Synopsis (via IMDB.com)
When a young orphaned boy living on the streets of Shibuya stumbles upon a fantastic world of beasts, he’s taken in by a gruff warrior beast looking for an apprentice.
Director and writer Mamoru Hosoda put together an interesting, amusing and endearing film that is literally about a boy and a beast. While the premise is a bit out there, probably full of religious context that I couldn’t careless about (I’m not a film teacher), the connection between the boy, Ren, and his master/the beast Kumatetsu is worth the trip in the film. The relationship is the focus from beginning to end is overwhelmingly endearing.
The connection between the two characters is random happenstance in the story, as Ren is a family-less orphan, whose mother just died. Feeling lost in the world and having no one to turn to, Ren takes solace that his world might be short-lived, so that he can free himself of his emptiness and anger. The flip side to that coin is Kumatetsu, who is an immature and potential successor to the lord of the Beast Kingdom. He also is in desperate need to find an apprentice to make his future legacy legitimate. Both characters have two giant holes to fill with each offering the other (whether they know it or not) the right amount of emotions to fulfill their life shortcomings. Those are some strong needs that usually equal out to a memorable story.
Director Mamoru Hosoda doesn’t waste much time on exposition when it comes to putting together situations to bring the pair together. Nor does Hosoda truly give time for the audience to understand the two worlds that he has set up for the pair, though Ren’s is pretty obvious. Ren’s backstory is seen and explained visually in the span of 1-2 minutes. His mother has died, his father is not in the picture thanks to a divorce and he simply cannot sit and live in the world he was left with, so he runs to find a new one. Homeless, borderline suicidal to an assumed extent, he meets up with a very gruff and mean Kumatetsu, who offers him a position as his apprentice, though against Kumatetsu’s friend’s wishes. Ren reluctantly accepts, finds his way to Kumatetsu’s world and begins his new life of training and fitting into his new surroundings.
Act one throws a lot at the audience and, as I explained prior, doesn’t really stop to give any sort of detailed background to the setup. While it does explain a bit about Kumatetsu, and Ren’s wrecked life (although most of the emotion is implied), the script doesn’t take the time to properly set up any of the worlds where everyone is on the same page of how the beast world exists and why it doesn’t tangle much with humans, though the catalyst to the third act has to do with the terrible cruelty that fills the heart of every human, which gives explanation of that briefly. Regardless, its speed to get into the action is commended, but the details of the hows/whys is a bit absent.
As the second act begins the story jumps forward by nearly a decade. As the movie shifts to a budding relationship, though destructive in a sense, between Kumatetsu and Ren, the training becomes far more complicated with the teacher suddenly finding himself as the student. Ren is learning the ropes and surpassing Kumatetsu and also ends up teaching some humbleness to his master, who desperately needs it. The teaching/learning begins to enrage Kumatetsu to the point of running off Ren mid-way through the act. Ren finds his way back to the human world to take a break from his master, finds a new ‘friend’ while he is out and finds his missing father, who he is still angry at for not being there for him when his mom died (his father is regretful of his actions). The act ends with Ren discovering and unleashing, though briefly, his inner hatred and cruelty, which takes over his mind/soul/actions. His girlfriend brings him back from the edge of being lost and he goes back to the beast world to find his master, who needs him.
Act two is packed. I mean, it’s just filled to the brim with lots of emotions, explanation and a fair share of anger from all parties. I appreciate what Hosoda did in this act, as it humanized and grounded the characters, making them feel far less 2D, which is a feat when compared to how other animes would have treated their main characters. The characters have real problems, they have anger issues to deal with and the consequences for their actions seem very plausible. This act sold me on the film, as it made it more than just a randomly pretty anime that has no flow or rhyme to its characters. The only regretful part of act two is that it opens up a lot of loose ends that have to be wrapped in act three for this to finish on a high note. I’m not sure there is enough time in act three for that to happen.
Act three reunites Ren and Kumatetsu and finds one of them having to sacrifice their life to save the other. I won’t say who, but I will say it does tie up one of the bigger plot points in the story, albeit a tragic one. The last act ramps up the beauty of the movie’s visuals, the haunting violence that exists within the heart of humans and the tragedy of true loss, but lasting friendship.
In short, it ends well, though not completely tying up or explaining everything it has proposed.
Overall, The Boy and the Beast is bigger than you think. It’s deeper than it should be and it is more powerful than expected. While it does fall short in some areas when it comes to complete storytelling, Regardless, if you appreciate good art, great acting and a believable set of characters, then mark this one on the list of movies to see.