Forget what you may have heard about what excellence in animation looks like for 2016, Mamoru Hosoda’s The Boy and the Beast (Bakemono no Ko) is the timeless classic in the making you won’t want to miss. Equal parts hilarious entertainment, glorious artistry, and heartbreakingly beautiful story, The Boy and the Beast tells both the tale of how family bonds can be formed between even the most unlikely of beings and how as humans we must learn to accept our wonderful, terrifyingly complex natures. Having already secured the 2015 Tokyo International Film Festival’s Arigato Award and the 2016 Japan Academy Prize among several other international award nominations, it’s no surprise that The Boy and the Beast was last year’s second grossing film from Japanese box offices. Now, thanks to Funimation, this treasure of film has been brought to American theaters at last.
What make’s Ren’s story transcend beyond the run-of-the-mill coming of age cartoon is, of course, Mamoru Hosoda’s now legendary skill to seamlessly blend fantasy with reality and build each moment into a crucial layer for the next. Like his films The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, and Wolf Children (all of which also won the Japan Academy Prize for their respective years), Hosoda takes us on both a physical journey to a supernatural realm and one of spiritual discovery. After the death of his single mother prompts nine-year-old Ren to run away from home and accidentally stumble across the entrance toJūtengai, the Beast Kingdom, Ren finds himself apprenticed to the fierce and crass bear warrior Kumatetsu. Kumatetsu, however, has no intentions of truly teaching the little boy he renames Kyuta, but rather gaining the chance to best his rival Iozen in an epic battle for the title of lord and eventually the ability to reincarnate as a god. Not just a mere student and teacher learning to brave one another’s stubborn and prideful attitudes, Kumatetsu and Ren’s relationship must also endure the tests of doubt, identity crises, and the fear of how deeply hatred can become ingrained in a vulnerable soul.
From reminders of trauma to mental unhealthiness to too many unnecessary deaths to count every day, there are so many reasons to hate other humans. More than anything what children, adults, and families need at this moment in history is a movie that doesn’t water down these truths with cute one-liners or peppy pop culture references, but leans into the idea of inner darkness and confronts the pain that can make so many people feel alone. More than anything, exploring issues of self hate and difference are what we need to heal as people. The Boy and the Beast isn’t afraid to remind its audience that authority figures will always find a way to let us down, but the love of a committed community can still transform entire lives for the better.
There are many who have made the natural comparisons between Mamoru Hosoda’s cinematic magic and Hayao Miyazaki, but if anything The Boy and the Beast proves once more that Hosoda is entirely in a league of his own. Paired with his masterfully stunning landscapes and deeply captivating characters, this profound fable of self-discovery will have you cheering in your seat throughout each epic fight scene and tearing up for every tender moment of hope and redemption. Do yourself a favor and don’t miss the opportunity to marvel at the potential of your own humanity through this brilliant work of art. You can find the theater where it’s playing nearest you on the Funimation website today.