Ryū to Sobakasu no Hime (Belle) Themes Explained
⚠️Warning — Spoilers Ahead!
How can we not talk about the third-highest grossing film of 2021 in Japan? Another well-receiving animated film written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda made it to the Cannes Film Festival in May 2021, with help from veteran Disney animator and character designer Jin Kim and Michael Camacho respectively.
Hosoda has his own history of making films in the sci-fi genre — Mirai, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars etc. This time, he brings it to another level by incorporating references to Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont; along with the atmosphere of Summer Wars — It is no wonder the film attracts a wide-range of audience.
1. The Definition of Reality
(For writing and reading convenience, we will refer to the physically intact world as the “real world”/”real life”. Do not confuse it with the concept of reality discussed in this part)
Perhaps Hozono is suggesting the metaverse/technology is taking over the lives of the people from different aspects in the real world — personal lives, social lives, or the media. For instance, we see the irony of young Suzu choosing to play the piano on a phone app over a physically existing electric piano in front of her multiple times; famous virtual-reality pop star Peggy Sue’s songs being a hit in karaoke booths; the discussion of Ryuu’s true identity being discussed in the news in the real world etc. On top of that, the fact that characters are shown to be conscious and functioning in real life even when they are online in U implies the coexistence of the virtual and real world.
Multiple times, the film invites viewers to reflect the definition of reality. Despite being a virtual metaverse, it depicts individuals’ “inner selves” by generating an A.S. (avatar) based on their biometric information — the combination of key physical characteristic(s) (eg. Suzu/Belle: freckles; Key/Ryuu: child eyes, etc.) and their inner selves (eg. Suzu/Belle: Singing; Hiroka: IT; Ruka: Saxophone; Shinjiro: Canoe; Kei/Ryuu: Scars, etc.). Additionally, the specialities of physical appearances/skills are proportionate to one’s mental strength/desires. For instance, The Dragon’s unrivaled strength and rage in U is due to Kei’s own anger and steadfastness in protecting Tomo. On the contrary, Tomo is portrayed as a small angel that doesn’t talk the whole time, which parallels his timid and silenced character in the real world. All these indicate that even in the world of U, feelings, passions, and thoughts are all extant. In other words, both worlds are “real”, it just depends on how you define it.
Hozono also sheds light on the relationship between reality and identity/self-acceptance. According to the film, “U is another reality. And A.S. is another you. You may not be able to start over in the real world, but you can start over in U.” Since no one is able to figure out who you are in the real world, “unveiling” becomes a threat to avatars and defies their purpose of using U. Therefore, Suzu/Belle being able to willingly (and forcefully) do so courageously exhibits self-acceptance of her own identity. This further brings out the question — Does it imply that people in U are afraid to be/show themselves? Do they depict their identities as a kind of vulnerability? Are people nowadays not accepting who they really are? WHY? Is it because of ego? Or… (Continue reading to find out more)
2. Psychology in Play — The (Inner) Child Archetypes
In popular and analytical psychology, the inner child is known as a subordinate to the waking conscious mind, and is semi-independent to an individual’s sub-personality developed when one was a child. In Belle, Hiroka refers to A.S. as one’s “hidden personality” possessing their “hidden strengths”. Hence, we can presume that the A.S. actually may represent one’s inner child archetype(s). The fact that everyone can generate an A.S. may also indicate that everyone has (an) inner child archetype(s).
Additionally, the fear of unveiling their real selves may indicate their fear of letting the world know their inner child sub-personalities — because of how they deny their suppressed identities. Hiroka also laughs at Suzu, “Nobody would ever guess that Belle is a mousy country bumpkin like you!” when the world is guessing Belle’s identity, turning out to be a total opposite of Suzu. The same happens when people guess the identity of the Dragon.
Research indicates that one’s inner child can be healed and reintegrated into his/her psyche by acknowledging and accepting both the shadow as well as the light attributes of his/her child archetype(s). Self-acceptance and tuning in with one’s inner child can also be the key leading to rejuvenation and true selves. Characters in the film have shown themselves doing so in order to recover from their long-term suffering from obscuring their inner child.
