Mamoru Hosoda: Big Ideas and Bigger Hearts

If you’re yet to discover the genius of Mamoru Hosoda, the release of his latest film Mirai is the perfect opportunity to encounter one of the best directors working in animation today. If you’re already a fan, then you know that you’re in for a treat. Here’s your primer on what to look out for when watching a Hosoda film:

High concept sci-fi or fantasy

A kid grows up in an underground world of brawling gods. Half-werewolves struggle to find their identity at high school. A time-travelling girl navigates adolescence and her unsual powers. All of Hosoda’s films hang on dizzying ideas, rooted in the everyday challenges of growing up. Mirai is no different, as a brother learns to love his sister through some time-hopping shenanigans. 

One of the most exhilarating Hosoda movies is Summer Wars, where most of the action takes place in a giant social media website. In it, the battleground is white space backed by lines of code and web architecture – dedicated fans of Hosoda may even recognise hintsbof his first feature film, Digimon: The Movie, in the digital landscapes he creates here. Even when Hosoda was working on (largely nonsensical) franchise properties, he was creating dazzling sci-fi images and worlds that buzzed with colour and invention.

Big emotional stakes

Each one of these big concepts, however, is tied to everyday, universal experiences – growing up, working out relationships, meeting your girlfriend’s family. Hosoda’s eye is unwaveringly accurate, capturing intimate, human moments that feel real, even within time travel narratives or as a whale made of stars bursts through the tarmac of a city centre.

These emotional punches really land, often achieving the kind of transcendence that most directors only dream of. It’s hard to forget the moment in Wolf Children when the two half-wolves tumble down a hillside in the snow, revelling in both of their bodies and enjoying the sheer freedom of childhood. Masakatsu Takagi’s soaring, energetic score and the kinetic animation drag you into this joyous, snowy moment. 

Gorgeous animation

It’s just one of many scenes that reveal Mamoru Hosoda’s unfailingly brilliant animation. Fans of his work notice a few recurring images – unusually lanky and tall characters are a quick way to spot his hand. It’s not just that he and his team of animators draw spellbinding images, although you could pick any moment of his films to show that they do that very well; Mamoru Hosoda goes further, understanding that his format is his chief way of telling the story. 

Take, for instance, the setting of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, a Japenese city on a hot summer’s day. You can feel the heat in the drips of sweat, the hum of insects, the sluggish movements of the leads – it’s intoxicating, making Makoto’s day feel like a game-changing, liminal moment for the teenager. Under Hosoda’s paintbrush, children grow up in the course of one long tracking shot as time passes effortlessly and crowds of digital beings float through screens full of white space. 

His animation feeds into his sci-fi, which in turn feeds into his emotional impact, making his films full of big ideas and bigger hearts and it’s why he’s one of the best best directors around. 

Nathanael Smith
Freelance copywriter, copy editor and film critic
October 2018

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