When we talk about anime movie industry, other than the very obvious, brilliant director of Ghibli Miyazaki Hayao, there are few director names that we usually remember. One of them is Mamoru Hosoda—who is the winner of 15th Animation Kobe Awards in the Individual Award category. Some of the older fans might have noticed his work directing the 21st episode of Digimon Adventure, way back before he began to be widely known for the original anime movies he created and directed by his own.
Mamoru Hosoda worked for Toei Animation before going to Madhouse and worked there until 2011. He’s known for his preference on hand-drawn animation, as well as heartwarming and touching story-telling. What highlights Mamoru Hosoda is the flawless mix between slice-of-life normal day-to-day human lives and society with the elements of fantasy, making his movies even more compelling and curious, but still ones that the audience could easily relate to.
As one of the rising original animation movies director, taking a good look at his works is a must if you’re one to catch the big animation movies. Here’s a list comprising five of Mamoru Hosoda’s best works so far—not much, but definitely worth your time!
5. Digimon Adventure: Bokura no War Game (Digimon Adventure: Our War Game)
- Aired: March 2000
Perhaps one of Hosoda’s earlier, less noticeable by anime fans—the nostalgic second movie of Digimon Adventure was directed by Mamoru Hosoda, comprising one of his works in Toei Animation. This movie takes place after the end of Digimon Adventure, with Izumi Koushirou noticing a new digitama on the internet and identifies it as a new kind of Digimon, a Virus-type. Contacting Yagami Taichi, the two watches as the digitama eats more and more data and grows, and not even Agumon and Tentomon could defeat the digital danger as it begins controlling various systems in the real world, affecting their normal lives and causing chaos everywhere. It’s only after they could get through to Yamato and Takeru that their plan to defeat the digimon takes form, and the chosen children once again sees to save the world.
The directing style in Digimon Adventure: Bokura no War Game is something that fans could still see in Hosoda’s movies even now. As Hosoda once stated in one of his interviews, he might no longer work in Toei, but he is a Toei person. Toei Animation is where he learned how to make movies. Bokura no War Game has the distinct Hosoda style and mix of day-to-day life and fantasy—the familiar day-to-day scenes of summer in Japan from the scene where Koushirou drinks tea to where the baseball tournament is shown on TV blends seamlessly with the digimon fighting scenes in the realm of data later on.
For fans of Digimon, of course, this movie is a must-see, but for those who are interested in Hosoda’s works and would like to see his early work as a movie director, Bokura no War Game is a good starting line.
4. Summer Wars
- Aired: August 2009
Summer Wars might be more or less a remake of Digimon Adventure: Bokura no War Game—even Hosoda admitted that Summer Wars is sort of lengthier version of Bokura no War Game, which he was restrained by the 40-minute time limit. Unlike Bokura no War Game, which targeted only the Digimon fans, Hosoda takes the very concept and story flow and worked it into an original movie that targeted the general anime fans. Under the studio Madhouse, Hosoda delivers his first movie where he is the original creator as well.
Summer Wars tells the story of the math genius who is still in eleventh grade, Koiso Kenji, who is invited to do a part-time job by his senior and crush, Shinohara Natsuki, at her hometown where her family, whose history dated back to Muromachi era, would gather to celebrate her grandmother’s 90th birthday. Kenji’s part-time job turns out to be ‘pretending’ to be Natsuki’s fiancé, earning him the interest and welcome from the big, old family. Except then Kenji happened to solve a math problem in his cell phone, and thus accidentally helped Oz, a program who controls nearly every aspect of their society, to be hacked and thrown into chaos. With the help of his ‘newfound’ family, Kenji tries his best to stop the hacker through Oz itself.
Like Bokura no War Game, Summer Wars has more or less exact same concept and story flow regarding the whole cyber and virtual battles. What stands out from Summer Wars is how the whole Jinnouchi Clan, Natsuki’s family, gets involved in helping Kenji stop the chaos. In one of his interview, Hosoda stated that he got married shortly before Summer Wars, and his experience in seeing how strangers become his family was his inspiration. Hosoda’s directing style has become much more refined in this movie, but you can definitely see his distinct play of movements, especially in the battle scenes of King Kazma and Natsuki against Love Machine.
3. Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki (Wolf’s Children Ame and Yuki)
- Episodes: Movie
- Aired: July 2012
A normal young university student, Hana, falls in love with a mysterious man who later turns out to be a wolf man. The couple have two children: the first a daughter named Yuki because she was born on a snowy day, and the second a son named Ame for he was born in a rainy day. Their happy family does not last long, though—after his husband’s death, Hana has to raise two wolf children as a single mother while keeping their secret. Deciding to move to a countryside where her children could be free to explore who they are, Hana begins the long years of child-rearing, to see it through where her children choose their own paths; either as a human, or as a wolf.
