In ‘Belle’, the internet unlocks our best self

Where became ours others I live before the Internet? “It used to be that there was only one reality,” says director Mamoru Hosoda. His new film, Belle, is about how the internet has introduced the possibility of more self, in multiple worlds. Published in USA Friday d. Belle follows Suzu Naito as she struggles with newfound fame as a pop star in the virtual world U. Online, Hosoda notes, “people can explore other possibilities. They can have alter egos and live more freely.” Which, when she’s Belle,’s exactly what Suzu does.

In the expansive digital cityscape of U, Suzu is amazed at her appearance as Belle, a shiny, pink-haired lighthouse. U’s technology automatically generates avatars based on users’ biometric information. In Suzu, who had given up singing after her mother’s death, U sees the ability to greatness. It’s an attractive notion – that an enigmatic virtual world created by anonymous sages can reinvent an ordinary girl as an idol. And it only works because Belle is more preoccupied with emotional truths than technological.

Hosoda, who also directed Mirai, Wolves children, and Summer wars, has been taking the Internet as the subject of his anime films since the 2002s Digiman: The Movie. His obsession with the virtual as a place where our other selves emerge fits nicely into one of anime’s most dominant modern genres: isekai. Best embodied in the 2012s Sword art online, describes the transitions of isekai characters to and reincarnations in other worlds, especially virtual ones, where they are self-actualized. “When I look at other instructors dealing with the theme of the Internet, it tends to be negative, like a dystopia,” Hosoda says. “But I always see the internet as something for the young generation to explore and create new worlds in. And I still have it on the internet today. So it has always been optimistic.”

Looking at Belle, it’s easy to get engrossed in that optimism. It’s visually stunning, with both its landscapes and a digital megalopolis packed with a breathtaking number of pixels. At times, Hosada’s movies are even a little overwhelming to watch. Belle’s diva debut has her riding on a huge flying whale, petals and confetti fill the sky. In her first concert, she appears as the neck of a story-high crystal chandelier that explodes in a glittering underwater constellation. At several points in the film, Hosoda magically casts actions into higher-stakes animations that portray their true emotional impact – like a gossip war to a high-difficulty strategy board game. Hosoda passes these overwhelming scenes well and sets in with pleasant lo-fi-slice-of-life moments from Suzu’s rural life.

Actually, Belle‘s most charming moments take place in the analog world (including perhaps the best love confession scene in anime, ever). Suzu’s trips to and from school, over the same bridge and in the same train, is where we learn more about who she is alone, not in the U. This is the first time we hear her strained voice sing, see her guy over a childhood friend. Much of her character development in the virtual world feels separate from her character development IRL. Suzu isolates herself from family, community, potential friends and love interests until everyone is brought together through Belle, a metaphor for the Suzu they all already adored – not a diva, just a country girl who loves to sing.

In contrast, Suzu in U instantly feels complete and total comfort in his new role as international pop sensation. She sings, she dances, she changes attire with Ariana Grande’s balance. And she decides that she is uniquely equipped to draw “The Beast”, another player who is considered wickedly scary. Where is this brave new Suzu in the real world?


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bouncing between IRL and U, each with different plots and love interests, Belle is like two or three different movies. Of them, its virtual world component is its weakest. Stretches to include so many themes and places and things, Belle shimmers only the surface of its most envelope-pushing ideas – especially its message of the potential for empathy and human connection online.

Hosoda tells WIRED that he “did not have a particular virtual world that I modeled U after.” In fact, a London architect, not a game designer, helped him design it. U are completely unlimited, with no clear purpose, design principles or topology. It is also completely out of date with self-appointed police who have somehow made the technology dox avatars at will. And even though we know users access U through earphone technology that intervenes in “the part of the brain that controls vision,” according to Hosada, it’s impossible to understand throughout the film when characters are in and out. of U, and under what circumstances they go there.


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