The Boy and The Beast

Our local theater chain, the Laemmle, which we adore for a variety of reasons (great bulk discounts, cheap but excellent popcorn, great staff) has one particular attribute with which we are not enthralled. To wit:

I drew The Flower’s attention to Only Yesterday on the (now Blade Runner-style video) ad boards in January, so we’ve been watching for its release. We were also watching for The Boy and The Beast, which was to be released at the same time. The Laemmle deals generally in subtitled films—they have shirts that say “Not afraid of subtitles”— but for these movies they had some dubbed showings in the day.

The Flower likes the dubbed versions. As an artist she likes to focus on the artistry, and she can’t do that if she’s reading subtitles. The listings indicated that Only Yesterday was only going to show for one week, while The Beast and The Boy was due for a longer run, so we went to see Only Yesterday first, figuring to hit Beast next weekend. But we then discovered that The Beast and The Boy was actually exiting that week as well—and it had a much abbreviated run in the theaters it was playing, so we ended up making a drive to Pasadena just to see it at all.

And it was good. Very good.

The animation version of a "still".
Pictured: A shot not from the movie.

Director Momoru Hosoda is definitely more something than Studio Ghibli. I don’t want to say “Japanese” because obviously Studio Ghibli is very (entirely!) Japanese—but let’s say that Hosoda’s tropes are more familiar as Japanese anime tropes than Miyazaki’s or Takahata’s. Maybe that’s because Ghibli has a far more feminine bent (as I discussed in my Only Yesterday review) and I am perhaps more familiar with male-oriented animé (although honestly not very familiar with it at all).

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Nobody will replace Ghibli, and I’m not sure that Hosoda can have the kind of impact on mainstream America that Hayazaki has had. But even Hayazaki has never crossed the $20M mark in America (while globally his films make hundreds of millions) which is perhaps due to American companies choking distribution or may be just due to their foreignness. The Boy and the Beast looks to make about $500K here, which puts it between Only Yesterday and Marnie.

The beasts call them "monkey points".
Here, Kyuta realizes the cruel hoax which is “net points.”

The cool thing here is that, much like Summer Wars, Momoru teases the idea of a very traditional animé-type story—one that you might roll your eyes at, like I wanted to with Summer Wars (before seeing it)—and then flips it on its head. The idea is that freshly orphaned Kyuta sees a life with a bunch of cold, grubby relatives, and runs away to live on the streets rather than with them, but finds himself quickly accosted by a foul-tempered bear-man named Kumatetsu.

It seems that beasts, unlike humans, can arise to godhood. And the beasts are ruled by a single leader—a wise and comical rabbit-man, in this case—until it’s time for this king to take its place among the gods. Before ascending, the rabbit-thing must pick his successor, who will be either Kumatetsu or a boar-man Iozen. Iozen is considered a great teacher, a wise and well-liked figure with a mild temper, while Kumatetsu has never been able to retain a student long enough to actually learn how to teach (a task which doesn’t much seem to interest him).

Obviously Kyuta is going to train with Kumatetsu and this is going to factor in, somehow, to the current king’s decision on who should be his successor. And, with this setup, you sort of figure the climax of the movie will be the battle between the Iozen and Kumatetsu, with Kyuta again being somehow a factor (perhaps by having taught the teacher, or somesuch).

Ha! As if!
Or perhaps they will just learn to use cutlery.

But the movie, besides being a charming and well-done example of this kind of traditional story, switches things up. For example, it’s most common to have the student beg to be taught by a reluctant master. In this case, the master is desperate and the student is ready to blow at any moment. Further, Kumatetsu is a terrible teacher, without the faintest idea of how to teach anything. Kyuta sort of has to trick Kumatetsu into learning things from him.

And Kumatetsu doesn’t really learn much from any of this, as far as I can tell. We don’t have any reason to believe that, despite Kyuta’s tremendous success, and the subsequent popularity of the bear-man, Kumatetsu will ever be able to teach well. What the two seem to learn is more emotional than that, but I shan’t spoil it. Also, as we learn early on, humans are not able to ascend because they have a darkness within them. In fact, much resistance is made in the beast world to Kyuta being taught at all. The third act is kind of a surprising twist based on this that I did not see coming.

I will go so far as to say the ending was so Japanese that it kind of lost me. It made a poetic and emotional sense but I’m stuck in a lot of Western narrative tropes about things making a more literal kind of sense, or at least being prepared for certain types of resolutions. The Boy and The Flower did not have this problem, naturally, and I will chalk it up to personal fault rather than movie fault.

They both liked it. I think we all agreed that Wolf Children was best of the three, but the kids may have preferred this to Summer Wars. Either way, it’s a very solid flick, and well worth the drive—even to Pasadena.

I dunno. That boar just looks so much like Liam Neeson.
Liam Neeson calms Ewan McGregor on the set of The Phantom Menace.

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