Real-World Shibuya Inspired Mamoru Hosoda’s Anime Film

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Scramble intersection in front of Shibuya Station

The human world and the world of beasts aren’t suppose to intersect, but that’s not the case in the anime film “Bakemono no Ko” (“The Boy and The Beast”). The 2015 film directed by Mamoru Hosoda chronicles the story of Kyuta, a human, and the beast Kumatetsu, who live in their respective worlds until they cross paths and subsequently develop a bond.

The film is set in Shibuya, Tokyo. Let me take you around to see actual places featured in the film.

The scene of the duel

The scramble intersection in front of Shibuya Station often appears on TV. It is usually bustling with pedestrians, including shoppers, businesspeople, foreign tourists and students.

This is exactly where Kyuta, Kumatetsu and other main characters gather, as depicted in a promotional poster. Some of the buildings in the background feature large liquid crystal display screens running advertisements as they are in the real world. Even the text on billboards is the same as the real ones. The high level of reproduction is impressive.

In fact, human reality and the world of beasts, called “Jutengai,” are linked. The plaza where Kumatetsu, with Kyuta as his apprentice, and rival Iozen have their duel corresponds to the scramble intersection.

Dimly lit parking area

At the scramble intersection, before passing over into the world of beasts, Kyuta flees from police officers who talked to him, wanders through the streets of Shibuya and sits down to hide among bicycles under an elevated highway.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An area under an elevated highway

I visited that location, but the bicycle parking area that appeared in the film no longer exists.

The atmosphere, with the darkness of this spot, is just as it was portrayed in the film. I felt a little sad when I thought of Kyuta feeling lonely in this place, clutching his knees in his arms.

Way to alternate world?

I then searched for the place where the human boy decides to take the plunge into the world of beasts. It is on Basketball Street (also known as Center-gai Street), located across the scramble intersection. It features an arch-like entrance, which in the film appears as a massive gate, symbolizing Jutengai.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Basketball Street (Center-gai Street)

I entered the Center-gai Street by passing through the entrance.

I saw fashionable stores and inviting restaurants along the street. In some places, there are gaps between buildings that appear to lead to the beast world.

Shrine where Kaede teaches Kyuta

Next, I took a Tokyo metropolitan bus to visit Shibuya Hikawa Shrine. This is where Kaede, a high school girl, tutors Kyuta in school subjects when he temporarily returns to the human world.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shibuya Hikawa Shrine

Once passing through the shrine’s torii Shinto gate, I felt totally distanced from the bustling atmosphere in front of the station. I found it to be an unexpected “different world” in Shibuya.

“I mimicked scenes from the film and took pictures with my younger brother,” said Yasuaki Tamura, 25, a priest at the shrine who was in high school when the film was released.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Goshuin-cho books

The shrine is believed to bring good luck in finding a marriage partner.

A pair of goshuin-cho sold at the temple is an especially popular souvenir. A goshuin-cho is a special book in which visitors receive a stamp from the temple or shrine as proof of their visit.

Each of the two goshuin-cho sold at the shrine bears a half-circle on its cover, and when the two are placed side by side, they form a complete circle, called “en” in Japanese, which also signifies “bond.”

I prayed to find a good match for myself, just like Kyuta and Kaede in the film.

Lured by sweet aroma

A short distance from the Center-gai street, I found Shibuya Nishimura Fruits Dogenzaka store. I remembered Kyuta walking down the street in front of this store in the film. Lured by the aroma of seasonal fruits, I entered the store. I was greeted by Mototaka Nishimura, 62, the executive managing director of the company that operates the store.

“Shibuya has been featured in many anime, films and other works. I am glad scenes that I have witnessed right before my eyes for many years are depicted and attract people’s attention,” Nishimura said.

The town of Shibuya is constantly evolving.

Now, eight years have passed since the film was released and quite a few scenes featured in it no longer exist.

“Shibuya is always changing. For people who only know Shibuya in the beginning of the Heisei era (1989-2019), today’s Shibuya might seem like a different world, like Jutengai,” Nishimura said with a laugh.

Film “Bakemono no Ko” (“The Boy and The Beast”)

In Shibuya, Tokyo, there is an alternate world, called Jutengai, where anthropomorphized animals live. A lonely 9-year-old boy, named Ren, happens to meet Kumatetsu, a resident of the alternate world, and enters the world in the hope of becoming strong. Kumatetsu gives him a new name — Kyuta — and Kyuta becomes Kumatetsu’s apprentice. However, they clash at every turn. Over time, they gradually form a father-son bond and both grow mentally and physically.

The anime film was released in 2015. The director, Hosoda, is also known for such works as “Summer Wars.”