Animated movies like Belle – and where to find them

The latest film from visionary anime director Mamoru Hosoda, Beautiful offers a review of The beauty and the Beast set in 21st century cyberspace. The story follows Suzu Naito, a depressed high school student who copes by adopting the popstar persona Belle on the virtual reality app ”U”. Naito, as Belle, forms a bond with the mysterious user Dragon after the beastly avatar wreaks havoc at one of her concerts, and vows to find out her true identity.

Beautiful was critically acclaimed for its lush visual representation of the internet, as well as the unique way it adapts its source material. For fans eager for more movies in the same vein, here are some recommendations, both in and out of Hosoda’s repertoire.


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Summer Wars: Another Hosoda Internet Gem


Beautiful is not Hosoda’s first work to visually depict cyberspace – it also happened in his 2006 film summer wars. This film sees young computer scientist Kenji Koiso reluctantly invited to his crush Natsuki’s grandmother’s 90th birthday party, where he meets their eccentric extended family. During the festivities, however, the global virtual reality program ”OZ” is compromised by the rogue AI Love Machine, and when his machinations threaten the entire world, it’s up to Kenji, along with Natsuki and his entire family, to thwart Love The plans of the machine.


fans of Beautiful will immediately recognize the visual similarities between ”U” and summer wars”OZ”. Both depict cyberspace as an abstract void in which user avatars float, with pop-ups and hyperlinks depicted as physical objects that the avatars interact with – sometimes as tools, other times as obstacles. It’s an incredibly compelling way to represent a concept as metaphysical as the Internet, which is probably why Hosoda has used it so many times.

summer wars is available to stream on FunimationNow, as well as purchase on DVD and Blu-ray.

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Digimon: our war game


Anime Digimon Omnimon Birth Transformation

summer wars Nor was Hosoda’s first foray into representing the Internet in this way: that honor goes to Digimon: our war game. English-speaking fans of Digimon will know him ones the middle part of Digimon: the movie, but in Japan it was released as a standalone feature. Set after the events of the original Digimon Adventure, Our war game sees Taichi and Izumi struggle to collect the rest of the Chosen Children when a Digimon virus, Diablomon, wreaks havoc on the internet.

Digimon: our war game is often cited as a test for summer wars, given their similar premise and high-octane action. The two films, alongside Beautiful, form an impromptu trilogy of films by Hosoda about the evolving nature of the Internet. The three were released about a decade apart and, when viewed together, provide a fascinating collage of how perceptions of the World Wide Web have changed over the years.


Sadly, Digimon: our war game is the hardest feature on this list to obtain, currently only officially available on DVD as part of Digimon: the movie. This version of Our war game has about ten minutes of runtime cut from the Japanese cut, making it a less ideal way to view the film, but most of the gorgeous animation and spectacular action are still intact. Here’s hoping Toei Animation and Bandai make the original version legally available in the West.

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Paprika: A Story of Self-Expression Through Dreams


Paprika animated film 2006

Paprika does not relate directly to the Internet in the same way as Beautiful, but Satoshi Kon’s 2006 masterpiece tackles similar themes of identity. As Paprika herself says, “The Internet and dreams are similar. These are areas where the repressed conscious mind escapes.” Paprika follows psychiatrist doctor Atsuko Chiba, who uses a device called the “DC Mini” to explore her patients’ dreams as her alter ego, Paprika.


Like Hosoda’s Internet Trilogy, Paprika depicts a metaphysical plane – in this case, dreams – through vibrant, surreal animation, and Chiba uses Paprika as a medium similar to Suzu’s use of Belle. For Hosoda fans eager to explore the works of other iconic anime directors, Paprika offers a crash course on the late Satoshi Kon, one of the most unique and creative voices in the industry, taken far too soon.

Paprika is available on DVD and Blu-ray, as well as to rent or buy from Amazon, iTunes and Google Play Store.

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Ponyo: The Marvelous Version of Miyazaki’s Little Mermaid


Ponyo

Finally, for fans interested in another anime taking on a classic European fairy tale, there’s Studio Ghibli. Ponyo — Hayao Miyazaki’s adaptation of The little Mermaid. Ponyo follows the titular fish and her efforts to become human as she strikes up a friendship with a boy named Sosuke, much to his father’s chagrin.

PonyoThe strengths of are evident, with the same lush direction and boundless imagination as most of its Studio Ghibli compatriots. Both Beautiful and Ponyo play fast and free with their source material, becoming all-new stories unto themselves. They also share adaptive counterparts in the Walt Disney Animation catalog, making them a fascinating case study for anyone wanting to compare and contrast the sensibilities of American and Japanese animation.


Ponyo is available on DVD and Blu-ray, as well as on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu and the Play Store.

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