After hitting the festival circuit in 2021, writer/director Mamoru Hosoda’s musical drama BELLE landed in select U.S. theaters in January of 2022 and then shelves the following April. Both times, my reviews of the film lauded the look and sound of BELLE, aspects particularly important as the film tells a tale of trauma and healing in two worlds, the real and the digital, with song serving as the means for the central character Suzu (voiced by Kaho Nakamura/Kylie McNeill) to express her feelings. If you love this film like I do and thought, “you know what would make BELLE better on home video? More bonus features, improved picture and sound, and collectibles,” then the 4K UHD collector’s edition from Shout! Factory and GKids Films is the edition you’ve been waiting for.
To learn about BELLE in a spoiler-free context, head to the initial theatrical release review. To learn about BELLE’s initial home release and what that included, head to that initial home release review. Moving forward, we’ll be exploring the 4K UHD collector’s edition release and there may be specific plot points discussed, as necessary.
After the loss of her mother, the once musically-inclined and outgoing Suzu keeps to herself and lost her voice. That is, until she decides to create a profile in the digital space known as U where, through biometric technology, she can not only create a digital avatar of herself but can see, hear, and touch everything within that space. In U, Suzu becomes Belle and soon, with her voice refound, starts to take the world by storm, with fans coming from all over U to hear her sing. When one of her shows is interrupted by an altercation involving a being known only as the Dragon (voiced by Takeru Satoh/Paul Castro Jr.), Bell decides to investigate who he is, unwittingly finding herself on a journey of self-discovery and self-healing by coming to understand the sacrifice her own mother made so many years ago.
There’s truly no telling what forms of art are going to hit you so hard that you find some piece of yourself unlocking in the impact. As a fan of animation and Summer Wars, checking out Mamoru Hosoda’s new film, BELLE, was high on my list of films for 2021, and I was fortunate to not only screen it for the theatrical release, but also for the initial home release. Hosoda’s film hit me like a ton of bricks, revealing something that I had, until then, not realized about myself and a past trauma. This discovery is a gift, enabling me to put a name to something that had for so long filled me with a rage I couldn’t explain. Having expounded on this in-depth in the initial home release review, there’s no need to go into it further; however, there’s no doubt that I’ll be thinking fondly on BELLE for the rest of my life as a result.
Let’s start with the obvious differences between the 4K UHD release and the prior home release: the picture and sound.
The 4K UHD collector’s edition comes with 4K UHD disc containing the film, as well as two Blu-rays (one with the movie and one with additional bonus features). The artwork on each disc differs from the previous release, the first indication that this collection isn’t merely a reprinting of the prior release. Second, the 4K UHD disc is presented in Ultra High-Definition Blu-ray Widescreen (2.39:1 aspect ratio) with audio options of English or Japanese Dolby Atmos. This is a marked improvement from the Blu-ray which only offers standard High-Definition Widescreen (2.39:1 aspect ratio) with audio options English/Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1. So, if your home setup includes both 4K UHD and Dolby Atmos, this is the best possible version of the look and sound you can get, short of the theatrical experience. There are few cases where I might straight recommend a 4K UHD edition over a Blu-ray if someone already owns the Blu-ray versus laying out various arguments, but the improved color definition on the 4K UHD is so impressive that the depth of color allowed me to notice aspects of the background that had been previously hidden as the varying shades of black-to-purple blended together more easily in the HD edition. Additionally, one starts to notice the artistry more that differentiates the real world from U with the 4K UHD edition. The real looks more hand-drawn, while the computer-inspired and -made world of U shines and sparkles with greater clarity. Though I do not have Atmos capability, if I have the choice between the 4K UHD edition or the Blu-ray, I’m going to reach for the 4K UHD every time.
