Over the past decade, and throughout several award-winning films, Mamoru Hosoda has solidly established himself as a director every anime fan ought to know and watch for. He’s been described by many–Geek & Sundry, included–as an heir apparent to Hayao Miyazaki, and the comparison is certainly apt. He and Studio Ghibli’s founder both specialize in whimsy, magical realism, and fantasy spectacle that plays to audiences much broader than the usual anime niche. Hosoda was even an early contender to direct Howl’s Moving Castle before Miyazaki took on the adaptation himself. That said, throwing “the next Miyazaki” around like some definitive label really does both artists a disservice.
While Hosoda often deals with childhood innocence and the pangs of growing up, too, his films approach these subjects from angles quite different than Miyazaki’s. He shows how crucial parents are–to their flesh and blood, and to the children they adopt–and regularly has coming-of-age reveal adults who are unrecognizable to the children they once were. A bully can become a supportive friend. A scaredy cat can become a dangerous outcast. A cantankerous beast can learn how to fight from an angry boy, and a behind-the-times matriarch can even marshal an army of online allies.
On the eve of Anime Expo, FUNimation has produced a featurette about the man, his work, and his themes; bringing academics and anime professionals in to describe what sets Hosoda’s oeuvre apart.
Hosada’s most recent picture, the Boy & the Beast, follows Ren, a lost runaway who flees into a pocket world peopled by walking, talking animals. He’s taken into the tutelage of the ursine Kumatetsu, an over-the-hill master swordsman on a flailing journey toward godhood. Tutor and student have much to learn from each other about inner-anger and self-worth, and as the FUNimations featurette notes, this contemporary fairy tale riffs on literature from Journey to the West and the Jungle Book to Moby Dick.
Wolf Children flips the man/beast family arrangement. It’s a heartwarming family drama that doubles as a horror movie’s prologue. A young widow, Hana, moves inland to raise the feral kids she’s been left with after the unexpected death of her husband–a werewolf. The film focuses on the moments of tenderness and emotional fragility most monster movies have no patience for. Hana struggles with her pups’ identity as much as the young’ins do themselves. Should she raise them as dogs, or as kids? When the wild calls, should they follow, or ignore it? The uncertain answers prove bittersweet.
Summer Wars offers a hopeful message for mankind. The internet doesn’t have to be all trolling and doxxing: it can bring strangers together for the common good, and even heal fractured family ties. After the malicious computer virus, Love Machine, seizes control of a worldwide MMO, it’s up to a 90-year-old granny and her three generations of children to save Earth from digital disaster. The old woman even understands this threat better than her tech-savy grandson, and she knows its solution may lie in an estranged son everybody’s given up on.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time gives a fresh look at a classic novel, taking a more down-to-Earth view on science fiction tropes with a heroine who reaps the benefits of casual time-travel. Makoto, the titular heroine, can literally jump into the past. At first, she only takes do-overs for her own benefit. As the plot advances, though, she sees how her powers can help others; and thus begins a moving journey from selfishness to selflessness.
While Hosoda’s plots are compelling, certainly, neglecting to mention his distinct approach to design and motion would be a glaring omission. There’s a gestural fluidity to his characters–a sense of performance few animated films capture on either side of the Pacific. Whether it’s a blade-wielding bear, a skin-walking kindergartner, or a holographic death god, there’s always a close-up gravitas more often found in black box theater than in digitally-painted cells. His casts aren’t full of plushie dolls, nor action figures, but living, breathing, bleeding people.
Intrigued to experience these entries in Hosoda’s filmography yourself, now? If you’re already a fan, what’s your favorite of his works? Hit the talkback with your thoughts!
Image Credits: FUNimation