“Don’t talk to your master like that!” yells Kumatetsu as he chases Ren. Ren responds, “Then start acting more like a master.” Kumatetsu replies, “What?!”
Acclaimed Japanese animation director Mamoru Hosoda has been building a strong body of work in just a little over a decade. His actual feature-length directorial debut was 2005’s One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island and was immediately followed by 2006’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. He then followed that up with 2009’s Summer Wars and 2012’s Wolf Children. All were critically acclaimed, as was his next feature, The Boy and the Beast, which was a big box office hit in Japan. Funimation Films distributed the film in the U.S., and they actually gave it a limited theatrical release (as opposed to the limited evening special screenings they’ve done in the last couple of years for such films as Dragon Ball Z: Battle of the Gods, Ghost In the Shell: The New Movie, Psycho-Pass: The Movie, Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’, The Empire of Corpses, and Harmony). I saw the English language version of Hosoda’s The Boy and the Beast a few months ago, and it was one of the best animated films I’ve seen in the last few years.
2015’s The Boy and the Beast follows a young human boy who, after the recent death of his mother, discovers the realm of the Beast Kingdom and becomes a pupil of Kumatetsu, a martial artist who is one of two candidates to succeed the Beast Lord. An excellent voice cast was brought together for the English language dub: John Swasey (as Kumatetsu), Luci Christian (as the young Ren/Kyuta), Eric Vale (as the teenage Ren/Kyuta), Bryn Apprill (as Kaede), Ian Sinclair (as Tatara), Sean Hennigan (as Iozen), Alex Organ (as Hyakushubo), Steve Powell (as Soshi), Morgan Berry (as young Ichirohiko), Austin Tindle (as teenage Ichirohiko), Brittney Karbowski (as young Jiromaru), Josh Grelle (as teenage Jiromaru), Monica Rial (as Chiko), Chuck Huber (as Ren’s father), and Jessica Cavanagh (as Ren’s mother). The chemistry between Swasey and Christian (and eventually Swasey and Vale) is strong as master and pupil. They convey extreme stubborness, loneliness, and, as Kumatetsu and Ren slowly start to bond, respect for one another as well as achieve a level of discipline they could not have achieved without each other.
The screenplay by Hosoda explores themes of family (both literal and surrogate), loss, and the balance between love and hate while presenting an engaging coming of age tale filled with gripping action (and some humor). The fight sequences are well-staged (my favorite was the big showdown to become the new Beast Lord in the third act). There also seem to be some elements reminiscient of Disney’s 1967 animated version of The Jungle Book. The animation is beautifully rendered, and the production design by Yoichi Nishikawa, Takashi Ohmori, and Yohei Takamatsu is superb (I loved the contrast between the visually rich Beast Kingdom and modern Tokyo). Masakatsu Takagi delivers an exciting score that highlights both dramatic and comedic moments. Hosoda’s The Boy and the Beast is a thrilling, animated fantasy film filled with action and family drama, and is another strong addition to Hosoda’s filmography.