Director Mamoru Hosoda has worked on a plethora of Japanese anime films, from The Girl Who Lept Through Time to Summer Wars. Both of these films have earned the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the year, though Western audiences will know him best for his Academy Award nomination at the 91st academy awards for the animated adventure fantasy Mirai. This year, Mamoru Hosoda‘s modernized retelling of the French tale Beauty and the Beast, titled Belle, is expected to generate some awards buzz.
We sat down with him to discuss what the film means to him, and how Belle‘s modernized setting created unique challenges for the production team.
Read the full, transcribed interview below.
Benjamin Wiebe: So good to meet you Mamoru Hosoda. So to start things off, what does Belle Mean to You?
Mamoru Hosoda: I’m sure most people are familiar with the Beauty and the Beast story, and Belle of course is the Beauty from Beauty and the Beast. And as for the film, Belle the movie of course is inspired by the 18th century classical French Literature, the original Beauty and the Beast. And I wanted to update it and kinda think about what it meant in a more modern-day text and backdrop.
BW: So much of the modern era permeates this film, with themes of public persona and the role of technology in a shrinking world. What draws you to those themes?
MH: From the original Beauty and the Beast, I found myself quite attracted to the Beast character, because in that work he had this duality between a very violent exterior and a very kind heart on the inside. And I thought about this duality, and nowadays, we see ourselves. There’s the present, or the reality in which we exist and occupy and also this projection of ourselves which we have on the internet, which is very much another reality. And there was an interesting comparison that could be done between the classical literature version of it and how we see these multiple versions of ourselves in the present-day with the internet.
BW: That’s super cool. Translating that from a story idea to an animated film, what inspired you to have differing animation styles between the real world and the online world of U?
MH: For Belle, we actually have two different animation styles in the movie. For anything that occurred in the so-called real life or reality, it was done with hand-drawn 2D animation. And anything that took place inside the internet, or virtual world, was done using CG, computer-generated graphics. And I want to say that there aren’t many movies, or there might not be any others, that on a conceptual level differentiate the animation styles or methods as Belle has done. So it’s usually either all CG or 2D hand-drawn animation, or the mixture is not quite as distinct as we have done. So I thought that was a very appropriate decision for a means of animating the movie because it’s in line with the theme of the movie. I do believe that we are living in two different worlds, and you can see that distinction on a conceptual level through the 2D vs. 3D animation. And I think there’s this movement right now, among CG animators and artists around the world where they are trying to find a new style of shading or a new visual expression. At one point, I think that CG animation veered toward a similar style of shading and rendering that’s popularized by a lot of American studios. But now, I get the sense that a lot of artists and studios are trying to explore into other styles and visual expressions. For example, Spiderverse had a very unique look and touch to it, even though it was in CG. The same occurred with Netflix’s Arcane, which had a very unique look to it. So people are using CG and exploring different tones, different ways to tell stories visually.
BW: What did you learn from this project? What did Belle teach you?
MH: I think it’s interesting to adapt classical literature or a lot of classical narratives because there is a lot that you can draw and learn about your modern world and society. I think that there is something to be learned and something that this can teach you through the process. And if you look at the 18th-century version, you can see that there is a lot of freedoms and restrictions that people did not have at the time. And thinking about how has that changed over the course of many years and how does that apply to each society and each era. So Beauty and the Beast has been adapted a few times. There’s a version in 1946 by Jean Cocteau, and that of course had more to add to this classical narrative. And of course, there’s Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which I had seen after graduating college and when I was entering the animation industry. It really showed what the version of the modern woman looked like. And it has been 30 years since Disney’s version and so I got to thinking about what Beauty means to our current era. What does it mean to sacrifice yourself or something to benefit someone else? What has changed over the course of the last 200 years and what hasn’t? To observe that and see how it applies to our different societies, is a type of thinking that really teaches you, and perhaps the audience, some things I hope people have some kind of interest in, and I hope they are able to gain something from it themselves.
BW: How much input did you have in the creation of the music? What was your vision for the musical numbers when writing the film? Music is so central to the story that I can’t imagine not hearing it. The opening number “U” is contagious and I am curious how it changed through the phases of creating Belle?
MH: In the internet world of Belle, of course, the protagonist is this massive songstress in the world of U, so music is definitely a very key component of the movie. We have this very shy, introverted girl who has a projection of herself inside this massive, online world, and through Belle, she’s able to release that energy that she can’t release in her current present reality, the town. The music itself was composed by 4 different composers throughout the movie; 3 Japanese, 1 Swedish. And the song you specifically called out, “U”, was really important for us to nail. Here we have this massive world that has five billion online users that sign into it, and we had to draw in the audience and grab their hearts with this huge impact at the start of the movie. So we had to retry many times, we had a lot of feedback cycles and we went through many versions of this song before we got it. I think one key difference with regards to the music production process is that I understand oftentimes in the US music is composed simultaneously with the story or storyboarding process. But in Japan, music and audio-related stuff comes at the very end. So I actually had to finish the storyboard with no music, and once the storyboard was complete, the composers were able to look at what I imagined and then they started composing the music. So in the end I think it made for a very good kind of synergy, but it’s definitely a different process from how it’s done in the US as I understand.
BW: fantastic. Thank you so much for your time, this was a pleasure.
MH: Thank you very much!
Belle is playing in select theaters this week.