Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Throughout my time writing for Scene Before, I have done several reviews that I feel proud of. This even includes earlier years when I continued to develop a writing style and focused maybe more than I should have on immersing the viewer into the review like I am on a camera. Although there are certain movies that I watched for Scene Before, looking back, where I probably should have reconsidered at least a portion of my opinion after writing over a thousand words about them. Some of these include “Suicide Squad,” “Blade Runner 2049,” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” If I were to rewrite my reviews for all of these films, I would add in certain points, redo points that I feel have changed, and perhaps alter the final score. But I am not going to talk about any of these films today. Instead, I am going to be reflecting on a movie I reviewed over the winter that has sort of met the same fate. While my opinions for “Blade Runner 2049” have only changed slightly, this post is about a movie I would claim has gone through a seismic shift kind of like “Suicide Squad.”
That movie by the way, is “Belle” directed by Mamoru Hosoda.
To sum up what has been going on in my life recently, this movie has taken up over ten hours of my screen time alone. Why? Because since its official Blu-ray release, I watched it for five nights in a row. I did watch other movies in addition to this one during the week, specifically “The Graduate,” which was utterly fantastic. Highly recommended. “Rampage,” which is… Well, it is what it is. And I also watched “Friends with Benefits” for the first time, which I thought was humorous and delightful. I watched “Belle” every night for five nights since I bought it on Blu-ray on Tuesday, May 17th. Why did I not watch it for six nights in a row? Because I was going on a short getaway on what could have been the sixth night, and I did not pack the movie to watch in my hotel room. I was more focused on possibly giving my money to Connecticut casinos more than anything else. Since getting back, I watched it two more nights in a row. That said, I cannot recall the last time I have bought a film on Blu-ray and watched it at this constant of a level. Naturally, I have no choice but to talk about it.
I want to make something clear, to say I have a working knowledge of Japanese anime would be like saying that since I am from Boston, I therefore consider the New York Yankees to be my favorite baseball team. “Belle” is one of the couple movies within the Japanese anime medium that I have fully watched. The other one that comes to mind is “Ghost in the Shell.” I believe I also remember seeing “Howl’s Moving Castle” somewhere around a decade ago. That was before I knew what anime happened to be by definition. And I will be real with you, even though I did not mind “Ghost in the Shell,” which I first watched at the age of 17, it did not emit a spark inside me to explore more of what anime has to offer. “Belle” on the other hand, did so dramatically. Although after I watched “Belle” for the first time, I did start watching Adult Swim’s “Blade Runner: Black Lotus,” which technically is an anime series. So since I watched “Belle,” I have gone a tad deeper into the genre, but after many countless revisits to the film “Belle,” I want more anime in my life. With that said, I want to talk about why “Belle” means so much to me as someone who has spent over half of their life on the Internet, including a portion where social media has practically taken over my life in more ways than one. I will let you know, while this is not a full spoiler discussion, I am going to do my best to not ruin the whole the movie, there will be points where I do dive deep into key characters or plot points. So if that is a problem, leave this post now, go watch “Belle,” and come back when you are done. I will be waiting. That said, let’s dive into the many reasons why I cannot stop watching “Belle.”
A MATURE REINVENTION
When I originally reviewed “Belle” for this blog, I compared it to “Beauty and the Beast” because first off, the title character is literally named Belle, well, kind of. Also, much of the movie revolves around her connection to someone who is literally referred to as a Beast. If that is not enough, there is a scene in the film that is not a complete ripoff, but heavily pays homage to Disney’s 1991 “Beauty and the Beast,” which Hosoda himself claims to adore, as the two recently mentioned characters come together in a scene where they slow dance and embrace each other in a large castle. My other claim I made during my review is that this film could potentially become less of a timeless piece than others because of how reminiscent it is of the “Beauty and the Beast” tale. Knowing what I know about “Belle,” the story threads are not quite one in the same. There are some similarities, especially in the one scene where Belle and the Beast dance together, but “Belle” is its own thing. “Beauty and the Beast,” at its core, is more of a love tale than anything else. “Belle” is a mix of cyberpunk, drama, and adventure.
