Movie Review: Belle (2021)

This movie is a Japanese release but has both English and Japanese audio versions currently in theaters. I saw the Japanese language, English subbed version.

4/5 + 💿 (Rating criteria at bottom)

This review may contain spoilers.

Movie Content Advisory: Abuse of children, parental death.

It’s a tale as old as time, with a twist.

Belle is a new take on the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, but with more heart and technology at work, than magic and fairies. The main character Suzu is clearly lost, detached from her father, and avoidant of many of the people around her.

An invitation into the virtual reality world “U” catapults Suzu into a new life as a unique character called Belle who emerges into the virtual world singing.

Torn between her rising celebrity in “U” and her quiet life in the real world Belle finds herself entangled with The Dragon, a vicious and powerful fighter who eludes the authorities eager to unmask him.

Belle is clearly and unashamedly inspired by Disney’s Beauty and the Beast but while there are plenty of familiar features of the story to look at there are also differences that take it from an adaptation to an almost wholly original story. This is an adaptation done right, bringing the oft singular dimensional character of Belle into her own. This is genuinely a story about Belle, not just her relationship with the Beast, something that I have been keen to see in more movies.

I loved the type of virtual reality technology used in this movie. People enter this world with an app on their phones and a set of earbuds that scans and interfaces with their biometric data. This take on the tech comes off as more romantic than the edgier sibling with exposed wires and cables. It pulls the focus away from the harsh technological aspect of virtual reality and softens it into something that feels magical. The transitions between the virtual and real are seamless and painless.

While a story of Beauty and the Beast on the surface, this is really a story of identity, of belonging, of finding yourself. Belle does not shy away from the fallout of abuse and grief but leans in. As a result of the care and compassion the storytellers had for these characters, the resolution of the story is a master class in cathartic storytelling.

I cried with the climax of the story, I didn’t expect to come out of the movie with my heart opened to these characters and their plight, but it felt like I was parched before and given a satisfying glass of water at the end and the best part it all felt so earned!

The music alone is so well written and beautiful, I’ve already listened to it a couple times through, both the lyrical and instrumental stuff. Usually, I have more to say about the music in a movie, but this soundtrack is so seamless. It fits in with the vibe of everything around it. Never does it feel out of place or unnecessary, even the lyrical songs which take it into the “musical” realm of movies. I applaud these creators for their finesse and gentle hand.

I’ve been a fan of this studio since they released The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and they’ve earned another token of trust with this movie. Overall I am so pleased with this movie, I would watch this movie multiple times if the opportunities arise and I will definitely be buying the physical movie when it’s available.

The Japanese version does have a couple issues where the story is a little disjointed but I think it’s safe to chalk that up to translation and cultural understanding limitations. I plan on watching the English version sooner rather than later, so it will be interesting to see how the particular context losses are handled.

Thanks for reading! See you next time! ♥



Rating criteria

0 – Refuse to watch again

1 – Might watch again (under duress)

2 – I could stand to see it again (neither here nor there about it)

3 – I would be happy to watch it again! Might even seek it out on purpose.

4 – I will watch it again, multiple times, before the year is out.

5 – I will watch it multiple times and attempt to coerce my friends (and random strangers) into seeing it too.

+ 💿 if I plan to buy the physical media.

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