With an Oscar nomination for his latest movie, the international hit Mirai in 2019, Japanese script writer and director Mamoru Hosoda is fast becoming a household name in the world of animation. Very few know, however, that the road toward fame was a hard one for Hosoda — success certainly didn’t come overnight.
Although many film critics consider him one of Hayao Miyazaki’s successors, young Hosoda was initially rejected by Studio Ghibli and later on in his career, fired from directing an early version of Studio Ghibli’s Howl’s Moving Castle. Instead of destroying his career, the dismissal allowed him to stand on his own, start his own studio (Studio Chizu) in 2012, and develop his own brand and style of anime.
Hosoda’s movies are favorites at the box office and bear the director’s signature mark of blending realistic, familial settings with sci-fi/fantasy. Here’s a look at his most compelling work to date.
1. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (時をかける少女), 2006
Which high school girl doesn’t dream of being able to turn back time? In this adaptation of the popular sci-fi, young adult novel of the same name by Tsutsui Yasutaka, we meet Makoto, a high school girl struggling with the awkwardness of going to school, growing up, and dealing with her first crush.
However, Makoto soon realizes that she is unique in that she can jump backward and forward in time. At first, she uses her new powers to fix mistakes like failing a test and to avoid awkward situations with her crush. By the end of the movie, through trial and error, we see Makoto mature as she learns to use her gift to help others. This box-office hit earned the first ever Japan Academy Prize for Animation in 2007.
2. Summer Wars (サマーウォーズ), 2009
Summer Wars was another box-office darling and winner of the Japan Academy Prize for Best Animation of the Year in 2010. Hosoda also received a Best Director nomination at the Annie Awards for Summer Wars in 2010. This Madhouse production follows Kenji, a quiet high school math genius, who travels to Ueda, Nagano with his senior classmate, Natsuki.
There, she introduces him as her future fiance to her great grandmother and other members of her formidable family. However, things begin to unravel when Kenji discovers that he is being framed for hacking OZ, a virtual world. Hosoda successfully uses the framing device of the hacking disaster to explore wider issues such as our dependence on technology and inter-generational conflict.
3. Wolf Children (おおかみこどもの雨と雪), 2012
What would you do if you met the love of your life and he turned out to be something you didn’t expect? This is the main premise of Studio Chizu’s first production (co-produced with Madhouse), Wolf Children. In the movie, Hana, a college student, falls in love with a mysterious guy on campus. Although he turns out to be half-man/half-wolf, she marries him and they have two kids, Ame and Yuki.
Tragedy soon strikes and Hana is forced to raise her half-human/half-wolf children alone. Hosoda’s film explores the classic nature-versus-nurture as Ame and Yuki struggle between choosing to be just human or wolf. Wolf Children won many international awards, including the coveted Best Animation of the Year in 2013 at the Japanese Academy Awards.
4. The Boy and the Beast (バケモノの子), 2015
In this second film from Studio Chizu, Hosoda introduces us to Ren. Following the death of his mother, Ren roams the dark alleys of Shibuya and meets Kumatetsu, a beast from another realm. Ren leaves the human world behind and Kumatetsu becomes his fight trainer and surrogate father, taking the place of his absent biological father.
This movie by Hosoda demonstrates that fatherhood is something that is earned through love and care rather than something that’s just biological. The Boy and the Beast was critically acclaimed worldwide and won the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year in 2016.
5. Mirai (ミライの未来), 2018
The cherry on the cake is Hosoda’s latest work that also received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film in 2019. This third Studio Chizu production also won Best Animated Feature – Independent at the Annie Awards.
Hosoda says that the film was inspired by his own son’s experiences dealing with the arrival of another sibling. In the movie, four-year-old Kun, like Makoto, discovers he can move forward and backward through time and each time-travel experience teaches him how to cope with changes in his family. The film is both realistic and fantastical, taking viewers on a whirlwind ride across the generations of Kun’s family tree.
Hosoda’s signature themes of family life and coming of age blended with sci-fi backdrops like time travel and virtual worlds have resonated with audiences across the globe and are bound to satisfy almost any anime fan. His work demonstrates a dynamic, new era in Japanese animation post-Miyazaki and we can’t wait to see his next release.
Text by：Suzanne Bhagan