Movies

Movie Review

Suspended anime in ‘The Boy and the Beast’

A boy named Kyuta is apprenticed to a beast named Kumatetsu in “The Boy and the Beast.”
Funimation Films
A boy named Kyuta is apprenticed to a beast named Kumatetsu in “The Boy and the Beast.”

The presumed heir of Hayao Miyazaki — or so the Japanese box office of his “The Boy and the Beast” would indicate — Mamoru Hosoda (“The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”) has none of the retired anime master’s visionary originality. But he does know how to mix an eclectic array of film plots and concepts into a mish-mash that seems original.

He robs many of the young adult and children’s movies of the past 50 years, from “The Jungle Book” (1967) to the Harry Potter series. Then he throws the book at you — in this case, “Moby-Dick.” Had the animation not been of Cartoon Network quality the strategy might have had more success.

Shrill little Kyuta has run away from home to escape his Dickensian guardians and wanders alone through the bustling Shibuya in Tokyo. Fleeing the police, and two hooded strangers, he slips through a gap between buildings. He enters a maze of alleys, and into one of the film’s freakier sequences, as each passage ends in a potted plant until he emerges into a blinding light.

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He has arrived in the world of beasts, a cross between “The Island of Dr. Moreau” and “Animal Farm,” where the noble brutes disdain humans, who have “darkness” in their souls. Actually, the beasts seem pretty nasty on their own without human intervention.

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Kyuta arrives at a time when the Beast Lord (a rabbit who is more Energizer Bunny than Lewis Carroll) is stepping down to reincarnate himself as a god (here on Earth he’d just write his memoirs). Two beasts must match martial arts prowess in the arena to become his successor. One of them is the hated Kumatetsu, a slovenly, ill-tempered bear (had this been live action, he would be played by Nick Nolte). But the Lord adds a condition — he must have an apprentice. Since no beast will put up with him, Kumatetsu enlists puny, heart of darkness Kyuta.

Will they wear off one another’s rough edges, allowing them to find happiness? And what about the Great White, or as it turns out, Black Whale? For answers, prepare to sit through two hours of complications, though you will probably figure it out before the spectacular ending.

½
THE BOY AND THE BEAST

Written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda. Starring Koji Yakusho, Aoi Miyazaki. At Boston Common. 119 minutes. PG-13 (some violence). In Japanese, with subtitles.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.