Just the summary itself already screams Mamoru Hosoda’s work, of course. In the year 2012, out of the many animation movies released in Japan, the only one that was an original work and not based on anything was Ookami Kodomo. After his success with Summer Wars and later Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo, it was as if a guarantee that this would be at least as good, if not better. And it was—Ookami Kodomo proved to be able to touch people’s hearts through Hana’s story as a single mother, even with the elements of fantasy and folklore weaved in seamlessly into the story. Don’t forget to prepare a box of tissues and comfort food when you’re going into this movie—you might just started crying by minute twenty and not stop until the end of the movie.
Ookami Kodomo was not only a success hit in Japan, it was also notable abroad. This was also Hosoda’s first movie after establishing Studio Chizu in 2011, even if Madhouse was still involved. Hosoda noted that he wanted to make something that’s timeless, and that through Ookami Kodomo, he tried to incorporate the feeling of raising children into a movie. Unlike Summer Wars, Ookami Kodomo plays more with scenes showing how time passes by, since the movie spans over the course of thirteen years in which Hana raises her children, and it’s probably one of the new things you can expect from Hosoda when you go in. Of notable scenes Hosoda was clearly proud of are the scenes where Hana and her children run through the snowy mountain woods, with Ame and Yuki transforming into wolves halfway through. The detailed sense of movement and angles taken here are treats to your eyes.
2. Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo (The Girl Who Leapt through Time)
- Aired: July 2006
Even if this movie is older than other Hosoda movies, Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo deserves a special mention on the second place because it was what launched Hosoda Mamoru’s name into the international fans. Originally created by Tsutsui Yasutaka and produced by Madhouse, Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo follows the story of Konno Makoto, the normal high school girl who discovered the power to “leap”, literally, into the past and change things to make her life easier. Except, she should have probably realized that there would be a drawback to abusing this power, and that changing the past might bring drastic consequences.
Easily one of Hosoda’s most popular movies, Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo was not an adaptation of the original 40-year old novel created by Tsutsui Yasutaka. It was, instead, sort of a sequel that Hosoda created with the Japanese teenagers as the target audience. Looking at how popular it is now within the anime fans community, it really is not a stretch to say that Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo has become one of the classics to watch amongst fans. It is also perhaps the movie that cements Hosoda’s distinct take on storytelling—a mix of daily life, feelings, and element of fantasy taking the audience through a story centered on a female protagonist.
What stands out the most in Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo is, perhaps, the backgrounds and the smooth play in movement that was animated very detailed. Two of the most memorably animated scenes were the one where Makoto runs down through the shopping district to make a leap near the end of the movie, as well as the quiet, almost heartbreaking scene between Makoto and Chiaki in the time-frozen street of Shibuya.
1. Bakemono no Ko (The Boy and The Beast)
- Aired: July 2015
Hosoda’s first movie after three years, Bakemono no Ko, lived up and even went past any expectation. Following the story of a boy named Ren who has just lost his mother, and hates to live with his legal guardians, especially since his father’s whereabouts since getting a divorce with his mother is unknown. While running from his relatives into Shibuya, Ren bumps into a beast, and later follows him into a world that intersects with the human world, the Juutengai (Beast Kingdom), where he catches up with the beast, Kumatetsu, and later is taken in as a disciple and renamed Kyuuta. As he grows up, though, there comes a time where he is drawn back to the human world and the normal life he could lead there, as well as the life-changing choices he must make in the end.
Advertised as “a slightly different parent and child story”, Bakemono no Ko is no doubt the best movie Hosoda has ever made—the fluid animation, the gripping story, the touching emotional scenes—all of them accumulated into a movie that worked out the second highest-grossing movie at the Japanese box office in 2015. The opening scenes where Hosoda plays with silhouette animation and shadows are stunningly beautiful, and the contrasts shown between the Juutengai and the human world blends very well in the story, especially after the timeskip. It’s a whole new spin of how Hosoda brings day-to-day life elements and fantasy together into a breathtaking, interesting self-exploring journey of the main character.
If the landscapes in Ookami Kodomo and Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo blindsides the audience with how clean and detailed they are, Bakemono no Ko’s depiction of Shibuya takes it to a whole new level of photo-realistic animation. Breathtakingly gorgeous landscapes, detailed sense of movement focusing on both hand-to-hand combats and katana, and the beautiful play of shadows and colors makes Bakemono no Ko easily one of the best animated movie out there.
In a different way from how Miyazaki Hayao and Studio Ghibli brings us through a world and a self-adventure, and in a different way from how Shinkai Makoto highlights the mostly unnoticed aspects of human lives in his movies, Mamoru Hosoda brings together daily life stories and gives them a dash of fantasy or science fiction, focusing in a different storytelling that highlights the growth of the main character and touching the audience’s emotions as he does it. As few original animation movies directors as it is now, Hosoda’s works are undoubtedly beautiful and able to reach the audience; a promising rising director in the future that makes us impatiently wait for the next work.
If you haven’t watched Mamoru Hosoda’s movies, why, this is as good time as any to start, because you would not want to miss the beautiful animation and the stories they bring. If you’ve devoured all of them, share with us what you think about Hosoda’s works—old and new!