The True Magic of Belle Is in Its Music

Mamoru Hosada, the acclaimed director behind Wolf Children and Mirai is back with a wonderful new cinematic creation: Belle. Released stateside January 14th of 2022, Belle is a masterful work of animation about self acceptance and empathy. The movie itself is getting largely positive reviews (save a few caveats) from various sources and is even up for an Oscar, but what I really want to talk about is its absolutely stunning lyrical soundtrack. The movie is a testament to art and cinematic exploration — lush and wonderfully realized — but its the music itself that truly soars.

Hosada’s films have always been elevated by their musical accompaniments, with Wolf Children, Boy and the Beast, and Mirai featuring the playful and delicate compositions of Masakatsu Takagi. His music has always been thoroughly enjoyable, inventive and transportive with a through line of consistent wonder and magic. He has been a favored composer of mine for the past few years, and I was stunned to discover that one of my other favorite musical artists, Porter Robinson, was so inspired by Takagi’s work that while in Japan producing his 2021 album Nurture he actually made it a point to visit him.

Part of the reason Belle captivated me so personally was due to a similar serendipitous musical collision; I discovered that the voice of Belle was Kaho Nakamura, an artist I already greatly admired. Hearing her voice weeks before the movie released in the US, when one of the film’s songs, “Lend Me Your Voice”, came up on my Spotify weekly, it drew me into somewhat of a trance. I recognized her voice, wondered if it was a new album and saw — no, this is from the new Mamoru Hosada movie. It was so exciting! One of my favorite directors featuring one of my top artists of the year. I knew then, regardless of Belle’s contents, it was the music that would lift me and move the message of the film ever higher.

There’s something so wonderfully pure and light about Nakamura’s voice. It feels heartfelt and undiluted by overproduction. Raw, lovely, and light. And as I’m only vaguely decent at discerning Japanese, I hadn’t much of a clue what “Lend Me Your Voice” was about at first, but there was such rich emotion in it that it transcended concrete meaning for me (which, oddly enough, is the subject of one of my favorite songs of 2021, also by Nakamura, which features lyrics that are largely nonsense, and which many speculate is meant to be heard and interpreted on a universal emotional level rather than by merit of lyrical meaning).

I looked up the words to “Lend Me Your Voice” some days after having it on repeat, finally breaking the spell of an imagined world, pieced together by a half-knowledge, to see the full beauty of the song’s intention. It was a dance, so perfectly encapsulated in a rising orchestration, a crescendo that feels so intimately like new love, like a hand held out in welcome, that knowing that’s exactly what it represented was like finally placing something back into where it had always belonged.

The US release of the movie has seen an English version of the vocal tracks, sung by newcomer Kylie McNeill. Her voice is lovely, and she manages to capture the spirit of the character Suzu and pull you in with enchantment. It is different though, but it is nice to be able to sing the songs myself in my native language (even though I still attempt to sing it in Japanese!).

What Belle the movie captures so beautifully is that earnestness for song. It is a love letter to music that doesn’t wade too long in a mire of thought and artistry — there’s a bigger plot — but what it does have to say in those small moments when Suzu is reaching skyward, absorbed in her song, is radically beautiful. Anyone who loves to sing, be it casually or professionally or anything in between, knows that feeling of being so desperate to reach out with your voice that it is almost magic. Suzu’s connection to her mother through song only makes these pieces feel even more like prayer, a dedication in memory of that loss.

Belle made me feel more for its music than anything else. If you’ve seen the film — and especially if you haven’t — I highly recommend giving the Belle soundtrack a discerning listen. Its instrumental arrangements haven’t stuck out to me as much (I also haven’t listened to them as fervently) but the sung music is awe-inspiring and, in some ways, the most powerful components of the movie.




in my head or one of the Final Fantasy games, most of the time / /

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in my head or one of the Final Fantasy games, most of the time / /

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