I often talk about the animation genre and how much I appreciate when it understands what I consider to be the assignment. Because a lot of animations are made for kids, and obviously there is content out there that you can tell is specifically made for children, not for adults at all. There is content that is obviously made with the intention of educating kids. This has been revealed with television content like “Dora the Explorer.” But at the same time, there have been multiple instances where we get movies that are meant to give families an excuse to entertain their kids, but not the adults bringing the kids. This is what Pixar has evidently understood with every one of their movies. They do not treat them as children’s fare. There’s a difference between a film that kids can enjoy, and a film that families can enjoy. Even with a more ridiculous script like “Cars 2” or an occasional fart joke from movies like “Incredibles 2,” those movies are ones I continue to watch as an adult because it understands that if the movie is purely made to entertain kids, then it does not have staying power. “Inside Out” is a movie that I think could entertain children if you sat them in front of the television, but as an adult, I am watching the movie and feeling an appreciation for how it handles emotions and growth during adolescence. These are themes and ideas that can connect to anyone from a variety of backgrounds, ages, and life stories.
“Belle,” much like the many Pixar movies I have watched over the years, refuses to treat its audience like they are idiots. In fact, I think in some cases, it tries even harder to avoid doing so. There’s no corny humor, you have incredibly humanized and relatable storylines, and there are also scenes that feel more like they are out of a live-action script than an animated script. There is one moment in a train station where a few characters meet and there are these long pauses between lines that give the audience a moment to breathe, while also letting the characters think for themselves. I occasionally watch Animation Domination cartoons like “Bob’s Burgers” and “Family Guy” and often notice that in their scripts, everything is mile a minute, which can work by keeping the audience on their toes, but it also destroys hints of realism. Granted, it is an animation, which by definition, should be less realistic than live-action, but I also think that sometimes even in animations, you should have some degree of verisimilitude to remind your audience that your world has rules. Not everything has to be within the confines of Murphy’s Law.
A HILARLIOUSLY ACCURATE LOOK AT THE INTERNET, CELEBRITY INFLUENCERS, AND FAN CULTURE
I honestly think “Belle” could not have come out at a better time when it did. The Internet and social media are still young, so who knows how things will turn out in a hundred years, but “Belle” seems to paint an attractive picture of what those two things could look like, while also inserting satire on our modern Internet behavior. Granted, this movie is on the family friendly side, therefore it never dives into concepts like pornography or the darker sides of dating sites like Tinder, although romance is prominent in the film, coincidentally. But I found much of “Belle’s” script unapologetically reflective of how the Internet tends to work. If anything, it is a bang on the money encapsulation of what could equate to cancel culture. Case and point, Peggie Sue.
The role Peggie Sue plays in “Belle” is minimal, but effective and important in every single way. We get our first glimpse of her when the main protagonist, Suzu, has a hesitancy to sing at a party, despite being pressured by her peers. The party space is accompanied with a flat screen television complete with Peggie Sue singing a pop song, perhaps in the form of an expensive music video or a concert. This happens before Suzu enters U and to her surprise, belts out a song with fluency and power. When Suzu, or in this case, her avatar, becomes increasingly noticed by U’s userbase, Peggie Sue herself acknowledges this and does not see anything special in the rising star. At one point, she lashes out against Belle’s popularity on a giant screen, which instantly receives tons of backlash and practically gets her cancelled. There are definitely more dangerous things she could have said. She could have mocked a disability. She could have announced she was giving money to a hate group. She could have said the n-word. But even so, this movie presents an example of the classic “think before you post” scenario, which I think many users, including myself, have probably run into at one point or another through our times on the Internet. Whether we did it ourselves, we observed such an action through someone we know, or some celebrity. But at the same time, this movie tells its audience that even if you say stupid things, it does not mean you cannot be redeemed. You can still be a decent person. There is a scene at the end of the film involving said character where we reveal more about her that brings her down to Earth where such a thing comes into play. It reminds us that we are human and we can take our mistakes and turn them around, learn from them essentially. And if you learn more about someone, sometimes it will get you to understand them, possibly admire them.
