Interview: Hosoda Mamoru Talks WOLF CHILDREN, The Magic Of Hand-Drawn Animation And Parenting

Ben Umstead, East Coast Editor
Anime director Hosoda Mamoru hardly needs an introduction around these parts. Heck, our enthusiasm for his Summer Wars is just about legendary. Still considered a bit of an young upstart in his native Japan when compared to the old-guard animators, he is nonetheless a master animator. Hosoda recently visited New York with his new film Wolf Children, which is playing the New York International Children's Film Festival. Our pal The Lady Miz Diva was nice enough to pass along the following interview with Hosoda-san wherein he talks about his process, hand-drawn animation, parenting and his new animation studio -- Enjoy!  

The Lady Miz Diva:  Congratulations on winning the Japanese Academy Award in animation for WOLF CHILDREN.  You're three for three in that category, with THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME (2006) and SUMMER WARS (2009) both winning previously. How do you feel about the acknowledgment?
 
Hosoda Mamoru:  I'm very honoured.  Each of the three films was distinctively different and for me to receive these awards each time and for the Academy to recognise each different work....  All the time some people say that these movies are directed by different directors, but I'm very honoured for this recognition.
 
After watching WOLF CHILDREN and getting teary several times during some of the emotional scenes, I wondered who you create movies for?  Who do you have in mind when you envision a project?
 
I always make movies with the intention of someone like the main character to watch these movies.  For instance, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time; I would have liked high school girls to watch that, mainly.  For Summer Wars, it's the extended family, and for this movie, anyone who has kids or is raising kids.  Either a couple, or a single mother or parent, but especially for this movie, I made for everyone because no one is without a parent.  Everyone has a father or mother, regardless if you live with them or you know them, everybody has two parents.  I made this movie for them
 
With WOLF CHILDREN, you make some interesting choices as a director:  Was there a lot of thought behind how cute to make Yuki and Ame as baby wolves?  Were they designed with consideration to younger audiences?

I wanted to show that this movie is about the kids' growth and their learning to be independent and having an independent mind and becoming their own selves.  So, I wanted to show the children as children, very cute and being like children, and at the end of the movie, they are grown into young adults and making decisions about their lives.  I wanted to show that distinct difference between that beginning and the end for these children.
 
*SPOILER AHEAD*
 
There's that heartbreaking scene involving the children's father.  How much thought did you have to put into that particular moment as it's so sensitive?
 
As a child grows up, there's a lot of things happening in their lives, so part of it sometimes is losing a parent. For myself, being the father of a five-month old baby, if something ever happened to me before he grows up to become and adult, my whole wish is that he grows up as what he wants to be; healthy and strong.  That is my hope.  In Japan right now, there are a lot of unmarried people; people tend to not have that many kids or are waiting later to have kids.  In that type of generation, I wanted people to see how great having kids is and raising a child is.  That was something I wanted to depict; how great it is to raise a child and be a parent.  And for the movie to have that moment of losing their father was necessary to have the kids grow up and have something to affect their lives.

*END SPOILER*
 
One thing I love about all your movies is that either your main protagonist or the movie's strongest character is a female.  What is it about telling stories that revolve around women that you find interesting?
 
The reason why I'm having all female leads or having mostly females tell the stories in my films is because I think women's lives are way richer than males.  Because women's lives are very complex and have a lot of choices; whether you stay at home as a mother, you work, whether you have children or not have children.  All those different options and choices that women have that make their lives much richer than men's, I think, and I think, frankly, men's lives are very black and white: You either win or lose.  That's basically what it's about for guys.  So, I just think that the female lives are way more suited to be the subject of movies.

WOLF CHILDREN is a gorgeous-looking film.  I wondered about one scene where the family is playing in the snowy woods of their new home for the first time and whether that was a mix of live-action photography with CG animation?
 
That's actually hand-drawn.  It's basically all hand-drawn, but we did use CG to make a little bit of depth; put the depth into the background, but it's basically all hand-drawn.  For instance, the shot of the spider web; I get a lot of questions if that was actually live action - if we used a live-action image - but that was actually hand-drawn, too.  A lot of people say that about a lot of scenes in the movie; that they are very realistic, that they're like a photograph.

Is directing your own story more comfortable for you?  And can you please tell us what makes your collaboration with screenwriter Okudera Satoko, who you've worked with for all your major features, so successful?
 
