At a time of widespread debate over the depiction of women in film, top Japanese animators have long been creating female heroes who are more layered and complex than many of their American counterparts. They have faults and weaknesses and tempers as well as strengths and talents. They’re not properties or franchises; they’re characters the filmmakers believe in.
Like many teenagers, Suzu in Mamoru Hosoda’s “Belle” (2021) has a life online that overshadows her daily existence: her alter ego, the title character, is the reigning pop diva of the cyberworld of U. In real life, Suzu is an introverted high school student in a flyspeck town — even her best friend calls her “a country bumpkin.” But she still wins sophisticated listeners, as her music reflects the love and pain she has experienced, especially since the death of her mother, who drowned saving a child from a flooded river.