Mamoru Hosoda

This week in Director Spotlight: Mamoru Hosoda

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Hosoda is one of the more recent directors to gain a solid following. He began studying oil painting, and working as a key animator on series like *DragonBall Z*, *Sailor Moon*, and the *Slam Dunk* movies. Now he stands with his own company, Studio Chizu, and producing some of the best “family” films in anime today.

An interesting point with Hosoda is his passion for Family stories, to the point of becoming a negative. Sure we’ll all love Summer Wars large cast, and the Wolf Children are adorable, but in nearly every one of his works the characters feel somewhat lacking. His blind goal of the feeling of family also was a likely reason for his stepping down from Howl’s Moving Castle. For a man touted as the “next Miyazaki”, they clearly have different visions in their work.


The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

MAL | Trailer

*”Can we fix the problems in our life? Can we, in our youth, even understand what the problem is?”*

Hosoda believes that Family is not something you fix. Family is always there, and we must move forward *with* them, not in spite of them. Adding to this simple story, Hosoda pours in his wistful and smooth art style. His character designs lean towards “mushy”, with a focus on having expressive movement over detailed form. This ties back into our story beautifully, as our main character uses time travel in that same mushy way with little focus. That is not to say that he can’t animate things, just that he prefers the characters to move well.

Following the day to day of our main cast, playing baseball after school and enjoying each others company, the story brings us along with Makoto as she gains the ability to time travel. To fix problems, correct mistakes, or attempt to gain things we lost, these are the standard idea’s we’ve become accustomed to. Here we break from that mold and inspect what a mistake really means. It is not something fixed through time travel, or new choices, but something that we trust in our family to help us through.

The characters suffer from a lack of distinctness, something Hosoda will repeat throughout his works. This is not to say that you won’t get the “feels” or find the characters bland. No, this is our family and we know them inside and out. There is no reason to explore the depths of their souls, only to understand that at the end of the day, they’ll be there for us. The beauty of this piece lies in it’s simplicity. The emotions, drama, and romance in the film is handled well, and the focus on *accepting mistakes* versus *fighting the inevitable* is something that will keep this film in your mind.


Digimon Adventure Movie

If your a fan of Digimon, then this is one to catch. A difficult tast within the Pokemon/Digimon/etc franchises is the ability to tie all the characters together. Hosoda fits this perfectly, bringing everyone together in a way you’ll rarely experience in this genre. Later he takes this film and remakes it as *Summer Wars* which I think is the better of the two, so if your not a Digi-man that’s fine.

Samurai Champloo OP

Look at this thing. What an opening, what a mix of themes and great use of art to match the show.

One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island

A clear standout of the One Piece movies that came before Oda took the reigns over with movie 10 and “Z”. If your a fan of One Piece, make sure to catch it. Rarely will you find a moment within the OP universe where the crew feels more linked. Hosoda again finds the “family” within the piece and brings it to the front.

Superflat Monogram

This is an advertisement for Louis Vitton. You can see his light, oil painting aesthetic, and his favoring of bright, vibrant color palates.


Summer Wars

MAL | Trailer

*”Experience the unseen quality behind each family. The beauty, the strength, and unique atmosphere each one brings together.”*

Again, Hosoda brings his mushy character designs and high minded adventure to explore the greatness of one’s family. This time he adds a vibrant colored mix of CGI action that allows for the stories central issue, and takes his idea of family even further.

This film is the difference between Miyazaki and Hosoda, struck in bold. Those familiar with Ghibli films might expect our two MC’s going on an adventure together and growing as people during the journey, but that is where our difference lies. The characters of this film are Kenji, a computer virus, and the entire family as one.

Hosoda goes into the next level of “shallow characters” that some might critic, with many of them having no growth or many lines of dialog, but here lies his personal ambition. One of the stand-out parts of the film is how Hosoda manages to bring in such a vibrant family character to life.

The moment our two characters arrive, the girl fades away and we’re greeted by the face of our real character, the badass Grandma.

We explore the various parts of the family, from the drunken uncle, gossipy aunts, and loud cousins, to the wide relationship base, black sheep memories, and humanity within. Our MC goes through the story talking with many different parts of this character, but always these parts act towards the larger cohesive character. While each person is different, as a whole they (and we) are stronger together, and this is Hosoda’s message to the world.


Wolf Children Ami & Yuki

MAL | Trailer

*”Families have difficulty, and must change, but that’s ok.”*

Hosoda, you beautiful bastard. While I think this film is his weakest in execution, it’s also quite ambitious and unique. TGWLTT explored the change of youthful naivety to adulthood, Summer Wars explored the character made of one’s family, but Wolf Children explores the changing focus of that character through the change of youth. A kind of wrap up to his family exploration. Expressive faces, bright colors, family values, and solid coming of age stories, everything gets notched up from his previous works.

Starting from the Mother, we see through her eyes as she watches her children grow.

We follow the struggles, worries, pleasures, and tough decisions that one faces with children in life. This is a heart wrenching journey that eventually reaches the end with a goodbye to childhood.

Hosoda begins to shift our focus from motherhood to growing up, the new lessons and worries that it presents. With great side-by-side shot broken down very well by Every Frame A Picture,

We begin to follow the kids as they find their own way. After this point is where many will find issue, or feel the film lose focus.

While a great director, Hosoda lacks a real grasp for characters, pace, and closure of story. He attempts to show the decisions of these new young adults, and express the Mother’s mixture of worry and pride. While an honorable goal, it just doesn’t quite pan out and leaves a disappointing conclusion. While the end might be a bit jarring, the journey is one of beauty that ends with you on the phone with your mom. Just go hug her will ya?


Final Thoughts

Hosoda will be seen again this summer in his new film,

The Boy and the Beast

His first work created by and written fully by himself. This could be a good thing, allowing him to continue his expansion of style, or it could show his real flaws in writing, pace, and closure of story. I’m hoping it’s the former.

I really enjoy Hosoda’s work and ability to create simple, but beautiful stories. Not a lot of flash, not a ton of “art”, just vibrant color, emotional moments, and endearing stories. He may never be remembered as the best, but he’s securing his own spot in the anime world. The Family Man.

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