As for the on-disc bonus features, in addition to the previous 157 minutes of on-disc materials, there’s now an additional 138 minutes of interviews and behind the scenes materials. If you liked the “Making of BELLE” featurette, think of “Behind the Japanese Dub” as the companion piece to it, inviting home audiences to watch Hosoda, his cast, and crew record the lines for the movie. If you enjoy Q&As, there are two different versions added with this edition: a 40-minute collection of Hosoda and cast interviews promoting the release of the film and recorded conversations between the cast themselves that total roughly 24 minutes. Much like “Behind the Japanese Dub,” the home-viewing audience gets a chance to hear from castmates Kaha Nakamura, Takeru Satoh, and Lilas Ikuta (voice actor for best friend Hiro) in their own words as they chat about their feelings on BELLE. Where the initial home release provided a spotlight on English dub performer McNeil, there’s a personal interview with Satoh that marks the release of the film in which he discusses what he believes the appeal of the film is in a brief six-minute featurette. Finally, as a means of placing a little attention on the architect of U himself, Eric Wong, author Jonathan Clements leads a conversation between Hosoda and Wong to discuss the development and design (among other things) of U.
REMINDER: Be advised that the only way to get all of the included bonus features is to purchase one of the 4K UHD or Blu-ray editions of BELLE. The design gallery, McNeil performing “Gales of Song,” and the extensive “Making of BELLE” are not included on the digital editions of BELLE.
What also sets the 4K UHD edition is the packaging and included materials. The original Blu-ray/DVD combo pack is just the discs and cover in a traditional blue plastic case. The 4K UHD edition comes in a rather solid board package that features the scene of Belle and Dragon in his castle on the cover with the title in English and Japanese above them. The rest of the sides are a deep purple with the general release information on the bottom, stars on the top, and the back featuring one of the angels of U. Within the case is held the following: a sticker of Hiro’s U avatar; a poster of Belle and Suzu side-by-side in the sky (presumably singing from the pose); six (6) art cards featuring different scenes and characters from the film; and a 55-page book with art, reviews, lyrics (Japanese & English), cast & crew commentary, reviews, and more. Not to go minimal, the three included discs are placed within a tri-fold decorated container whose backside features the inside of U. The 4K UHD disc features Belle, the Blu-ray feature disc features Dragon, and the bonus features disc includes the new bonus features. Each disc is stamped so that users know exactly which one is Blu-ray vs the 4K UHD.
You can get a better look at each of the included materials via the video below:
With the 4K UHD collector’s edition, home viewers have, what I would describe as, the definitive home-viewing version. This edition contains two high-quality versions of the film, every possible available bonus feature, and some additional materials that a fan can use to decorate their space. The only thing that would make this release better would be to include a CD of the score/soundtrack (spoken from someone who’s been listening to the album since it become available digitally January 14th, 2022). While I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone who feels that the original Blu-ray release works for them (it’s a strong release that does justice to the film), if you’ve been waiting for the 4K UHD release to snag this, do so in full confidence.
BELLE 4K UHD Collector’s Edition Special Features:
- Behind the Japanese Dub (41:31)
- Promo Events with Hosoda and Cast (Event Footage Collection) (40:27)
- Special Dialogues with Cast (24:17)
- Kaha Nakamura x Takeru Satoh (bulk) and Kaha Nakamura x Lilas Ikuta
- Interview with Takeru Satoh: interviews to mark the release of the film (discuss the appeal of the film) (6:03)
- Interview between writer/director Mamoru Hosoda and U architect Eric Wong conducted by author Jonathan Clements (26:34)
- 60-Page Book
- Six (6) Art Cards
- U Angel Sticker
BELLE Previously Released Special Features:
- A Conversation with Director Mamoru Hosoda (29:14)
- The Music of BELLE (15:32)
- Hosoda Draws BELLE (8:50)
- Finding the Voice of Belle (11:50)
- Mamoru Hosoda at Animation is Film (18:05)
- The Making of BELLE* (44:06)
- Kylie McNeill Performs “Gales of Song”* (2:37)
- Design Gallery*
- Two (2) Scene Breakdowns
- The Station (10:38)
- The Ballroom (12:07)
*Only available on the Blu-ray disc
Available on digital May 3rd, 2022.
Available on 4K UHD Collector’s Edition August 30th, 2022.
For more information, head to the GKids Films’s official BELLE website.