The full trailer for Mamoru Hosoda’s new feature Belle has been unveiled, along with tantalizing details about the production. The film’s senior creative team is shaping up to be unusually international for a Japanese animated feature.
Veteran Disney character designer Jin Kim has designed the title character, a virtual singer who inhabits the vast online space known as “U.” Kim, who is from South Korea, has worked on films including Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Frozen, and Netflix’s Over the Moon. He also served as character designer and animation director on the Korean feature Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs. See his concept artwork for Belle below.
In addition, Hosoda’s Studio Chizu announced that it is working with Cartoon Saloon, the Irish studio behind the Oscar-nominated Wolfwalkers, on the film. Wolfwalkers directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart “will bring their talents to the table along with Mamoru Hosoda to create a never-before-seen world” in the film, according to Chizu. A spokesperson for Chizu confirmed to Cartoon Brew that Cartoon Saloon will work on “background art for fantasy scenes in the internet world.”
Hosoda, the director of acclaimed features including Wolf Children and Mirai, met Kim when the latter film was nominated for an Oscar in 2019. The pair “have long respected each other’s work,” according to Chizu. Meeting in L.A., “they promised to one day work on something creatively together and finally realized that goal with Belle.”
Moore has also spoken of his respect for Hosoda in the past. In an interview with Animation for Adults last October, he said, “Wolf Children is a gorgeous movie; I felt that it was very nuanced. It has a much more modern setting [than Wolfwalkers] but it deals with some of the same themes, about wildness and trying and trying to fit in as a wolf.” He noted that Hosoda’s daughter would dub one of the girls in the Japanese version of Wolfwalkers.
Chizu also announced that Eric Wong, a London-based architect and designer, created the concept artwork for the world of U: “Hosoda personally found and commissioned Eric to come up with this universal and international ‘internet space’ from both an architectural and design perspective.”
Belle was first announced in December. It tells the story of Suzu, a 17-year old girl who loses her ability to sing after her mother’s death. Discovering U, she explores it through her avatar Belle, a singer who becomes a rising star in the world. The film will be released in Japanese theaters in July and is represented overseas by Charades.
While Hosoda has long had a fanbase outside Japan, Mirai was something of a breakout hit. Distributed in the U.S. by GKIDS, it became the first non-Studio Ghibli anime title to pick up an Oscar nomination. It also earned an Annie Award for best independent feature animation, as well as a Golden Globe nomination.