Before I was doing my own productions, I was inspired by old western and foreign movies, or paintings, but recently more and more I'm inspired by what's around me, what happens around me.  Something that's very close to me.  For instance, like a conversation that I had with my wife at dinner; things like that really inspire me, so that brings me to write about something close to me.  That's probably why I try to create it myself. When you want to create something that's close to your own life, working with someone like Okudera Satoko becomes very essential and very meaningful because she puts so much humanity into what she does.  So that was very important for me.
 
What did you learn working as an animator on television shows that helps you as a feature director?
 
I have a lot of experience from that.  I used to work on the Sunday morning anime at Toei.  Through working on those children's shows, I learned how to reach to those children; how to write and create for those kids.  I honed my skills through those experiences of doing what I needed to do to make films for children.  To make children's shows with ethics and working together with collaborative efforts, and working on those children's shows taught me the importance of those elements, and that is what I brought with me to work on these movies of my own.
 
How is a film born in your head?  Do you come upon or create an interesting story first, or do characters appear in your mind?
 
I probably start with the story itself.  For instance, in the case of Wolf Children, the idea came about because of my dream to be a parent.  That's where it came from, then I started thinking about when the parenting starts and where does it end?  When I think about that, then I thought about a story, then I thought about what type of characters would fit in this story.  That's how I started the process.
 
Does the choice of voice actor ever influence their character's looks or gestures or the script?  I feel like I see Miyazaki Aoi and  Osawa Takao in the looks of Hana and the Wolfman.  Even with THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME, Naka Riisa (Makoto), Ishida Takuya (Chiaki), Itakura Mitsutaka (Kousuke), and SUMMER WARS' Sakuraba Nanami (Natsuki) and Kamiki Ryunosuke (Kenji) could easily play live action versions of their characters.
 
I actually saw it the same way; that the characters actually started to look like the seiyuu.  But when I was drawing the characters, nobody was cast, so there's no way that I was able imagine these people to voice the characters.  But when you audition and go through the process of casting, the image of the character within you is already built up and created, so you actually look for somebody that actually suits those characters.  I guess in that way it goes both ways; your character has actually picked the seiyuu.  That's how I think it happened, but, yes, I myself saw that, too. That grandpa in the country; I actually had Clint Eastwood in mind when I was drawing the character, but once Sugawara Bunta voiced the character, I couldn't see anyone else besides Sugawara-san.  He started to look like him exactly. {Laughs}
 
You're so adept at storytelling, as WOLF CHILDREN proves so well.  Have you considered expanding to live-action film?
 
I get asked that a lot, if I want to do a live-action feature film, but I just love anime - making anime - so, I don't think I would do live action.  However, the directors that I like are mostly live-action directors, but at the same time, there are far more live action than anime movies.
 
I understand you set up your production company, Studio Chizu for this film?  Why did you do that and can you tell us your goals for it?

I created my studio because I wanted to make a studio that specifically produces feature-length theatrical animated movies.  There are only two animation studios that only do feature-length theatrical movies; one is mine, Studio Chizu, and then Studio Ghibli.
 
Will Studio Chizu specialise in hand-drawn animation?

Not necessarily.  We did work with the CG studios on Wolf Children.  I can't really say right now; we do hand-drawn right now, but in the future, you never know, we might do full CG.  I can't really predict.
 
I thought SUMMER WARS would have looked great in 3D.  3D animated films are a big trend, have you any plans for a 3D feature?
 
The scene in Summer Wars, of course, Oz, we actually made it using 3D imaging.  It wasn't 3D technology, but it put in the depth.  It could've been Summer Wars.  It depends on if I come up with a story that is suitable for 3D, then probably yes.
 
What is coming up next for Hosoda Mamoru?

Because of the success of this movie, Wolf Children, I'm fortunate to be able to be working on my next film, but it's still at the brainstorming stage.  It's not concrete, so just look forward to the next one, please.
 
Once again, our thanks to The Lady Miz Diva for sharing this interview with us, which was cross-published at her own website The Diva Review. The New York International Children's Film Festival runs through March 24th. Please visit GKids.com for more info. Wolf Children plays one final show at 4:30 on the 24th at the Director's Guild.   
Around the Internet:
  • What wonderful insight into the mind of, in my opinion, genius director. I loved hearing how he makes each of his movies for people like the main characters of each individual film. Again, a great review by Lady Miz Diva!

    I can't wait to see "Wolf Children" and review it for my Japanese movie blog - www.lostinthemiso.wp.com

    Keep up the great work, Twitch.

    - Mike

  • Ard Vijn

    One of the best directors living today, animation or not. Period.
    And his next film had better premiere in Rotterdam so I can then interview him.

blog comments powered by Disqus
​​