. I explore romance, action, and suspense on the one hand, and deeper themes such as life and death on the other. I expect this to be a big entertainment spectacle.
“I have directed films in the past, exploring the implications of the Internet and how our younger generations will transform the world with their own amusement. At the same time, the Internet has a more negative side to it, where people slander others without a second thought, filling it with misinformation. In spite of this, I believe that it is marvel that will expand the possibilities of humanity. I wanted to depict this massive shift in our relationship with the Internet in a way that would pave a path towards our future.
“The unprecedented events of last year have accelerated the paradigm shift in our online interactions with one another, be it the workplace or our personal lives. As this era continues to change, unbound from the shackles of yesterday’s common sense, capturing this global phenomenon felt like an inevitability.
“Yet, the things that we must cherish, largely remain the same. Legacies we have inherited from generations past will continue to exist and adapt to the new age and new tools that will now shape it. This shift is more apparent than it has ever been because of the era in which we currently live.
“I hope you can enjoy our world that is now evolving at the speed of light while savoring those things that really matter to us, in this film.”
Studio Chizu has assembled an impressive team of Japanese and international creatives for crafting Belle’s stunning visuals. Among the long list of creatives working alongside Dir. Hosada is Jin Kim, the artist who designed characters in some of Disney’s most iconic features such as Frozen, Big Hero 6, and Tangled. Both artists have greatly admired each other’s work for a long time from afar — and it’s no wonder why! They have great taste; each artist’s respective style is stunning. Belle marks the first of, hopefully, many more collaborations to come. Another creative who joined the project is Eric Wong, a visionary architect-designer from Britain, who constructed the 3D landscape of ‘U’, conceptualizing from Hosada’s original design. Ross Stewart and Tomm Moore, big-time animators of the Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon, are involved as well. They are known for creating The Secret of the Knells, the Oscar-nominated feature Song of the Sea, and this year’s Oscar nominee Wolfwalkers. For anyone who has seen any of the aforementioned movies, you will know that their animation style is distinctly enchanting and incredibly different from Hosada’s. It is incredibly exciting to imagine how this will all mix together. An international collaboration of this scale makes Japanese animation history as the first of its kind. The amalgamation of all these different styles, I can imagine, could dramatically alter the course of Japanese animation to come!
My Thoughts On the Trailer:
First off, I cannot express how excited I am for this movie to drop. The trailer is absolutely stunning with its visuals — from its color palette to the mixture of 3D and 2D animation, to the shifting of art styles as we move between realities. It gives us a glimpse of how each creators’ distinctive style will look meshed together.
The contrast between Suzu and Belle is striking and translates well to the screen, creating a rift between how one wishes to appear and how one actually appears to the world. While Suzu and her classmates in the real world largely reflect Hosada’s more simple design, Belle shines with Jin Kim’s iconic Disney flair. Suzu looks like your average girl with brown eyes, brown hair falling below chin length, and light freckles dusting her face. Belle, on the other hand, is ethereal: her eyes are unrealistically huge and crystal blue, her luscious pink hair flows down to her legs, and even her freckles form the most beautiful and intricate patterns on her face. She truly looks like a princess.
The world in which the two exist are drastically different too. We see glimpses of the idyllic countryside as Suzu ambles through her rural town: clear waters sparkling under the setting sun, to the monolithic clouds floating against the devastatingly blue skies, to the sweeping empty fields passing outside a moving train. The natural landscapes are dense and full of vibrant detail, a stark contrast to the landscape of ‘U’. Virtual reality looks to be composed of block-like skyscrapers resembling the green and gold chips one would see inside a computer’s motherboard. While it seems to be full of geometric complexity, the world simultaneously feels hollow as well. It looks one-dimensional in comparison to the vivid images of the countryside. It is interesting to see the juxtaposition between Hosada’s simpler-looking Suzu living in a more intricate-looking world, and Jin Kim’s extravagantly detailed Belle existing in a more empty looking world. I’m excited to see how Hosoda synthesizes these visual elements throughout the movie in relation to the plot and more importantly the film’s theme.
What captured my attention the most, however, was the song featured in the extended trailer. With Belle set to be a famous singer of ‘U’, I’m willing to bet that the music will play a big role in the film. The trailer’s evocative song paired with its astounding visuals was genuinely enough to move me to tears — even without a clue of what was going on! If the music in the trailer is reflective of the soundtrack to come, then I’ll be prepared to cry at multiple points throughout this movie!
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T. Wu is a contributing writer at All Ages of Geek. You can follow T. on Instagram @kata_the_clown.