originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/647283...

Hey friends, it’s Thursday! It’s also April Fools day, so please feel lucky you’re not getting a hagiographic description of Trey Parker and Matt Stone or something, but I do not have the willpower to commit to a bit like that…

Gif source: @peachmuncher

Instead, we’re gonna keep things on familiar ground: tonight we’re going to be returning to the delightful character animation spectacles of Mamoru Hosoda. We first met Hosoda way back on Animation Night 15, and back then I gave a brief summary of his career: a veteran of Toei and Madhouse like so many of my fave directors.

At Toei, Hosoda got his start as a key animator, working his way up to direct Digimon and One Piece films; though his films stood out in those franchises, he understandably wanted to tell his own stories. He landed a job at Studio Ghibli directing an early version of Howl’s Moving Castle, but this fell through because of friction with the studio, who wanted him to closely copy Miyazaki’s directing style; instead, Hosoda landed at Madhouse and directed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time  (2006) and Summer Wars (2009), working alongside industry legends like Satoshi Kon, Sayo Yamamoto,  Takeshi Koike and Mitsuo Iso.

Gif source: @iyashikei

However, this was the tail end of Madhouse’s reign: for perhaps a variety of reasons, most of their big names left to various other parts in the 2010s, leaving the studio a shell of its former self whose productions get little attention (except for the worst reasons, like when they made the news in 2019 for overworking and underpaying a production assistant to the point of health problems). Hosoda was among the directors who left, preferring to work somewhere smaller; so in 2011 he left Madhouse to found Studio Chizu, with whom he’s continued a clockwork schedule of releasing a film every three years ever since.

Of course, as the saying goes, ‘a studio is just a building’ - most of the anime industry runs on single-production contract work, and Chizu has seen many talented key animators contribute over the years. Last time we watched Wolf Children (2012), the moving story of a single mother raising a pair of energetic werewolves.

This time my plan is to show the other two films he directed at Chizu! First up we have The Boy and the Beast (バケモノの子 Bakemono no Ko, lit. The Monster’s Child), in which a runaway orphan is adopted as a ‘disciple’ by a big, buff furry prince, and as such finds himself drawn into a succession struggle in the furry world.

Gif source: @izayadragon

…yeah, another big old wolf guy, just in case the werewolf dad in Wolf Children left you with any doubt!

Hosoda’s films tend to focus on exploring a particular kind of relationship, so far broadly within the hetero family, but with enough charm and style to be a lot of fun anyway (helped by lots of delightfully bouncy, squishy character animation). If The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was a Makoto Shinkai-esque doomed romance, and Wolf Children was about mother-child relationships and kids growing up and developing their own particular personalities, The Boy and the Beast is about… ok it’s probably an adoptive father-son thing but also the dad figure is like a kendo instructor and there’s a subtheme of depression? This was the first time Hosoda actually wrote his own film, and the result is apparently a film that’s a bit less tightly edited than his usual work, with the animation accomplished on a tighter timeframe. Still, it looks pretty gorgeous all the same…

Gif source: @twotheleft

The family theme rides on into his most recent film, the widely acclaimed Mirai no Mirai (未来のミライ lit. ‘Mirai of the Future’). This one follows a four-year-old child who, after his sister is born, starts experiencing vivid visions of his family’s past and his own future. It does the kind of Satoshi Kon style thing where dreams and visions blur with ‘reality’, allowing the film to visit many different emotional settings, from cute furryish interactions with his pet dog and scenes of bike riding, to the aftermath of a disaster. It seems to be a beautiful film, full of charming character animation…

…but, all that said, Hosoda’s consistent thematic focus is starting to sit kind of oddly with me. I love the artistic skill of Hosoda’s films, and they are consistently moving, but there is no 未来 for people like me in the heterosexual nuclear families he so lovingly explores, nor do I particularly want one! And, sure, I’m glad this dude seems to have his life pretty sorted out (worth noting that supporting a family is not really an option for most animators in Japan!) but… it’s propaganda, y’know? All the worse because no doubt he doesn’t even realise that’s what he’s doing!

Gif source: @animeshojo

Don’t worry, I’m not about to launch into reciting passages of Baedan here. This remains ‘just’ the industry and society we all have to contend with, and there remains plenty to love about Hosoda’s films or I wouldn’t be showing em :p The lively, squishy, expressive animation I loved so much in Girl Who Leapt and Wolf Children continues to be on full display, thanks to the talents of a bunch of great character animators like Atsuko Tanaka, Hiroyuki Aoyama, Ayako Hata and Satoko Morikawa. These films are definitely going to be an absolute visual treat, and might even just wring out a few tears.

And it won’t be too long until we can get a glimpse of Hosoda’s next film, titled Belle. I don’t have a lot of info about it yet, beyond that it’s returning to Hosoda’s familiar theme of a VR world and he has described it as the film he always wanted to make. Very curious to see what that means…

Animation Night 47 will begin at 7pm UK time (just under an hour), at twitch.tv/canmom. Would love to see you there…


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