Peggie Sue is not the only prominent voice speaking out against Suzu as she rises, because when she starts singing and getting all these followers, we see that she makes a splash. It looks like Suzu, or her avatar, Bell, which is what Suzu means in English, has all the support and fans she could want. But as soon as we are done hearing all the positive feedback, Sue lets her negative thoughts out to the world, therefore spawning even more negative thoughts from ordinary people. They either do not like her voice, they think the songs are lackluster, or she is simply performing for the likes. In a case like this, it takes one higher power to build a following.
FORESEEABLE LOOK AT THE FUTURE, WHILE ALSO FOCUSING ON THE PRESENT
Speaking of Suzu, the main journey of “Belle” is Suzu’s dive into U, which I claim is a sexier version of what Meta is trying to achieve. If anything, it’s like the OASIS from “Ready Player One,” but without extreme emphasis on currency and less reliance on preexisting properties from “Batman” to “Halo.” The world of U is much different from our reality given how it is more colorful, physics are almost ignored altogether, and as the movie reveals, the platform’s trademark is that it reveals a hidden strength of each user. In the beginning of the film, we see that despite Suzu having a history with music, she sometimes struggles when it comes to singing. So of course, when we see Belle enter U, the first thing she does is, to her shock, utter the lyrics of “Gales of Song,” one of the film’s few enchanting originals. We will dive more into those in a second. Suzu’s U debut, as previously mentioned, is met with mixed reception upon first glance, half of the people passing by like her. Half do not. But this is also reflective of several music artists of today where their haters are just as prominent as their fans. You may notice this with artists like Justin Bieber or Kanye West. This also brings up a positive message when Suzu notices she has an influx of followers. When Suzu’s friend, Hiroka Betsuyaku, or Hiro for short, the one who suggested that she should join U in the first place, reminds Suzu that a good portion of the millions of people who have seen her through the platform admire her, she should not forget that. She should not let the hate, trolling, and doubt get to her.
What I love about this movie so much is that in today’s mixed Internet culture, “Belle” is a movie that reminds its audience that the Internet, despite its occasional thorns, can also be a rose of positivity. The Internet has helped me in various ways by letting me discover that I am not alone with some of my weird hobbies like riding elevators. Social media has spawned some of my best companionships. I even met a couple of friends I made on social media in real life, either through chance or by arrangement. I have gained valuable friendships through my time in high school, but I feel like my friendships through social media have helped me define who I am today more than almost any other friendship I have experienced.
Despite taking place in what I would assume happens to be present day, “Belle” also spawns a ton of questions about social media’s future, because it is revealed that in the world of U, you cannot have more than one avatar. You can alter your avatar as we notice Belle wears different outfits at various points of the story, but that avatar is the only one you have. I have gone on YouTube and noticed some people have more than one account, or sometimes on sites like Twitter, people will create different accounts for different aspects of their personality. Will we be seeing less of that if we get closer to U being a reality? That is a thought provoking question if you ask me. This film also reveals that there is still a culture of trolling on the Internet, with the Dragon and Peggie Sue being a couple of the film’s examples if you will. But one thing the film never dives into all that much is bots. The closest thing I can note that U has to bots is the Dragon’s AIs, but that’s about it. My question is, how “bot-proof” is U? Even when there are trolls in U, there is often a soul behind the one doing the trolling. Although there is probably a good reason why bots never appear in U, because the idea of U involves the user immersing themselves by activating a specific device that is meant to project themselves into U, and I am not just talking about their phone. Every U user attaches buds to their ears, bringing them into the digital landscape as their respective avatar. This is done through body-sharing technology, where the user’s biometric information is interlinked with their avatar. And while there are reflective physical traits that are represented in Suzu’s avatar, most specifically freckles, the U platform tends to provide an enhancement, a level up if you will, of one’s mentality, outlook, or experiences. In Suzu’s case, she lost her mom at a young age, which is a fraction of why she is a shadow amongst her peers. In addition, her singing skills are not up to the par she would prefer. This is why she has increased confidence and singing abilities upon entering U.
