Saturday, June 02, 2007

Otalkin'

As seen in Otaku U.S.A issue #1:

Mamoru Hosoda, Boy of the Future


Miyazaki, Oshii, Tomino Anno, Hosoda… Hosoda? That’s what the less militant of the Otaku U.S.A forces may ask, but after Mamoru Hosoda’s latest work leaps onto these shores, you’ll be hard pressed not to place him above the rest.

Fresh from studying oil painting in college, Hosoda started at Toei Animation, and was soon directing shows like Himitsu no Akko-chan (1998) and Gegege no Gitaro (1997). After toiling in television, he used Revel's Bolero to back the near brilliant Digimon Adventure (1999), and followed it with the exciting, yet sweet, Digimon: Children‘s War Game (2000).

Wowing the industry with the double-Digimons, he was invited to Ghibli to helm an adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones’ novel Howl’s Moving Castle. After reportedly experiencing some high-tension he either quit, or was fired; depending on who tells the story. In the meantime he hit another creative high-note with the Takashi Murakami collaboration Superflat Monogram (2003). He soon returned to Toei, and released his frustrations on One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island (2005), a rollicking adventure that doubles as a thinly veiled tell-all of his time at the house that Nausicaa built.



Now, with Madhouse, he’s taken Japanese meta-fiction king Yasutaka Tsutsui’s classic youth novel Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo (2006), and created a modern masterpiece of animation, Japanese or otherwise. I sat down with Hosoda at the Korean and Japanese Animation Today event, where his film played in front of a packed house of animation lovers, and some newly christened fans.

Wes Black: Why did you choose to make a continuation, following (the original story’s lead) Kazuko's niece, rather than a direct adaptation of the original novel?

Mamoru Hosoda: I did it because I wanted to have the actions the main character takes seen from different angles, to create multiple layers. I thought a different view point was needed, because if I made the film directly from the original story, the point of view was going to be limited to just one girl, a really young girly girl. So I wanted to make it from various points of view, that way different age groups will be able to see the same problem from different angles.


WB: Now, in America, when you adapt someone else’s work, the fans can get angry if you change things around. With the book being such a classic was there any adverse reaction due to your new approach?

MH: At first, I was a little nervous about that, the problem you mentioned, but then I realized the audience I was focusing on were the teenagers of Japan, and they aren’t really familiar with Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo, or its adaptations. So I decided not to worry too much about it, and just thought: “It’s okay for some people to get a little angry.” After that I just focused on the teens. And in the end everybody liked it, from the original's fans, to the teenagers; they were all very generous (Laughs).

WB: Did Mr. Tsutsui give his blessing on your fresh approach, what was his opinion of it?

MH: Mr. Watanabe, the producer, had to take the script to Tsutsui when it was complete, and while he realized that the older generation might not understand this new approach, he was still worried about Tsutsui thinking it was too different, but when Mr. Watanabe went to get the comments from Tsutsui, he said: “Oh, this is totally different from the original, but that’s why I like it.”


WB: What about Mr. Tsutsui's work, and this story in particular, appeals to you?

MH: I read the original book when I was in sixth or seventh grade, and when I read it, and this goes for all of Tsutsui's writings, I felt this expansion of the world. I thought there is something exciting somewhere I don't know about. With Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo, it was about the future. I felt this excitement towards the future then. So I really wanted to express what I felt at that time in the film.

WB: This is your first film where you're not working with a commercial brand such as Digimon, or One Piece, how was it directing without the constraints that come with an established series?

MH: I had been making those program pictures for the Toei Manga Matsuri, but it wasn't like a stepping stone. They were for kids to enjoy, and I think that I did my best to accomplish that goal. I wanted to carry over this overall goal to make a film that is enjoyable to people even outside of the program pictures. So I didn't really feel different.

WB: After the success of Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo, do you see yourself going back to working with a studio like Toei on an established series, or do want to create original works, or possibly look to novels again?

MH: Well, I’ve left Toei, and not because I don't like them, but because the environment there just isn't a good one for making animation films. What I mean by that is that they’re too much into being business-like, so it’s not a very strong creative environment. Every year it was becoming harder and harder for me to be more creative. So in the future I'm going to be doing more original work, or adapting novels such as Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo.

WB: You've directed commercials, television, and films, do you approach each one with a separate mindset, or just as an animated storyteller, regardless of length or format?

MH: I've made commercials that run fifteen seconds, and features that run one hundred minutes, but my mindset when I’m getting into these projects is always that I’m making a film; no matter what the length or the medium is. There was one project I did for Louis Vutton, with Takashi Murakami, called Superflat Monogram. This played at twenty-six Louis Vutton stores throughout the world, so it's obviously nothing like a film, because it’s inside these stores, but even then I still set my mind onto making a film. So what I’m saying is that I always have a mindset for making a film.


WB: I wanted to talk about the film you made before this, the One Piece movie. Now, since I watched it I've wondered: did Ghibli invite you over, only to give you a small net to catch a big fish?

MH: You mean about making Howl’s? (Laughs)

WB: Yes, the movie is an allegory for your time at Ghibli, right?

MH: (In English) No comment.


Special thanks to: Yoshihiro Nihei of the Japan Foundation, Rumi Bunya, Madhouse Studios, and Mamoru Hosoda.

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