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In ‘Belle’, the Internet unleashes the best of us

Where did our other me live before the internet? “Before, there was only one reality,” says director Mamoru Hosoda. His new movie, Beautiful, discusses how the Internet has introduced the possibility of multiple selves, in multiple worlds. Released in the US on Friday, Beautiful 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, is exactly what Suzu does.

In the sprawling cityscape of U, Suzu is surprised by her appearance as Belle, a bright pink-haired beacon. U’s technology automatically generates avatars based on users’ biometric information. In Suzu, who had given up singing after her mother died, U sees the capacity for greatness. It’s a seductive idea that an enigmatic virtual world created by anonymous sages can reinvent an ordinary girl as an idol. And it only works because Beautiful is more interested in emotional truths than technological truths.

Hosoda, who also directed Mirai, wolf children, and summer wars, has taken the Internet as the subject of his animated films since 2002 Digiman: the movie. His obsession with the virtual as a place where our other selves emerge fits perfectly into one of the most dominant modern genres in anime: isekai. The best embodied in 2012 Sword Art Online, isekai describes the characters’ transitions and reincarnations to other worlds, especially virtual ones, where they self-actualize. “When I look at other directors dealing with the theme of the internet, it tends to be quite negative, like a dystopia,” Hosoda says. “But I still see the internet as something the younger generation can explore and create new worlds. And I still have, to this day, this vision of the Internet. So it’s always been optimistic.

Watching Beautiful, it’s easy to get caught up in this optimism. It’s visually stunning, with both its rural landscapes and a digital megalopolis filled with a mind-boggling array of pixels. At times, Hosada’s film is even a bit overwhelming to watch. Belle’s diva debut has her riding a huge flying whale, petals and confetti filling the sky. In her first concert, she appears as the neck of a tall crystal chandelier, which explodes into a shimmering underwater constellation. At several points in the film, Hosoda magickes goes basic in higher-stakes animations that depict their true emotional impact, like a gossip war in a high-difficulty strategy board game. Hosoda paces these overwhelming scenes well, punctuating them with cozy, lo-fi moments of rural Suzu life.

Really, BeautifulThe most charming moments of take place in the analog world (including perhaps the best confession of love scene ever in an anime). Suzu’s treks to and from school, over the same bridge and on the same train, is where we learn more about who she is alone, not U-shaped. That’s when we hear her strained voice sing for the first time, we see her longing for a childhood friend. Much of his character development in the virtual world seems divorced from his IRL character development. Suzu isolates herself from her family, community, potential friends and love interests until everyone is brought together by Belle, a metaphor for the Suzu they all already adored – not a diva, just a country girl who likes to sing.

On the other hand, Suzu in U feels immediately at home in her new role as an international pop sensation. She sings, dances, changes her outfit with the presence of Ariana Grande. And she decides she’s uniquely equipped to bring out “the Beast”, another player considered unholy and terrifying. Where is this brave new Suzu in the real world?

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Bouncing between IRL and U, each with different storylines and love interests, Beautiful it’s like two or three different movies. Of these, its virtual world component is the weakest. Stretching to encompass so many themes, places and things, Beautiful only scratches the surface of its deepest insights, in particular its message about the potential for empathy and human connection online.

Hosoda tells WIRED that he “didn’t have a particular virtual world that I modeled U on.” In fact, a London architect, not a game designer, helped design it. U is entirely unconstrained, with no clear purpose, design principle or topology. It’s also entirely unmoderated, with self-appointed cops who have somehow acquired the technology to dox avatars at will. And while we know users access U using headphone technology that taps into “the part of the brain that controls vision,” according to Hosada, it’s impossible to figure out throughout the film when characters enter and exit. of U, and under what circumstances they go there.

In ‘Belle’, the Internet unleashes the best of us

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