It turns out that Suzu is spending her time as a popstar in the parallel world of “U,” a virtual reality that promises a fresh start and a fresh start, something extremely promising for an uneasy teenage girl. As Internet popstar Bell (to be clear, spelled without an “e” as in the title, as Suzu’s name translates to “Bell” in English), she finds immediate viral fame, something that quickly puts her in the spotlight. contact with another famous – or rather, infamous – inhabitant of U: “The Beast”, with whom Suzu feels a mysterious kinship.
In some ways, Belle could be seen as responding to our growing desire to occupy fully visualized virtual social spaces – as seen for example with games like Fortnite and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, acting as spaces for concerts or interviews, and allowing people the ability to mingle during lockdown. But it’s also much more fundamentally about the whole nature of online communication and how it can facilitate both personal transformation and self-reflection.
“I think the fact that there’s this other world where we can be another version of ourselves [helps to show] that we are not only what we show to society,” Hosoda told BBC Culture. “Belle and Suzu are so different that they’re practically different, but they’re actually the same person. Sometimes we end up believing that we are only one side of ourselves, but in reality we have many dimensions. And learning that and believing that helps us to be freer.”
Hosoda’s fantasies about digital life
Hosoda’s directing career began around the turn of the millennium, and as his filmography grew, parenthood and the lives of children clearly became his favorite themes. His previous film, 2018’s Mirai, explores a father becoming a stay-at-home parent for the first time. Before that, 2015’s Wolf Children and 2012’s The Boy and the Beast see single parents fearing where their children’s independence will take them, as well as the influence they have on the shape of their lives. But alongside this focus on family, a more specific interest he explored on several occasions was the role the internet plays in the development of today’s children – it’s something he touched on first seen in his very first feature, Digimon: The Film and returned in 2009’s Summer Wars, about a high school kid involved in an online world called Oz, and now Belle.
Indeed, this motif of children seeking guidance and refuge in fantastical digital realms is perhaps the most striking element of his work – even in his films that don’t explicitly deal with the internet like Mirai, where the tree The young protagonist’s genealogy is presented as a sort of traversable web space. His films often visually reflect the influence of digital culture by having one foot in and one foot out of reality – for example, while his characters may be designed with a sober and natural look, they very often act with overreactions and cartoons. Thematically, the mundane usually collides with the otherworldly as its young or adolescent protagonists navigate their rapidly changing lives doing something physically impossible – time travel in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Mirai, being taken to another dimension in The Boy and the Beast, and entering a virtual reality in Summer Wars and Belle.