The Films of Mamoru Hosoda

Films of Hosoda

The arrival of a new sister precedes the discovery of a magical gateway that allows the four-year-old boy to encounter his family at different points in their lives, such as meeting his mother as a young girl. This is the story for “Mirai,” the next film by Japanese director Mamoru Hosoda. Hosoda released four original films in the last decade, each including fantastical elements like time-travel and anthropomorphic animals alongside grounded plots and likable characters.

Hosoda has continually surprised me. The simple descriptions of his films don’t sound like anything that would appeal to me, and yet I’ve enjoyed every one. So despite not caring about the idea behind Mirai, I know by now to give the film a chance. This guy hasn’t disappointed me yet, and I’m looking forward to watching his next movie. Until then, let’s glance back at his earlier material.


Girl Time.png

A terrible day takes a different turn after Makoto accidentally discovers that she’s capable of leaping backwards through time. Of course, she uses her newfound power for frivolous reasons, like avoiding awkward conversations and nabbing the last pudding. What she doesn’t consider is whether her time leaping inconveniences anyone, and can her special power fix everything?

The film that introduced me to Mamoru Hosoda. I watched The Girl Who Leapt Through Time on the same day that I viewed 5 Centimeters Per Second, my first Makoto Shinkai film. That was the more introspective and experimental film, but Girl Who Leapt is more fun. It actually reminds me of the first half of Steins;Gate. Both anime feature young people manipulating time for personal gain, although the consequences in Girl Who Leapt are nowhere as severe as what Rintaro Okabe suffers through. And Hosoda’s characters are more normal than the weirdos of Future Gadget Lab.

Girl Who Leapt balances between fun and aimless. It could be argued that little of what befalls Makoto through the majority of the film is that terrible, at least until the story reaches the final act. We watch Makoto time-leap to avoid and/or fix minor problems, which doesn’t feel terribly precarious. That’s when the worse comes to pass and you realize how foolish and wasteful Makoto acted.

Hosoda and Satoko Okudera, his frequent collaborator, could’ve easily and unintentionally made everything before that final act feel frivolous, but sidesteps this by, for one, keeping the tone casual and fun. The meager problems that Makoto tackles aren’t given inflated importance. The second, more important reason is how a portion of those problems relate to Makoto’s relationship with her friends. We know that she’s capable of retrying situations for the most beneficial result, yet we root for her because she’s trying to help her friends.

This is an enjoyable film that suffers somewhat in comparison to the films that follow. It’s light and breezy without too much drama and the right amount of humor.

Mostly Wholesome — Occasional language, accidental death (view clip above), and a masturbation joke (“Forget to jerk yourself off this morning?”) that’s repeated later.


SumWar

Kenji is recruited into pretending that he is engaged to fellow student Natsuki in front of her sizable family, but a late-night math puzzle leads to trouble when his online profile is stolen and he’s blamed for disrupting the internet. After the real perpetrator, a malicious AI called Love Machine, is uncovered, the tomfoolery escalates into disaster that threatens the world.

I have a little trouble buying the stakes towards the conclusion. That’s not a problem for the majority of Summer Wars, but only towards the end that I struggle. Love Machine, the antagonist, ratchets up the threat as the story moves into the final act, but reactions by characters come across as a little overblown. Are things bad? Yes. Disastrous? Absolutely. Something capable of causing humanity’s extinction? I’m no scientist, but I don’t buy that claim. Makes me wonder if the Japanese script kept things a little more level-headed, or would I have the same problem with that?

Summer Wars is an improvement over The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, featuring stronger stakes throughout. Action is more prominent, too. Where conflict in Girl Who Leapt came primarily from character interactions, Summer Wars has a heavier focus on physical combat. Well, most fighting takes place in a virtual environment. That has an impact on a certain scene, making the reactions a bit silly. Everyone watching is horrified when an online character is defeated, and everyone somehow realizes the dire implications of this. Surely a few people would simply believe that he lost a video game, right?

(Incidentally, the defeated online character silliness and the stakes that I have difficulty swallowing occur around the same time.)

I’m complaining about Summer Wars a fair bit, but I love the majority of this film. Like, 95% is awesome. It’s a fun action film with a strong emotional center focused around family. I imagine that most who view Summer Wars will maintain their suspension of disbelief better than I.

