Hi, it’s Mokugyo again with another Anime Study!
March brought us the new anime season and warmer days. Your name (Kimi no Na wa) directed by Makoto Shinkai was a huge hit last year in 2016, and it’s still running in Japanese theaters. Nobody could have predicted that it would be such a major box-office hit. Shinkai also published a novelization of Your name along with the film. According to one of his interviews, he was inspired to do so by the fact that Mamoru Hosoda once wrote a novel while creating a film.
Mamoru Hosoda, mentioned a lot by Makoto Shinkai in his interviews, is another noteworthy creator that leads the Japanese anime film industry in modern times. This article is all about him.
Who is Mamoru Hosoda?
Mamoru Hosoda, the 49-year-old anime film director, is so popular that some people consider him to be the leader of the post-Miyazaki era. Even though Japan is known for anime, it still isn’t easy to produce a non-adaptation original anime film. However, Hosoda has directed a number of original anime films and all of them have been successful. What is the biggest charm of his works? Let’s look at his previous works in chronologic order.
Proving his talent with the Digimon Adventure series
Mamoru Hosoda was employed at Toei Animation after graduating from university. In 1999, his first time in the director’s chair was with Digimon Adventure: The Movie. It was 20 minutes long and screened together with Yu-Gi-Oh!. It was a short film but filled with a lot of attractive aspects. It was a monster film, but it was enough to show his talent.
The following year in 2000, he directed the second film for Digimon called Digimon Adventure: Our War Game!. It was very popular, and catapulted him into fame among anime fans and industry experts. It was screened together with One Piece: The Movie and since the first film of One Piece was the main attraction, Our War Game! was only 40 minutes long. However, It was successful as the second Digimon film, despite the length.
The film is also indicative of the themes that played a huge role in his later works. The digital dimension known as ‘Digital World,’ the digital disorder influencing the real world, children saving the world by using both digital and analog means… all these themes can be found in his anime movie Summer Wars. Their simultaneous countdown in the story makes it even more thrilling to watch. I would really like to recommend many of you to watch this short film.
Hosoda was originally selected to direct Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl no Ugoku Shiro)
Hosoda was later invited to work at Studio Ghibli. Howl’s Moving Castle is one of the big hits directed by Hayao Miyazaki, but Hosoda was originally selected to direct it. Unfortunately, he ended up leaving the project during the early production stages. He once said he suffered a great shock at that time and thought he wouldn’t be able to create films anymore.
After quitting the Howl’s Moving Castle project, he went back to Toei Animation, and worked on Ojamajo Doremi Dokkaan! with its 40th episode, ‘Doremi and the Witch Stop Being Witches.’ This episode shows Hosoda’s personal taste, such as the path of one’s turning point in life. It’s a curious coincidence that he worked on a story about a witch who stopped being a witch after he quit the Howl project.
Directing One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island
In 2005, Hosoda directed One Piece; Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island. His fans were very excited to hear that he was directing a One Piece film, but it didn’t turn out to be as successful as expected. It followed a darker style of writing compared to the rest of the series. Some say that Hosoda was still bound by his bitter experience with his unsuccessful Howl project. Hosoda does not use shades on character faces and he was true to that rule in this One Piece film too.
His turning point The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo)
In 2006, he went freelance and created The Girl Who Leapt Through Time at Madhouse. It was based on a novel originally published in 1967. It had always been very popular and had already been adapted into multiple films and TV drama series. This film The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was Hosoda’s third direction and the first anime adaptation of another work. It is a loose sequel to the 1983 live action film that was a big hit in Japan, but you don’t need to watch the 1983 film to enjoy Hosoda’s adaptation. It was originally released to a small number of theaters but positive reviews generated interest and the distribution company eventually increased the number of theaters.
The best part about this film is the detailed psychological descriptions of the main characters. Whenever a bad thing happens, the protagonist repeats the scene using her time-leaping ability in order to fix it. The first half of the film is illustrated as comedy, but the last half reveals its true colors. It became very popular as a pleasant story of adolescence.
Summer Wars becomes a box office hit
Summer Wars was released in 2009. It became a box office hit, grossing over 1.6 billion yen. Producing an original anime film without an original hit source was hard enough to do in Japan, but it was even harder to make a one-billion yen hit. It was a huge achievement to gross over 1.6 billion yen for box-office revenue back then.
The plot is about a big family in the countryside and wars in a computer-simulated virtual reality. It’s no exaggeration to say that it was a boosted-up version of his previous work, Digimon Adventure: Our War Game!. The various avatars in the virtual reality world OZ remind you of Digimon. Illustrating colorful characters and buildings gathered up in a white background are known to be Hosoda’s signature.
The trend of nuclear families, as well as the reality of an unmarried life, has greatly increased in Japan, and it has become rare to see a family really gather together. On the other hand, people also find it nice to have the traditional relationships of family and relatives helping each other out. This film is unique in showing such a traditional Japanese family system in contrast with the latest technology. It also features a love romance between the young male protagonist and his senior female friend. Hosoda was recognized among the general public with this film.
Depicting a mother raising her children: Wolf Children (Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki)
Wolf Children was released in 2012 and became a box office hit grossing 4.2 billion yen. A woman falls in love with a werewolf and has a daughter, Yuki, and a son, Ame. With their father killed in an accident early on, the single mother has a difficult life in the countryside, taking care of her children who can transform into wolves.
This film features beautifully drawn wild nature: it has detailed grass and trees waving in the wind. The rainstorm shown in the latter half describes the characters’ mental state in relation to the wild nature. The highlight of the film is when the wolf children, Yuki and Ame, transform into wolves and run around in the snow. The speed expressed here shows the quality of the film. Hosoda started a new studio called Studio Chizu to create this film.
The Boy and the Beast (Bakemono no Ko) depicts the relationship between a father and his son
The Boy and the Beast was released in 2015 and was a record-breaking hit with a total box office gross of 5.85 billion yen. Hosoda’s recognition steadily increased.
This film is about a bear-beast looking after a human boy. His last film was about motherhood, but in this film Hosoda described the parenting of a father. Kumatetsu, a beast, ends up taking care of Kyuuta, a human boy. He has no experience in parenting (this human boy is not even his own son) and he struggles with parenthood. The father and the son often fight and the first half of the film features the comical side of their conflicts. Hosoda is great at using trivial comical elements in his films, making it comfortable for viewers to enjoy watching.
The later half illustrates the battle between a grown-up Kyuuta and evil enemies. It’s quite neat to see the contrast of the Beast Kingdom with a variety of beasts of various animal faces and the real world town of Shibuya. You can also find the scramble crossing in front of Shibuya Station which is now well-known as a popular sight-seeing spot. The soundtrack music is also impressive.
The Anime Directors of the Future
Mamoru Hosoda is expected to lead the anime film industry of Japan from now on, along with Makoto Shinkai who directed the massive hit Your name. What their works have in common is that they entertain all generations. Current Japanese modern anime are divided into many different genres, and it is incredibly hard to attract different generations at the same time. I would really like many anime fans overseas to learn more about his works.