The Wounded Child
This archetype is frequently derived from having a traumatic past of abuse or neglect, particularly in one’s youth. Being able to empathize or help other “wounded children” are some of the light characteristics. Whereas shadow characteristics may consist of blaming current life issues on prior trauma, or even going so far as to blame others for the same trauma.
Kei/Dragon (and Other Children)
The first wounded child sub-personality is shown through Kei (Dragon). In real life, Kei is a victim of child abuse. Hiroka explains that the pain he endured is the source of the dragon’s strength. At the end, Belle inspires him and decides to confront his father, curing him from his chronic suffering.
As wounded children can empathize with other wounded children. It is impressive how the children in real life see the “truth”, that the Dragon was being “bullied by adults”. The fact that all other children in real life, sees the Dragon as their hero and idol while most cannot, may indicate that they are also suffering from suppression, unable to voice out and stand up for themselves. This can also be seen when adults in reality are humiliated by the small amount of views and influence (ie. power) they have.
Visually speaking, the bruises in fact don’t look like bruises at all until others mention it. We, as viewers, might have also fallen into the trap of believing what others say (although it is later proven to be really his bruises/injury in the castle); while the innocent children may see it as a cape (like superheroes) with certain patterns.
Father of Kei/Justin
There is a possibility that the father of Kei has a wounded child archetype too. Though it is not explicitly mentioned in the film, Kei’s father’s watch in reality resembles the unveiling device of Justices (claimed to be the protectors of justice and order in U). He also runs away from Suzu when she turns around and blocks his attacks, perhaps making him realize Suzu is really trying to help the children, and that it is Belle. The fact that Kei/Justin shows shadow attributes of perpetuating the same trauma on others may imply that he is also a wounded child. According to Belle, “You (Justin) don’t care about justice. You (He) just want(s) to control people.” This shows that he only craves for the power to gain authority. In fact, domestic violence often happens across-generations, and Kei’s father being a victim himself in the past may not be so surprising.
The Abandoned/Orphaned Child — Suzu/Belle
An abandoned child is defined as an individual possessing strong feelings of abandonment and distanced biologically or emotionally from a family. Its light attributes include being independent and unafraid of being alone/solitary. ; while shadow attributes include fear of intimacy which leads to distancing oneself from others or desperately searching for surrogate families.
It is none other than Suzu who possesses the abandoned child archetype sub-personality. Her mother died when Suzu was a child, and “abandoned” her. She is extremely independent and is not afraid of loneliness. She shuts people like her father and her childhood best friend Shinobu away. She is so traumatized by her mother’s death that she cannot do anything that has strong linkage to her mother, such as music and seafood. However, her A.S. is incredibly good at singing, and she is often accompanied by enormous and mesmorising sea creatures. This can indicate her inner desire of seeking and regaining the relationship she had with her late mother. In the end, just like Kei, she confronts her past and is able to sing and eat seafood with her father again.
The Divine Child — Tomo/Angel
A divine child possesses purity, innocence, and redemption of reclaiming something which has been lost — In Tomo’s case, his voice. Like any other divine child, Tomo has special connections with higher power (Belle) and is powerless when it comes to defending himself against adversity or people.
According to author Caroline Myss, there are three remaining archetypes, including the magical/Innocent child, the nature child, and the eternal child. Who do you think resemble these three types of inner children?
3. Other Themes and Discussion
3.1 Domestic Violence/Child Protection (in Japan)
The film sheds light on the limitations of child protection and domestic violence regulations in Japan. Multiple times, the characters mentioned the “rules” that limit the reporting of child abuse. What can they be? Is this happening around the world?
3.2 Beauty and the Beast x Summer Wars II
How does Hosoda use this combination to set forth the messages/themes of the film?
3.3 Judging a Book by its Cover
People are shocked that Suzu is only a high school girl. Even Peggy Sue exclaims and admits that they are the same; Dragon turns out to be a 14-year old child — are we shaped by the faceted society to see what’s good and bad?
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Photo Source: Ryū to Sobakasu no Hime (Belle). Mamoru Hosoda. Toho, 2021. Film.
Disclaimer: Any views and opinions expressed are personal and solely belong to the authors. They are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club organisation, company, individual or anyone or anything.