Atlas of Mamoru Hosoda: Never Lose Hope all the Way Forward

  Japanese animated film develops a global reputation for its unique aesthetic style and artistic merits, while witnessing the constant appearance of immortal figures, such as Hayao Miyazaki, Mamoru Oshii, Katsuhiro Otomoand Satoshi Kon. Across the Japanese anime film industry, Mamoru Hosoda has been, far and away, one of the most high-profile new generation directors. Following the success of his independent directorial debut, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2016), which came out of left field at the box office in the Japanese film market, Mamoru’s later works have been on a winning streak. Crowned as the “successor of Hayao Miyazaki” or “new generation of Hayao Miyazaki” by the Japanese media, Mamoru Hosoda has grown into a tower of strength to the world of Japanese animation. At this year’s Beijing Film Panorama, Mamoru’s several magnum opuses were selected to make up an “Atlas: Mamoru Hosoda”, including Summer Wars, Wolf Children,The Boy and The Beast, and most recent Mirai, other than the above-mentioned The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

  A later bloomer

  “To produce a quality flick, a director should rack his/her brains, with a consciousness that ‘I could die for film works.’ This is exactly the true definition of a piece of film work,” said Mamoru Hosoda once in one of his documentaries. His passion for animation could be dated back to the third year of his middle school when he completed his first work–a one-minute short film about air war.

  In 1967, Mamoru Hosoda was born in Toyama Prefecture, which is ringed on three sides by mountains and embraced on one side by the sea. Growing up in such distinctive natural scenery, Mamoruhas been fond of landscape painting since childhood. His stammer and language barrier once caused him to be somewhat unsociable, and made him hard to integrate into his class group. In 1979 when he graduated from primary school, he watched Hayao Miyazaki’s directorial film Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro and Shigeyuki Hayashi’s theatrical animation Bonjour Galaxy Express 999 by chance in cinemas. He was deeply moved by the fantastic world presented in the films. This contributed to his setting of a career goal as an animation director at early time.

  However, Mamoru Hosoda had an unsuccessful beginning of career. Unlike the majority of animation makers stepping into the industry right upon graduation from professional schools or high schools, he did that after his study in college with a major in film making. After graduation, he went for a recruitment examination with Studio Ghibli, but failed. Be that as it may, he received an encouraging letter from Hayao Miyazaki, which says like this: “If people like you can be easily recruited to our studio, this will in turn sap your talents. To this end, our decision is not to employ you.”As can be seen from one of his documentaries, Mamoru Hosoda pasted up the letter in a photo frame as a collection.

  After that, Mamoru Hosoda was recommended by an acquaintance to work for Toei Animation. During the period of eight years from joining Toei in 1991 to directing his debut theatrical animation Digimon: The Moviein 1999, he had been gaining momentum. In this process, he apprenticed under famed concept artists like Takaaki Yamashita and Koichi Tsunoda, and was familiar with the whole animation process and mode. Also, he got many practical opportunities to participate in the original painting and storyboarding design of multi-episode animation. As what he stated, “Toei Animation is just like a school to me.”

  Following the success of Digimon: The Movie, Mamoru Hosoda directed another companion Digimon Movie: Children‘s War Game. The latter can also be seen as the prototype of the later Summer Wars, telling a story that the teenagers in the real life unite to fight against the enemies in the virtual world. From the point on, Mamoru has begun to show his directorial talents. Thanks to this, he was seconded by Studio Ghibli to work as the director of Howl's Moving Castle. But it was the experience that created the largest setback in his career. Mamoru was replaced by Ghibli on the half way of shooting, but no one could clearly know what happened. According to the producer of this animation, “Mamoru Hosoda is a has-been director,” the same way as what the industry insiders discussed.

  After three years showing no signs of an improvement, Mamoru Hosoda finally received an invitation from Masao Maruyama, President of MAD HOUSE, to make an animated film–The Girl Who Leapt Through Time which is what made him famous. At this time, it has been 14 years since he first entered the animation industry. At the age of 38 which does not mean a young age, Mamoru Hosoda just renounced the world splendidly as an animation supervisor.

  Reality and family

  In 2006, a Japanese-animated science fiction romance film named The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was released. The film is a loose sequel to the 1967 novel of the same name by Yasutaka Tsutsui. Without complicated plot, it tells a story about a 17-year-old girl who gains the power of time travel and uses time-leaps to fix problems spending her high school years.

  Though the plot is simple, the director Mamoru Hosoda described the inner worlds of adolescent boys and girls in a vivid way. From the ecstasy of gaining time travel power to regret for misusing time-leaps, from the laughter to the tears, every detail is spontaneously presented without pretension and the audiences resonate with the protagonist, recalling self in high school life. Even though he stumbled impetuously, he stopped his steps. “I’m keeping an eye out for you.”“I’m running to you.” Innumerable audiences have been moved by the brief lines.