COMPELLING, POWERFUL ORIGINAL SONGS
And when you have a film like this that heavily revolves around music, chances are that the songs have to be good, otherwise the film would not be as convincing or effective. “Belle” has a few originals, all of which have their own style. The film’s main theme, U, has an incredibly poppy, upbeat, and sexy feel to it to the point where it belongs on a top 40 playlist, but feels different enough that it is not annoying. It is the kind of song you would want to hear when walking into a large nightclub. It is a perfect main theme for the film because it basically just says, “Come join U! We’re all happy here and everyone is having a good time!” It also shows how one platform can change your life in an instant. Much like how Suzu has gone from a nobody to a U diva, we have seen tons of unexpected personalities on platforms like YouTube or TikTok over the years.
“So, linе up, the party’s over here
Come one, come all, jump into the fire
Step up, we are whatever we wanna be
We are free, that’s all we desire
When you pass through the veil of fantasy
There’s a world with a rhythm for you and me.”
At the same time though, it is a perfect metaphor for the Internet itself. There is a lyric in the song, specifically “I wanna know who you are, I wanna know it all,” which is not only reflective of the developed mystery behind Belle’s identity, but it reminds me of many of my relationships on the Internet. I feel like through the Internet I get to know a certain version of a person, but I would secretly love to meet them in real life to get to know the real them.
When Suzu enters U, she first sings a piece titled Gales of Song, which compared to the film’s previously mentioned main theme, perhaps relies significantly less on lyrics. Gales of Song is perfectly executed when first introduced because it is simple enough, and has enough pauses to allow Suzu to adapt to her avatar. It is like when you get inside a car for the first time and you are learning how to drive. It takes Suzu a second to understand all the mechanics, but when she starts getting the hang of things, that is when she gets increased attention from U’s userbase, both positive and negative. Lend Me Your Voice is a song that could have gone wrong because of how the scene it links to sort of pays homage to Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” but the orchestral power of the song hits hard, and the lyrics are occasionally on the verge of heart-wrenching. And speaking of heart-wrenching, don’t even get me started on the film’s longest and perhaps most important song, A Million Miles Away, which I previously awarded the Jackoff for Best Original Song during this year’s ceremony. To this day, it is one of the only songs I have heard to make me wipe tears from my face because when you watch the movie, it is THAT powerful.
That last song goes to show this film’s power of silence, because some of its best moments are simply when there is little to no dialogue, we are just watching people doing things. When we first see Suzu and her mother early on in the film, there is this wonderfully edited montage of the two doing things together, which shows Suzu developing a knack for music. There is no spoken dialogue, just a soft variant of A Million Miles Away. I even go back to the moments where characters have specific pauses while talking, allowing for some genuine lifelike reactions. The scene in the train station with a few core characters, Suzu included, comes to mind. But even within these lifelike reactions, we see some heightened emotions or cues that allow animation to shine. I will not go into much detail, but this movie is not short on blushed cheeks or visible tears.
And I am constantly talking about the film’s lyrical songs for good reason, but I should also note that the official score for “Belle” contains one of the best utilizations of stringed instruments I have EVER heard.
STUNNING CINEMATOGRAPHY, ANIMATION
Technically speaking, “Belle” is literally what the name means, beautiful. Many of the film’s wides are ingrained in my memory. The world of U is a place I could imagine myself diving into in the future. Belle’s outfits in U are astoundingly eye-popping. As depressing as the real world may be in comparison, this film has some gorgeously drawn locations. It kind of makes me want to travel to rural Japan to see what it is actually like. My favorite shot in the film however, if not one of my favorite shots, is probably set in U, when we see a closeup of Suzu singing A Million Miles Away, staring into the distance when her surroundings turn dark. It is the simplest shot of all time, but for some reason, Suzu’s concentration on what lies ahead is evident. My reason for liking this shot is potentially because of a certain context, but as much as I may be revealing about this film, there are some things I would rather keep hidden, such as moments of the scene where said shot takes place.