Viewer Discretion is Advised — Occasional language and violence with a little blood (mostly in a virtual environment). Underage characters bathing, although nothing explicit. References to alcohol, and an off-screen death.


WoCh

While in college, Hana falls for a man able to transform into a wolf. He dies after fathering two children, leaving Hana as a single parent to kids capable of switching instantly from human to wolf. To keep this a secret, they move to the countryside where neighbors are fewer and a distance away to start anew. Nobody said that raising wolf-children was easy.

Damn you, Twilight. You didn’t manage to ruin only vampires, but werewolves too. Ah, maybe I’m worrying for nothing. Werewolves existed long before Stephenie Meyer, right? And Wolf Children is only tangentially related to those cursed novels. Oh hell, is dwelling on this non-problem making things worse?

Wolf Children is not Twilight. Wolf Children is a fantastic story about a single mother and her two children. Yes, those children are werewolves, and that creates complications for Hana, but the emotional core of those problems are grounded and relatable. For instance, Yuki, the young daughter, eats something early in the film that caused her to vomit, leading to a scene where Hana is forced to choose between visiting a pediatrician or a veterinarian. After all, Yuki transforms into a wolf during emotional outbursts, something that she is unable to control, and of course Hana wants to keep her children’s special ability a secret.

It’s a good scene that perfectly illustrates the difficulties of raising wolf children, yet the panic coming from Hana is something that most parents can relate to. How often do parents rush to an emergency room because their baby accidentally ate something that’s cause for alarm? Wolf or not, Hana’s fear is understandable. Practically every instance of drama is rooted in situations that parents and children face, regardless of how much the wolf component is involved.

But Yuki and her little brother Ame don’t remain kids. Wolf Children spans over a decade, allowing the children to grow and become unique characters who develop and change over time. Hana remains the star, but giving Yuki and Ame character arcs makes for a deeply satisfying story. Hosoda’s other films are more commercially appealing, but Wolf Children is his best film thanks to an emotional story with relatable situations. It’s a film that pulls at the heart, and I recommend it to anyone regardless of whether they enjoy anime or not.

Mostly Wholesome — Occasional language and implied off-screen sex. The children are sometimes naked after turning back into human, but nothing explicit. The father is killed off-screen early in the film. Nothing graphic, but it’s an intense scene.


BoyBeast

Nine-year-old Ren runs away after the death of his mother and inadvertently enters Jutengai, a world of anthropomorphic beasts. He reluctantly becomes the apprentice to Kumatetsu, a rude-yet-powerful beast in competition to become the new lord, and grows into an exceptional fighter himself. Years later, Ren returns to Japan where he befriends Kaede, becoming torn between his two lives.

Hosoda has apparently developed a pattern where his films alternate between action and pure character drama. (The little that we know about his upcoming fifth film supports this theory.) The Boy and the Beast shares a stronger resemblance to Summer Wars than Girl Who Leapt or Wolf Children, as action plays a stronger role here than any of the films I wrote about. Kumatetsu’s goal is winning an important fight, and so spends much of the film training for that battle. Ren, his apprentice and the film’s protagonist, gradually learns from his master and becomes a competent fighter himself.

Although action plays a major role, the film doesn’t skimp on character drama. Kumatetsu and Ren have a combative relationship that gradually morphs into a somewhat twisted father/son dynamic, and that naturally gets tested throughout the film. Ren gradually decides to seek power beyond physical strength, a concept that the slow-witted and stubborn Kumatetsu has difficulty comprehending.

Hosoda told Variety that The Boy and the Beast is about “the father,” but I imagine that he meant fatherhood in general. Although Kumatetsu remains the dominant force in Ren’s life, he’s assisted by others who play similar roles in shaping the boy. Ren admits as much towards the film’s conclusion. So despite the bravado and arguing that occurs, there’s a sweet undercurrent of a boy and his father/father figures. I loved The Boy and the Beast, a fact that I already noted in my 2016 year-end film roundup. It doesn’t reach the same emotional depths of Wolf Children, but damn this is a great film.

Viewer Discretion is Advised — Occasional language and a character gets drunk. Violence and bullying, sometimes with a light amount of blood, and someone being stabbed as blood from the wound drips onto the ground.


July 28, 2017: Removed a few redundant words, added a few more words, and fixed spelling errors.
September 17, 2017: Able =/= unable. I’m an idiot.

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