A 30-second teaser trailer for BELLE, Mamoru Hosoda's next film, is stirring up comparisons to both his previous films and to Disney's rendition of a classic fairy tale. Hosoda (Mirai, The Boy and the Beast) seems to be revisiting themes of digital spaces explored in Summer Wars and weaving them together with a beastly romance à la Beauty and the Beast.
BELLE, set for release in Japanese theaters this Summer, tells the story of a 17-year-old girl named Suzu, who moves to a rural town with her father and joins a virtual community called "U" under the username "Belle." It's in this digital realm that she meets a mysterious dragon-like creature.
The comparisons to Beauty and the Beast are obvious, starting with Suzu's username and the title of the film sharing a name with the Disney princess. The title character is also known for her singing, which attracts global attention in the virtual world. The full Japanese title of the film, Ryū to Sobakasu no Hime, translates to "The Princess of Dragons and Freckles." The allusions to singing princesses make a convincing argument that Hosoda will be putting his own spin on the tale of a beautiful girl falling in love with a beastly creature.
One of the final shots shown in the trailer is Suzu coming face-to-face with the dragon creature in an opulent ballroom with a high ceiling and chandelier. This setting is reminiscent of the ornate ballroom from the famous dance between Belle and the Beast in the Disney classic.
Hosoda's Summer Wars also centered around a young character living in a rural space and connecting to a rapidly-evolving virtual world. From the pixelated mosaic look of "U," Hosoda will continue to explore how life can unfold in an online dreamscape. Not only is the chaotic, flashy visual style of BELLE similar to Summer Wars, but the film has been described by Studio Chizu as exploring the themes of "coming of age, family ties, love between parents and children, friendship that transcends species, the links between our lives."
It seems like Hosoda will focus on a more well-rounded view of Suzu's life and not just her romantic pursuits. As with Summer Wars, Hosoda will create a vivid modern space that fosters connections with people across realities. It has also been stated that Belle's modern spaces will reveal Hosoda's "recent insights" into evolving technologies. While Summer Wars used the digital realms as a gaming space and ultimately a tool to save the world, Belle looks to be taking more of a social media approach. Just like how online platforms can be a way for people to share their talent and become famous in real life, "U" is a virtual community that makes Belle's singing a global phenomenon.
It will be interesting to see how Hosoda's take on Beauty and the Beast plays out in a modern digital space. The vibrant, labyrinthine graphics of the online world alone will make for a visual feast that practically is calling "be our guest" to audiences.
Belle, written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda, will be released in Japanese theaters Summer 2021.