Enter this Kochi fairytale at the locations featured in animated movie BELLE

Kochi Prefecture’s dynamic landscape and crystal clear rivers are the stage of Mamoru Hosoda’s latest animated film BELLE, a touching story about a high school girl finding her voice among the chaos of the world. The film garnered international attention after receiving a 14-minute standing ovation at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, and a staggering 94% on the highly-trusted movie review website Rotten Tomatoes. BELLE hit North American theaters in January 2022, followed by the United Kingdom and Ireland in February 2022, with plans to release the film in 108 countries around the world.


BELLE is a modern take on the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast, where much of the film takes place in a virtual internet world called “U”. The protagonist is a freckled, self-conscious 17-year-old girl named Suzu, growing up in the lush countryside of Kochi. Suzu develops a bitterness toward the world due to the heartbreaking loss of her mother at a young age, and a severe trauma around singing, a passion she once shared with her mother. However, as soon as she enters the cyberspace “U” and embodies her avatar Belle, she is able to sing again. Suzu soon embarks on a journey to find love for others and her true self, after she encounters an aggressive avatar with razor-sharp claws, a loathing glare and mysterious scars.

Director Mamoru Hosoda is known for masterfully using existing locations across Japan as a way of keeping his fantastical anime worlds grounded in reality, and for BELLE he chose none other than Kochi Prefecture.

“One of the reasons I chose Kochi was because it’s home to the most beautiful rivers in Japan. Besides just being stunning components of the natural environment, rivers encapsulate both life and death, which is a prevalent theme in BELLE. Kochi’s crystal clear rivers thus serve as a critical motif in the story,” says Hosoda.

Hosoda is an Academy Award-nominated anime director who is known for exploring complex, social themes like parenthood, coming-of-age, abuse, and other subjects with a supernatural or science fiction-based twist. Time travel, anthropomorphic wolves, and artificial intelligence are some of the many elements that make Hosoda’s films not only child-friendly, but an invitation for audiences to examine familiar subjects from a fresh perspective.

Explore the Niyodo River area, Suzu’s hometown

Visiting the locations BELLE is set in is a powerful way to deepen your understanding of the characters’ emotions beneath their words and actions. Suzu’s hometown is the Niyodo River area, where the talents and traumas that drive her storyline were born. You can walk along the Niyodo River, which is among the purest in Japan and famous for its miraculously blue color that makes local fishing boats look like they are floating in mid-air.

Aso Chinkabashi

The Aso Chinkabashi is one of many submersible bridges in the Niyodo area, designed to withstand flooding during the rainy season. These railing-less bridges have become symbols of Kochi, creating landscapes that are rare to find anywhere else. The Aso Chinkabashi appears in several scenes in the movie, as Suzu makes her way to and from school throughout the seasons.

Nishi-no-tani Dai-ni bus stop >> Hakawa Park >> JR Ino Station

Follow in Suzu’s footsteps with this BELLE-inspired itinerary.

From the Nishi-no-tani Dai-ni bus stop, which Suzu uses to get to school, make your way to Hakawa Park, where one of the most emotional scenes in the movie takes place. During the warmer months, you can canoe, standup paddleboard, and swim along the emerald blue Niyodo River, as well as rent bicycles, enjoy a barbecue and more.

After relaxing in a natural hot spring or savoring freshly-caught, slowly charbroiled ayu (sweetfish) in the nearby washi paper-making town of Ino, head to charming JR Ino station, which makes several appearances in the film. Enjoy the same 20-minute train ride on the retro Dosan Line to Kochi City that Suzu takes every day to school, where even more spots featured in the film await.

Build your own BELLE-inspired itinerary with this downloadable map that guides you through all of the JR Kochi locations in the film.

See Kochi City through Suzu’s eyes

After marveling at the gorgeously arched, wooden roof of JR Kochi Station (where Suzu catches an express bus), walk over to the Obiyamachi Shopping Street. As briefly shown in the film, this is a popular spot for finding delicious local dishes, cute Kochi souvenirs, charming cafes, and more.

Continue walking past 400-year-old Kochi Castle, and you will find the Kagami River, which is one of the most important recurring film locations. Whether she is alone, singing, or with friends, the crystal clear river sparkles behind Suzu in several scenes, as she slowly but surely finds comfort in being herself. Have a picnic along the banks, keep an eye out for wild birds, marvel at the floating reflection of the cityscape on the clean water, and savor the sense of calm Suzu might have felt as she navigated her way through this peaceful haven at the heart of the bustling city.

Hidden gems in Belle

Besides recurring locations like the Kagami River, there are more hidden spots in Belle that bring their Kochi charm to the screen, even if just for a split second. One of these places is Usa Port in Tosa, about 30 minutes by car from Kochi City. Between April and October, at nearby Shiokaze Park you can see boats taking groups of excited visitors out to the southern coastline for whale watching.

There are other famous spots in Kochi that inspired the landscapes within the internet world “U”, one of the unexpected ways Hosoda brings a sense of reality and familiarity to the ultra-futuristic cyberspace. Some of these hidden gems include the epic UFO Line road that winds through the Ishizuchi Mountain Range, the sacred Nikobuchi Waterfall where you can witness the pristine blue of the Niyodo River, and Irino Coast, the pride of the seaside town Kuroshio, which offers surreal views of mirror-like pools of water at high tide and four kilometres of clean white sand.

Fall in love with BELLE

At its core, BELLE is a coming-of-age story of a teenage girl who learns to see and embrace her unique beauty. The film teaches us that perfection does not mean looking, sounding, or behaving a certain way, contrary to how it is often defined in society. Freckles, wrinkles, scars, unrequited love…these “imperfections” make us human and the world we live in so extraordinarily diverse.

At the same time, while the internet is often perceived as an evil force that pulls people apart, Hosoda sheds light on its positive possibilities, which can help create and empower real communities. As we further integrate technology into our daily lives, BELLE emphasizes the importance of finding a harmonious relationship between the virtual and real, just like Suzu, who eventually embraces both “U” and Kochi as her realities.

Through moving original music, stunning animation, and profound storytelling, Belle reminds us that no matter the billions of people in this world, every one of us has something exceptionally unique to offer, and a beautiful voice that matters.

Come visit Kochi, the land that sets the stage for this epic modern fairytale.