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'Boy and the Beast' weaves strong family story between worlds of fantasy, reality
A scene from the Japanese animated film "The Boy and The Beast" playing at the Broadway Theater with with dubbed English and in Japanese with English subtitles. - photo by Josh Terry
"THE BOY AND THE BEAST" 3 stars voices of Aoi Miyazaki, Shta Sometani, Kji Yakusho, Kazuhiro Yamaji, Suzu Hirose, Haru Kuroki, Mamoru Miyano, Keishi Nagatsuka; PG-13 (some violence and language); Broadway Centre Cinemas

The Boy and the Beast is a creative and inventive piece of Japanese animation that uses a strong story to share an important message on the value of family.

Director Mamoru Hosoda toggles his film between worlds of fantasy and reality. Following a brief but stylistic prologue, The Boy and the Beast opens in a busy Japanese city. Here we meet Kyuta (voiced by Aoi Miyazaki and Shta Sometani), a 9-year-old runaway living on the streets.

Quick flashbacks show us that his mother has just died, and since his father has been out of his life for several years, Kyuta is about to be taken away to live with relatives. But consumed with feelings of anger and betrayal, Kyuta chooses to set out on his own instead.

He isnt far into his vagabond existence when he meets Kumatetsu (Kji Yakusho), a mysterious bearlike creature that has come from a parallel dimension. Kumatetsu lives in a place called Jutengai, a vast city inhabited by numerous beasts and almost entirely unknown to humans.

Kumatetsu is in line to become Lord of Jutengai, provided he can defeat his chief rival, Iozan (Kazuhiro Yamaji), in battle. As it turns out, Kumatetsu is looking for an apprentice, and with no other immediate prospects, Kyuta accompanies him to Jutengai, where he eventually begins his training.

Kumatetsu has issues of his own, and while he prepares for his battle of destiny, the more important story in The Boy and the Beast follows Kyuta as he struggles through several years to overcome his own anger and grow into his potential. Once he discovers he can move back and forth between worlds, his path broadens and he encounters a human schoolgirl named Kaede (Suzu Hirose), Iozans mysterious son Ichirohiko (Haru Kuroki and Mamoru Miyano), and eventually his own father (Keishi Nagatsuka).

The films animation style is mostly executed in the traditional 2-D style you dont see very often in mainstream movies these days, though it is punctuated by more impressive visuals during the storys more fantastic moments.

But as cool as those visuals may be, the thing that will resonate most with viewers is The Boy and the Beasts messages about family and finding the personal strength to resist the darkness within our hearts. Kyutas relationship with Kumatetsu is combative and takes years to grow, but its resulting strength is critical when the young human has to fight his own demons, both tangible and intangible.

Strangely, the plot of The Boy and the Beast closely echoes that of Brooklyn, the Oscar-nominated 2015 drama about an Irish immigrant who finds herself torn between her homeland and the new life she has built in America. Kyuta leaves his home, thinking it holds nothing for him, but as he grows and the story progresses, he realizes a truth that is much more difficult to reconcile.

Fans of American literature may be pleased to see how The Boy and the Beast uses Herman Melvilles Moby-Dick as a metaphor throughout the film. Once Kaede introduces Kyuta to the classic book in an effort to stimulate his formal education, Hosoda continues to use the infamous white whale as a symbol of Kyutas own dark quest.

The Boy and the Beast weaves a complex and rewarding tale that, at two hours long, will strain the attention span of younger viewers. This piece of animated fare will be most appreciated by older children and adults who can connect with the films mature themes. It is being screened at Broadway Centre Cinemas with two versions available: English dubbed and in Japanese with English subtitles.

"The Boy and the Beast" is rated PG-13 for elements of violence and some profanity; running time: 119 minutes.