Blu-ray Review: Belle

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Over the last year you’ve probably been overwhelmed with Facebook’s push to get you hyped up about Virtual Reality. The creepy CEO rebranded the company Meta and won’t shut up about the Metaverse. He wants us to get rid of our real laptops and desktops with their screens and embrace wearing his Oculus goggles and exist in a world of pixels. I’m not a hater of VR. I’ve created two VR projects including PreCog360 which lets you get a guided 360 tour of downtown Raleigh (just press an arrow and experience the block: ) . There is plenty to be excited about in the new frontier. Yet when Meta does a demo, it’s a disturbing vision of a mundane future. Who wants a virtual work meeting when you can barely tolerate them on Zoom? And who wants the virtual world version of Facebook since it’s the website most responsible for telling people you’ve known for decades that you no longer want to know anything about them. Social media has a wonderful way of making us anti-social. Belle is delves into the future of virtual social media that has both the fantastical and realistic elements of what truly awaits us when we plug into the cyber controlled universe.

Suzu (Kaho Nakamura/Kylie McNeill) is a shy and troubled schoolgirl. She wasn’t always this way. But a bad situation involving her mother caused her to become sullen. She no longer sang or wrote songs in the wake of the incident. She only has only a few friends at school and very little social life. Her friend Hiro gets her to sign up for a virtual metaverse known as “U.” Part of what makes this VR world popular is that instead of picking an avatar and assuming a secret identity, the computer uses a bio scan to determine what you are fully capable of being and creates a character around those elements. For Suzu, she becomes Bell, a woman with pink hair and a beautiful singing voice. She can sing again in the virtual city. She quickly becomes popular. She also brings out the haters because on the internet, the haters come out fast no matter what you’re doing. This doesn’t do her fragile psyche well, but her close friend tells her to focus on the good response. She keeps on performing and getting big enough that fans call her Belle since it’s fancier. One of her concerts gets ruined by a melee with The Dragon. It’s not a cyber world without a form of moral combat popping up. She gets curious about this fighter who is equally as popular as her Belle. What is real identity? Belle also lives with the fear that her real identity will be exposed by others and she can’t be the shy Suzu at school.

Belle gets deep in the internet world. The idea that someone can become a major star without anyone knowing their real identity has been true since the first time someone logged onto a Bulletin Board. How many people with mysterious Twitter handles fear their real name and address will end up posted on the internet? Think of all the insane messages you get by people with fake names. Writer/director Mamoru Hosoda (Wolf Children) hits the right notes on the elation and fear that can happen when something you do on the internet gains traction.

Hosoda’s concept for VR is much more appealing than the reality Meta is serving. I’m down with the idea that you get a personal avatar upon entry instead of going through a rogue’s gallery of pre-selected faces and bodies. The characters elevate the users. He pushes things to a joyful bliss. In one scene, Belle sings while riding a whale covered in speakers. That’s better than anything Meta has shown off in their annoying commercials. More importantly is Hosoda creates a way that people can interact in the U without wearing eye covering goggles. You can see his character’s eyes. People can also check in on what’s going inside the cyber reality with their phone. They don’t have to close themselves off to the world to enter the U.

The movie works as science fiction without losing its human core. We’re not overwhelmed by the technology. The focus is on how VR can affect people. The songs by Suzu will keep you humming long after the disc ends. Belle is an immersive film that will get you a bit eager to jack into the U.

Here is Josie with her take on the film:

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The transfer brings out the fantastical animation inside U and the drawings from reality. The audio is the original Japanese in 5.1 DTS HD MA. There’s also the English version in 5.1 DTS HD MA. Finally there’s a English dub with descriptive audio option. The movie is subtitled in English and Spanish.

DVD with all the special features found on the Blu-ray.

The Making of Belle (44:05) goes deep into how director Mamoru Hosoda put together a futuristic film that takes place in modern times. He even hired an architect to create a virtual city. We also see the real town where the reality was based. He wanted a place where the city and a river co-exist.

A Conversation with Director Mamoru Hosaoda (29:13) has him discuss what goes into the planning stage. He admits Suzu and Belle are based on his daughter even though she’s five.

The Music of Belle (15:32) brings together Taisei Iwasaki musical director and composer, composer Ludvig Forssell and Taka Chiyo music supervisor. They talk about their individual and group approach to making the music for Belle to sing.

Finding the Voice of Belle (11:49) goes into the English dub of Belle. This was a bit tricky since they have to find a perfect voice to speak and sing the character. There’s discussion of how you have to translate a song and make it still a great song. Luckily the original composer had English versions ready. There’s talk of the audition process that found Kylie McNeill to play Suzu and Belle.

Scene Breakdown: The Station (10:37) has Hosoda get into the scene where Ruka-chan and Suzu meet. He goes back and forth in the scene to point out details. This gets into timing the scene so the audience gets into the moment.

Scene Breakdown: The Ballroom (12:06) gets Hosoda to talk about bringing a touch of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast into his virtual world.

Hosoda Animation is Film (18:05) features screening in Los Angeles for a festival. Peter Debruge hosts an interview after the film with Hosoda.

Hosoda Draws Belle (8:50) has the director break out the colored markers and demonstrate how to create his star.

Design Gallery (13:57) features the elements that went into the film.

Kylie McNeill Performs “Gales of Song” (2:37) has her playing the piano and singing the key song from the film.

Trailers (7:05) includes the English dub trailer, two international trailers, international teasers,

Shout! Factory and GKIDS present Belle. Directed by Mamoru Hosoda. Screenplay by Mamoru Hosoda. Starring Kaho Nakamura, Kylie McNeill, Takeru Satoh, Ben Lepley, and Lilas Ikuta. Running Time: 121 minutes. Rating: Rated PG. Release Date: May 17, 2022.

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.