6 Filmmaking Tips From Mamoru Hosoda

A leading anime auteur talks luck, inspiration, and using fantasy to explore the human condition.

Px Mamoru Hosoda
Photo by Paul Katzenberger via Wikimedia Commons

As director and animator Mamoru Hosoda recently told FSR’s own Hans Qu, he first dreamed of being a director in the 6th grade after watching The Castle of Cagliostro, Hayao Miyazaki’s feature film debut. After graduating from college, Hosada began his career at Toei Animation and got his first major feature under his belt with 2000’s Digimon: The Movie.

He then moved to Madhouse, the animation studio that produced, among other things, all four of Satoshi Kon’s feature films. It was here that Hosoda directed the commercially successful and critically acclaimed The Girl Who Lept Through Time (2006) and Summer Wars (2009), both produced by Yuichiro Saito. Hosoda and Saito then went on to form their own studio, Studio Chizu, in 2011, which has produced all of Hosoda’s films since, including Wolf Children (2012), The Boy and the Beast (2015), and most recently Mirai (2018).

A master craftsman who has consistently delivered beautiful films that maintain a delicate balance of fantasy concepts and intimate family themes, Hosoda has plenty of great advice to give. Here are six of his best tips:

Contrast Is Your Friend

In a November 2016 interview for Japanese pop culture website Tokyo Otaku Mode, writer Takemori S. points out an important and consistent feature of Hosoda’s filmography: his narratives tend to feature worlds in contrast. Digimon: The Movie covers both rural Shimane and the urban Odaiba Area as well as switching between real and digital words, The Girl Who Lept Through Time travels through the present and future, and Wolf Children splits its time between human and animal societies. When asked about his motivations for repeatedly taking this approach, Hosoda made the following point about the virtues of such contrasts:

“Rather than describing something on its own, it’s better to show it in comparison to something else, since that brings out its values more effectively.”

Mirai

Mirai (2018)

Use the Spectacular to Highlight the Ordinary

As mentioned in the intro, another hallmark of Hosoda’s films is an emphasis on human, and particularly familial, relationships in fantastical contexts. In a July 2013 interview published at Anime News Network, the director elaborated the following advantage to taking such an approach:

“People easily ignore what the most important or cherished things are in their day-to-day lives. By incorporating science fiction and fantasy elements, audiences are more likely to discover what they don’t notice normally.”

Boy And The Beast

The Boy and the Beast (2015)

There are Two Ways to Entertain an Audience

In a March 2016 video interview with Australian anime and manga distributor Madman Entertainment, Hosoda broke down what he sees as the two winning formulas to capture an audience’s attention:

“There are two types of films that the audience finds entertaining. One way is to present what we are familiar with, in a more skillful, sophisticated manner. The other is to present something we’ve never seen before. A film with a new kind of lead character, or story line.”

You can find the whole clip below; the featured quote starts at 1:46.

Thank Your Lucky Stars

Although citing Miyazaki as a key influence, in his career Hosoda has had some disappointing encounters with Studio Ghibli — most notably, when he was slated to direct Howl’s Moving Castle before being replaced by Miyazaki when he came out of retirement to finish the film. However, Hosoda told Australia-based Asian film website Filmed in Ether in a May 2018 interview that he learned an important lesson from his Studio Ghibli experience that also serves as quality advice:

“What I learned from my Studio Ghibli days was that inspiration doesn’t come naturally. You really have to think that any film you make is a product of all sorts of luck and miracle.”

Wolf Children

Wolf Children (2012)

Remember the Spectacle of Everyday Amazements

Even before Hosoda had children of his own, his films were noted for their interest in the theme of children’s development. When asked about his interest in the interior lives of children in a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the director’s answer included some valuable insight into the role of cinema:

“How children develop is a mysterious thing, it’s amazing. An alien invasion, like the plot of a Hollywood movie, is amazing, but the development of children, how they grow, mature, become strong and acquire the mind of an adult, is just as amazing. I think it’s the type of spectacle that should be portrayed in film. And the same for the changes in adult humans; how someone can fall completely in love with someone and how people fall out of love when something happens. Depicting those changes in people is the role of films.”

Mirai Screening

Hosoda at the US Premiere of ‘Mirai’

Nothing Motivates Like Inspiration

Filmmaking, as many directors featured in this column have mentioned before, tends to be a lengthy process — if anything, this is even truer in animation, due to the painstaking frame-by-frame nature of the work. When asked what keeps him going through all the trials and tribulations in a December 2013 interview with Trespass magazine, Hosoda offered the following words of wisdom:

“There’s nothing more important than the initial inspiration. That’s how it was with ‘The Girl Who Leaped Through Time’ and ‘Summer Wars’ as well […] filmmaking is all about believing in the strength of the inspiration that struck you to drive the project right up to the completion of the production. There are times when what you believe in gets kind of paralyzed due to the lengthy process and the amount of efforts involved in the production of an animation film, but all you can do is to keep believing what you are doing is the right thing.”

What We Learned

Much in keeping with Hosada’s thematic love of contrasts, the biggest takeaways from the director’s advice boils down to the coexistence of opposites. For one, no matter how talented you are, there are simply too many factors involved for a good deal of sheer dumb luck not to come into play. But even more importantly, the greatest explorations of all things fantastical are those that ultimately seek to address basic, everyday human truths.

Header image shareable via Creative Commons license and was cropped for use.

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