  The protagonist’s growing in failure and frustration overlaps Mamoru Hosoda’s experience. The film was projected in dozens of cinema screens at first. Later depending on its public praise and fans’ spontaneous promo, up to 100 cinemas put it online and it finally grossed 260 million yen (15.58 million yuan). The film won numerous awards, including the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year and Tokyo Anime Award for Best Animation of The Year. These awards cogently responded the rumor that Mamoru had used up his talent. And the success of the film laid the foundation of Mamoru’s characteristic of exquisite realism. Audiences are fond of these features in his later works.

  Later Mamoru cooperated with Mad House and brought animated film Summer Wars. This film tells a story about an introverted math genius Kenji is invited by his fellow student Natsuki to her hometown and pretend to be her boyfriend. After Kenji gets familiar with the happy life in this place, he triggers by accident a catastrophe cast by online world. To save the world Kenji together with his fellows fights. Summer War features in virtual reality, integrates elements like Japanese family culture and history, becoming a general entertainment. It grossed 1.7 billion yen(101.93 yuan) in box office and won Tokyo Anime Award for Best Animation of The Year. And it is the first Japanese anime nominated in Locarno International Film Festival.

  Mamoru’s third anime feature is Wolf Children. The story follows a young mother who is left to raise two half-human half-wolf children, Ame and Yuki, after their werewolf father dies. Another director Tomino Yoshiyuki calls it a new anime era. Mamoru displayed great love of the mother, emphasized the quandary when facing choices for future. Audiences resonate with the characters in film and review their own parent-child relationships. Underestimated Wolf Children is actually a transformation of Mamoru. Featuring in female mother makes a breakthrough in Japanese anime. Yoshiyuki Tomino commented, “The way Wolf Children describe female characters has a significant meaning for Japanese anime media. When directing Wolf Children, Mamoru had not got his child he eager for. His first child was born when Wolf Children was released. His new understanding of family and relationship made him choose family and kinship as the theme in the later The Boy and The Beast and Mirai. His son had been 2 years old when he was preparing for The Boy and The Beast which conveys his paternal feeling. He has talked that people consider children should be brought up by parents, but it’s the experience makes them grow up. He explained this in the relationship between beast master Kumatetsu and the lonely protagonist Kyuta, they are teacher and student, father and son, and they are friends.

  The latest Mirai tells the adventure of a 4-year-old boy Kun and his baby sister Mirai. The single son envies his sister because she shares their parents’ love. He falls into a world of daydream and encounters his adult sister, childish mother, and young grandfather. This magical journey makes Kun understand the meaning of “family”. Miarai is written on Mamoru’s son and daughter and it conveys a vivid atmosphere of real family life. The film not only won Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year, but also was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 76th Golden Globe Awards, and Best Animated Feature at the 91st Academy Awards. Five anime features make Mamoru famous internationally and become more important and influential.

  In Mamoru’s world, realism and family love are the eternal themes. His late maturity makes his film theme realistic and natural. There is no pretentious concept, just sincerity between people and protection of each other. His protagonists are close to real world, the innocent high school girl, the artless girl Hana, the jealous boy Kun, despite the fantasy of beast’s world, of virtual reality, of wolf children. What never changes is the heartwarming beautiful sincerity among people he wants to display.

  Always be hopeful

  In spite of that there are sorrow and hurt, lose and introversion, defeat and anxiety, hope always exist in Mamoru’s films. Not like Hayao Miyazaki’s grand words, “I’d like to save people’s degenerated souls by my work.” What Mamoru wants to express is that “Creation and watching of films tell us hope exists in the world. Maybe the self then is not happy, but can still exclaim ‘People can be happy.’ Just because people are not happy, they have the rights to create and express.

  In Wolf Children, the little girls Hana’s father lingering in bed told her: “Strained yourself to smile even when you feel blue. This is how you can overcome it.” The great grandmother in Summer War calls her children at the crucial moment and tells them “Never give up is the most important thing. You can make it because I believe you can make it.” The female protagonist Kaede of The Boy and The Beast calls Kyuta when his melanization stared: “I have suffered the same sometimes like something gush out of my heart. Not only you and me, everyone has suffered. So don’t worry, so don’t give up.” And the line of The Girl Who Leap Through Time, I’m running immediately to you. Mamoru always conveys a positive attitude and faith of never give up.

  Various fates appear in different phases. Who has not experienced misfortune? Mamoru’s films are the seeds of hope that will take root, sprout and someday bear the fruit of hope and courage. Please never give up and run forward!

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