I love Studio Ghibli films, but for some reason, I tend to gravitate towards the work of Mamoru Hosoda more often. As of this moment, “The Boy and the Beast” is the third film of his that I’ve seen, which means I only have “Wolf Children” left to watch, as I don’t really watch “Digimon” or “One Piece”, as his two other films are films from that franchise.
I started out my journey with his works with “Summer Wars”, which became a favorite of mine, and a film that I watch almost every year. After that, for me, came “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”, something that was definitely in my wheelhouse as I do love time travel stories. However, these two films are a little bit more self-contained in scope compared to “The Boy and the Beast”, which was quite epic in scope, and gave me much to think about as well.
“The Boy and the Beast” tells the story of a young boy named Ren (Aoi Miyazaki/Shota Sometani) who runs away from his mother’s relatives who wanted to take him in after his mother died in a car accident. (His father wasn’t in the picture as they were divorced). He then gets taken into the spirit world by Kumatetsu (Koji Yakusho), a stubborn, short-tempered bear like spirit and warrior who was instructed to take a pupil, as he is one of the two candidates to take over as lord of his spirit city, Jutengai.
However, along the way, Ren, now called Kyuta, ends up going through a journey of self-discovery and self-identity when he accidentally steps back into the human world, and he ends up trying to juggle to separate lives- one in Jutengai, and one in the human world. In the end, however, Ren discovers not only physical strength, but inner strength, love and peace, which helps him become more confident and whole, regardless of what he is. In turn, Kumatetsu becomes a better warrior and person because of his apprentice.
Also, the film teaches us that what makes a person strong isn’t just about physical strength, but it comes from those around you that love you.
Generally speaking, I loved how epic and magical this film was. The score was wonderful as well, and visuals were nothing less than stunning. I also loved the fact that every now and then they would switch to a street camera view, and that when Ren/Kyuta is running, we’d see things from his perspective.
One big theme in this film was the fact that Ren/Kyuta was able to be whole thanks to the people around him that loved him, and who reassured him, especially in his time of need.
Another thing that greatly interested me is the fact that the world of the spirits/beasts was more simple and pure as compared to the human world, especially as it was mentioned that it was humans and not spirits/beasts who had a darkness lurking within them.
Another point to consider regarding that “darkness” that lies within us is how each one responds and reacts towards it, because if one is not careful, our bits of “darkness” can consume us and be destructive not only for ourselves but for the people around us as well.
All in all, plot holes aside, this was a wonderful, heart-felt film with stunning visuals, music, voice acting and story that is more epic than “Summer Wars” and “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”. It is also partly a father and son story, and a story about self-discovery. This film may be my favorite among the three of Hosoda’s that I’ve watched so far.
The crux of this film is definitely Kumatetsu’s relationship with Kyuta/Ren. At first, these two head strong souls butted heads and clashed regularly, but later on, when both became student and teacher and vice versa towards each other at a particular point, you can see that their banter changed from arguing to how they encouraged each other.
I love how Kumatetsu’s role as a teacher was to teach him the basics, and to become a surrogate father towards Kyuta/Ren; and I love how Kyuta/Ren, in turn, taught Kumatetsu to become more disciplined and refined with regards to his fighting style and technique.
It was also interesting how Kyuta/Ren went from a scrappy little kid who just wanted to be strong, to become an adult with self-confidence and determination, without a doubt in his mind as to who he was. And even though there were moments that he faltered and doubted himself, he had a family and a support system who reassured him no matter what, even if he did take off for a while in order to discover the human world that he missed. I think he had an edge over Ichihirohiko (Mamoru Miyano/Haru Kuroki) because he also remembered that he was human, and others also reminded him of it.
With Ichihirohiko, he was always told by Iozen (Kazuhiro Yamaji) that he was a spirit/beast. I think Iozen should have told him the truth and should have allowed him to discover the human side of himself. Maybe then he could have accepted who he truly was, and not think that he would become his adoptive father.
However, it did show a lot of strength that Kyuta/Ren didn’t kill Ichihirohiko, but became that support system that he needed, by willing to sacrifice himself to swallow all of his darkness and, in the end, by purging him of that darkness within.
I found it hard not to tear up when Kumatetsu decided to reincarnate himself into the longsword that would fill up the whole in Kyuta’s heart. He became a better person thanks to Kyuta, and although Kyuta is now living with his biological father, Kumatetsu will always be with him no matter what. Kyuta/Ren is lucky as he is very much loved by everyone around him, and that, is where, I think, is where he now gets his strength.
I was a little bit worried about the appearance of Kaede (Suzu Hirose) because I thought it would be the typical thing that Kyuta/Ren would have to choose between Kaeda and the spirit/beast world, but I’m glad that they didn’t follow that trope, and didn’t force Kaede’s and Kyuta’s relationship with each other.
As I mentioned earlier, it was really interesting how complex humans and the human world is compared to the spirits/beasts. Sure they may have their faults, Kumatetsu has a LOT of faults that ended up being fixed because of Kyuta, but it isn’t plagued by the kind of hatred and darkness that seems to reside more in the human realm, which is funny because you would expect the spirit/beast world to be more primal and less enlightened.
In the end, despite the plot holes, this film is a great father and son, coming of age story, that allows its main characters to grow organically and naturally throughout the film. It is definitely, by far, my favorite among the three films of Hosoda’s that I’ve seen so far.
- The beginning sequence.
- The training montage and Kyuta/Ren growing up.
- Whenever it shifts perspective to Kyuta/Ren running and we see things from his point of view.
- The fight sequence between Iozen (Kazuhiro Yamaji) and Kumatetsu during their decisive battle.
- Kumatetsu becoming a longsword and appearing to Kyuta and fighting with him in the final battle.
Mamoru Hosoda Film Ranking:
- The Boy and the Beast
- Summer Wars
- The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
Unranked & Yet to Watch: Wolf Children