To me, one of the most visible reasons why I adore “Belle” so much is the same basis behind why I loved another recent film, “CODA,” from the moment I saw it. They are two completely different films by several means, and in various ways, their protagonists are significantly unalike. For example, Suzu doesn’t have any deaf family members or friends, as far as we know. And “CODA’s” protagonist, Ruby Rossi, still communicates with her parents on a regular basis. Her mother is still alive, and even though the movie shows some occasional resistance between her parental relationships, Ruby has a steady connection with her father. “Belle” is a movie that allows its main hero to show off what makes them ordinary, and therefore have that mundaneness make them extraordinary. This is especially true in the climax of the film when Suzu sings A Million Miles Away. We learn more about what this song is, and that added dose made the scene go from great to… not to continue the overuse of this word, cinema. Simultaneously, Suzu has millions of followers on U, she barely talks to her dad anymore, and she spends several scenes with a talking dragon. There are some definite differences between the two protagonists, but at the end of the day, Suzu’s normality, what makes her human, what makes Suzu, quite literally Suzu, allows her to persevere later in the film’s runtime. This also highlights a notable trait about the Internet. And this trait is especially true when it comes to the Beast, as many characters have questions about his identity. That trait being how not everyone really knows who you are on the Internet. We constantly build these images of people and what we think they are like. Maybe they are incredibly wealthy. Maybe they are a predator. Maybe they are younger than they advertise themselves to be. We do not know everything about everyone. This is why sometimes I may do research on certain people before talking to them, or if there is a public figure on social media, I make an effort to ensure that they are verified.
Some of my favorite movies in recent years have been animated, because despite their otherworldly nature, they have an attractive down to earth element that sometimes is not as effective in live-action. If we are not talking about “Belle,” the most effective example that comes to mind is “Over the Moon,” which is currently on Netflix. The reason why I found that movie down to earth despite mostly taking place in space is because it is a movie I think my 13, 14, 15-year-old self would have needed to watch at those specific ages. Because I was going through a tough time where my parents were no longer in love, and there were specific story elements or beats that reminded me of that time and felt completely relatable. In the same way, maybe not as much, but nevertheless, I think “Belle” is a movie I would have shown to my 15, 16-year-old self, because I was new to social media at the time. I had an idea of how it worked, but I did not realize how addicted I may have been to it. Sure, there were many positives to it like meeting new people, finding new friends, joining a community. But I also did not realize how much I cared about followers. I cared more than I should have. I thought I was cool when in reality I may have just been desperate for attention. And I am not saying that it is a bad thing to have tons of followers, but I feel like this movie could have been a reminder to myself that maybe I should not have tried as hard to worry about getting followers. It’s like the famous quote in “Field of Dreams,” “If you build it, they will come.” In the same way, Suzu started out as a nobody, and one unexpected turn of events turned her into a somebody, even if that somebody was an alternate version of her.
I think “Belle” is a film that paints a picture of the Internet and shows its strengths. Because by the end of the film, it allows people to come together in a way that delivers a positive impact. It shows how the Internet can change people’s lives and make them better despite some occasional toxicity on a number of sides.
POSSIBLE IMPERFECTIONS WITHIN A FLAWED MASTERPIECE
I think if there are any flaws with “Belle,” it would be three things, but they do not affect my overall enjoyment of the film. There are such things as flawed masterpieces. “Risky Business” is one of my favorite films of all time, but I will tell you that the last scene feels incredibly out of place. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is one of my favorite science fiction films of the past decade, but even I will admit that the film owes its success to the original installment it tends to copy. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is one of the most beautifully violent, outrageously balls to the wall movies I have ever watched, but you could quite literally remove Margot Robbie’s character from the script and have little to no affect on the overall plot. That said, let’s dive into my few issues with “Belle,” if you want to call them that. Because in some cases, I also claim they do not bother me that much.
