Mamoru Hosoda's 'Belle' Is a Gorgeous Fairy Tale for the Digital Age

The director of 'Summer Wars' and 'Mirai' turns the 'Beauty and the Beast' story inside-out.

Studio Chizu
Studio Chizu
Studio Chizu

Mamoru Hosoda is the type of director whose new releases you pay attention to. His eye for detail and completely boundless imagination have created worlds and futures that are dreamlike in their colorful intensity and twisty internal logic, from the time-travel extravaganzas The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Oscar-nominated Mirai, fabulist folktale Wolf Children, and the Neuromancer-esque digital battles of Summer Wars. His newest, Belle-a stunningly animated retelling of the “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale with a virtual-reality twist-received a 14-minute standing ovation after its premiere at last year’s Cannes film festival, and is finally in US theaters and IMAX starting this weekend.

Suzu Naito is a lonely schoolgirl in a small rural Japanese town, who hasn’t sung since her mother died saving someone else when Suzu was a young girl. But inside the virtual world of U, Suzu goes by a beautiful and striking pink-haired alter ego she names Belle, and through Belle, Suzu is able to sing again. When her performance becomes a viral sensation, the world is obsessed with finding out who Belle could be in real life, but no one comes close. Things take a turn when Belle, during a performance, encounters the Dragon, a beastly figure that terrorizes the world of U and flees from the virtual police force bent on exposing his identity and banning him from the platform. But Suzu sees something different in the Dragon, a deeper pain that she also recognizes within herself, and tries to convince him to show her his true self. If you think by now you know where this story is going, you don’t.More than a fairy-tale retelling, Belle is also a fascinating exploration of how we move through the modern age’s dual realities, the digital and the real. When a user logs on to U, their avatar is created using their own genetic information, the way our own digital selves include clues to who we are on the other side of the screen. As Belle, Suzu’s freckles, otherwise an imperfection, become her trademark. The pain the Dragon feels in the real world shows up on his back in the form of technicolor bruises. There is an obsession with finding out the true identities of people on the internet, yet also a desire for them to keep up the mask, both a superpower and a defense mechanism.

It’s also a musical, with the jaw-droppingly gorgeous animation necessary to compete with the movie’s many booming pop earworms. The scenes that take place in Suzu’s real life, where she obsesses over a handsome classmate and gets help from her bespectacled tech-savvy best friend, are animated by Studio Chizu, which Hosoda has worked with on his past four films, while the Western Disney-fied style of the world of U is partially the work of veteran Disney animator Jin Kim and Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon, of The Secret of Kells and Wolfwalkers. It also boasts a fun group of voice actors: Hunter Schafer, Manny Jacinto, and Chace Crawford all lend their voices to the English dub. 

This being a Hosoda project, you can never quite predict where the story is going to go, and though Belle treads familiar ground, its final twist-rather, a whole series of them-goes to places you’ll never expect. Just as the movie introduces its own “metaverse,” where, instead of VR Walmarts, there are singers throwing parades while riding on the back of a giant whale, its central love story explores new conceptions of what a love story can be. Instead of the endgame, love is the tool through which both characters move through their own traumas and save each other from giving in to despair.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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