RANKED: The Films of Mamoru Hosoda

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(Nefarious 2017)

When I tell people that I love anime, you can see it in their eyes, the preconceived idea they have of Japanese animation with the exaggerated facial expressions, random character power ups and, of course, the dreamy “anime babes”… sigh. And that area of anime is all well and good (mate, I really could not give a rat’s ass whether you enjoy Dragonball Z or not), the art form is more than just the absurd cliches Western culture has seemingly latched onto the title of anime. For me, anime is slice-of-life stories usually following children on spiritual journeys with subtle fantasy elements and music that was MADE to relax the hell out of you. And yes, that description lines up perfectly with Studio Ghibli, but no, I am not talking about those legends today. Instead, I want to discuss an artist living outside the realms of Ghibli but producing work that even, on some cases, rival the big dogs of anime. That’s right, I am talking about Mamoru Hosoda – one of my favourite talents from out of Japan. Hosoda’s work is literally everything I look for in good anime; his films are meditative dramas that may exist in heavily fictionalized environments but at their core are truly powerful tales of about the human condition. So with his upcoming fifth, solo, feature length production, Mirai of the Future, hitting cinemas in the coming weeks, I thought it would be a perfect time to honor Hosoda by ranking his work, and basically getting this guys name out there to the people who do not understand that anime is more than what meets the eye. With a director like Hosoda anime is straight up one of the finest arts in film.

#4 SUMMER WARS

Funnily enough, coming off my big explanation of why anime is so good and how Hosoda is a master of the animation style… I’m not particularly the biggest fan of his 2009 effort Summer Wars. The film is set in the near future where a young mathematics protege is framed for hacking a virtual reality software entitled OZ whilst on a weekend getaway with his high school crush and her extended family. So I don’t want to be misread because I do ‘like’ Summer Wars and it is, without a doubt, an enjoyable movie, but I would not be holding it up atop the same pedestal as Hosoda’s other work. What Summer Wars does well is tell a warm and passionate story about family despite the overly large cast of characters. It has some sweet and down to Earth moments, but the main spectacle of the film is the exploration of the computer generated world of OZ – and that is what I find most uninteresting about this movie. Despite some unique, striking, colourful and gorgeous visuals, the central video-gamey arc of the movie just gives no substance to the story as opposed to the more family-centric subplot that never feels as relevant. Many animes may still pale in comparison to Summer Wars, but in my opinion, this Hosoda adventure flick just does not reach the same heights of the director’s more heartfelt and intimate work. Yet, I would still recommend this movie… just watch it after all his other ones though.

#3 THE BOY AND THE BEAST

This movie honestly changed my opinion of how to structure an action film. The Boy and the Beast from 2015 may be Hosoda’s most recent feature but its also one of the greatest animes I have seen in recent memory. The Boy and the Beast essentially follows an orphan who is adopted by a beastly, stubborn martial artist who belongs to a world known as the Beast Kingdom; after some confrontations between one another, the two learn to grow and respect each other over the course of a lifetime. An element of Hosoda’s work I love most is how he treats the concept of time and highlights how deeply it can effect the flow of a story. You can see this element play out in Wolf Children and, of course, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, but in The Boy and the Beast I feel Hosoda utilizes ‘time’ in such a unique way, the film feels more complete and well-rounded in its themes and character relationships all the better for it. For the majority of the film’s first half, incredible, crisp visuals plague the screen as an old-fashioned rather cliche Karate Kid story unfolds – yet, the film hits the midway point, and (mild spoilers) a time jump is inserted that heavily changes the narrative for good. The Boy and the Beast is an emotionally effective, exciting and partly hilarious anime for which I feel is a definite must watch when concerning Hosoda. The film is weird and wonderful, yet I would not recommend it as your first anime film ever; think of The Boy and the Beast as a kind of reward for you after trail blazing through multiples of samey animes, until finally you strike gold.

#2 THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME

This may only be at number two, but full disclosure, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, is my personal favourite Hosoda film, period. Basically enough, the film centers on a teenager who gains the ability to travel through time and begins using this newfound ability to fix minor inconveniences and major complications. The first time I technically watched this film was on a plane. You know how it is, coming home from Cambodia, in a state of being half awake, half asleep – I just needed a film to pass the time. I saw The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, decided to give it a shot and immediately after starting the film I fell asleep in a heartbeat. Yet, something had me coming back for more, since the week I landed back in Australia, I immediately went to purchase a copy of the DVD. And so began my love of Hosoda’s films. I neglected to mention that, yes, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was the first Hosoda film I ever watched, and instantly had me addicted to the director and his filmography… but enough of me talking about my experiences, lets just get in to this bloody masterpiece. You know what though, when I come to think about it, there is not much I really want to tell you about this movie. It’s best kept secret. If anything, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is cute. The visuals are soft but detailed. The characters are beyond fascinating and the story is so different from any other time travel movies. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is scene after scene of memorable, plot thickening joy – oh, and the ending. Wow, the finale is one of my favourites in film history. And all it takes is one moment towards the end that is so touching, dreamy, surreal and… argh, cannot – spoil – the – movie. Do me a favour and just watch it guys.

#1 WOLF CHILDREN

Oh heck… here come the waterworks. The magnum opus of Hosoda’s work, so far, tells the tale of a woman’s trials and tribulations through motherhood as she tries raising two children who have the erratic ability to transform into wolves. So I know Toy Story 3 came out two years prior, but 2012’s Wolf Children is one of the most emotional animations you will ever find yourself sitting through. And do not think this movie is just a teary flick where you cry purely for the sake of crying; Wolf Children adheres to some rich substance, completely toying off our emotions as we all come to recognize how strong a figure our mothers truly are. A visual poem, to say the least, moving from era to era of a mother’s struggles to that of her children’s, Wolf Children is honestly a film unlike any other. How perfectly this film portrays motherhood and adolescence – how sweetly it narrates one’s search for identity. Although the concept may border on the insane to Twilight-like, the end product is universal in its atmosphere and meaning. What? You don’t believe me? Well, hear this as proof: my mother, who has never seemed to care for any of this anime stuff, caught the tail end of this movie, and you know what she said to me afterwards? She remarked “oh that looks amazing! I need to watch it sometime”… yep, I was shocked too. My advice would be to buy this film for your mother on Mother’s Day and watch it with her. Trust me, no card from the servo will come close to the letter of appreciation and eternal love Wolf Children already depicts. And if your mum asks, just tell her its a “metaphorical thank you” from Mamoru Hosoda – actually, scratch that last part. A bit too nerdy.

P.S. I would like to acknowledge how a keen eye would have noticed that I did not include Digmon: The Movie or One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island on this list. Well the reason for which is that Digmon was a collaboration project for Hosoda and One Piece, I felt, was more “another movie” in the One Piece franchise rather than a Hosoda film. That is why both movies did not feature on this list… also… I’ve never seen either.

 

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