The first issue I have is specifically with the English dub. I do not speak Japanese, but it sounded fine on the Japanese version. When I watched this film at home a few times in English, there was one key line from Justin, or Justian if you watched the Japanese version, it sounded incredibly important, but much of what he said was muffled over all of the music. It was GREAT music, but nevertheless. Who directed this scene? Christopher Nolan?! For all I know, it could be my television, but the sound on it has been pretty good by itself over the years without any external speakers or sound bars, so who knows? The second flaw, and this is perhaps a more important issue that could also be seen as a strength, I think the relationship between Suzu and her father was kind of surface level. Not much was shown to reveal their distance. I think it almost makes me forget sometimes that they are drift apart, mainly because it is such a small part of this two hour movie. But at the same time, you could make an argument that such a thing was kind of the point. The movie wants you to realize that these two individuals barely talk to each other despite living together. And in a way, the movie successfully did that. So that is a tossup. The other, flaw, if you will, is not something that bothered me specifically, but I could see it bothering other people. Not that I have seen anyone bringing it up. There is a character in the film by the name of Shinobu, and despite his best intentions, there are a couple scenes where his connection to Suzu could come off as maybe closer than it should. From his eyes, he kind of sees himself as someone who tries to protect Suzu. This is something he has done for her since her mom died. It’s a friendly gesture, but it could also be overprotective. In a way, since Suzu’s mom died, Shinobu filled said mother’s shoes from time to time. The movie does address this though, and it shows that Suzu realizes this and at one point refuses to let this get in her way. So I would not consider it a big deal, but having seen one or two moments in the film, I could see certain viewers having a particular perception of Shinobu’s character or his connection to Suzu that maybe I did not. The movie is bound to age well if you ask me despite its influence from “Beauty and the Beast,” but I will remind you, this film is not a ripoff of a classic tale, if anything it is a reinvention. It is not a love story, it is a cautionary human drama that warns its viewers to be careful in regard to what they see, do, and say on the Internet. Or in some cases, in real life.
I highly recommend “Belle” to almost anyone, and I kind of mean that because anime was never my genre. I have a history of enjoying animated content, but not much from Japan. Now that I have seen this movie, it has opened my eyes to more of what Japan has to offer, including Mamoru Hosoda’s library, which I hear is incredible. I want to go ahead and check out some of his other movies. This is one of the few animated movies I have seen that I feel like is specifically not made for children. I think kids should watch it if the chance comes around, I think it is an important movie that everyone should watch at least one point in their life, especially now with the Metaverse expanding more than ever. The songs are catchy, well-written, and obnoxiously powerful. I do not often cry during movies, but the scene with A Million Miles Away is a literal tearjerker, so if you cry during movies, prepare yourself. I said that this is not a redo of my review, but if it were, I would be giving the movie a 10/10, because each time I watch the film, the more I realize I like it. I have gotten completely attached to Suzu as a character even though we have our differences. She is a perfect protagonist for this world, and this movie took her in a direction that enhanced its lesson to the audience. Just because someone is popular, it does not mean that they are a narcissist. It does not mean that they are the kind of person some would make them out to be. Heck, I did not even talk about Ruka in this post and that is a whole other topic I could have gotten into. And instead of explaining everything about Ruka, I will let you see for yourself. Because “Belle” is now available on various home video formats including DVD and Blu-ray, if you have not gotten a chance to watch “Belle,” find a chance as soon as possible, because it is worth your time. It is one of my favorite animated movies, and with enough rewatches, it could potentially be in the conversation for one of my favorite movies period.
Thanks for reading this post! If you like this post, be sure to check out some of my other ones, including several of my reviews. One of my reviews is for the new Nicolas Cage film, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” or you could even read my most recent review, which is for “The Bob’s Burgers Movie,” which is officially in theaters as of this weekend. If you want to see more non-review posts, please check out my response to movie theaters, and why I think they should play fewer trailers before the feature presentation. To find out my first impression of “Belle,” you can read my review that I posted in January! Hope you like it! If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account, also check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, like I asked in my review, did you see “Belle?” What did you think about it? Also, I want to ask a question for the anime fans reading this, because I want to dive further into the genre. What anime products do you recommend? Let me know, because I am always looking for suggestions! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!