Mamoru Hosoda is fast becoming an icon in the world of anime. Having started out attached to the Digimon franchise, he graduated to acclaimed sci-fi romance The Girl Who Leapt Through Time in 2006 followed by more personal projects, Summer Wars (2009), Wolf Children (2012), and The Boy and the Beast (2015), all of which he both wrote and directed. His latest film, Mirai, is a sharply observed family fantasy-drama seen through the eyes of a four-year-old boy, Kun, whose world is turned upside down when his new baby sister is born.
Kun must find a way to deal with the new arrival, and brand new feelings of jealousy, and finds an outlet in a fantasy world when his sister comes back from the future as a teenager to visit him. Hosoda is no stranger to mixing family drama with fantasy elements in his films. We spoke to the acclaimed director ahead of the release of Mirai to get the lowdown on the films that inspire him.
1. Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
This is the film that kickstarted the legendary Hayao Miyazaki’s career. His first feature, Miyazaki both co-wrote and directed The Castle of Cagliostro, an action-adventure comedy about a gentleman thief who steps in to foil a forced marriage after becoming embroiled in a counterfeiting plot.
“I was in 6th grade [when The Castle of Cagliostro came out],” says Hosoda, “and that made me want to become a filmmaker.”
Not only did Hosoda go on to fulfil his ambition to become a filmmaker — and a celebrated one at that — but his career would also mirror Miyazaki’s. Hosoda would first follow in the Ghibli boss’s footsteps by working for animation studio Toei Animation before going on to set up his own animation studio.
Just as Miyazaki set up the renowned Studio Ghibli, so Hosoda set up Studio Chizu, which has so far produced three films — Hosoda’s Wolf Children, The Boy and the Beast, and Mirai. He would also work with Miyazaki briefly, coming on board to direct Ghibli’s Howl’s Moving Castle before leaving the project early in production. Miyazaki himself took over directing duties on the 2004 film.
2. My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
Hosoda’s experiences with Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli clearly haven’t soured him, because his second film on the list is another Ghibli classic, My Neighbour Totoro.
“I think it is Miyazaki’s best ever,” says Hosoda, succinctly.
The film heavily influenced Hosoda’s latest film, Mirai. Both films are seen from the perspective of a young character. In the case of My Neighbour Totoro, the main protagonist is five-year-old Mei, who alongside her sister, Satsuki, escapes her reality — a sick mother and life in post-war rural Japan — by becoming immersed in a fantasy world of spirit creatures. Hosoda isn’t alone in his love of this anime classic. It regularly features in “Greatest of All Time” lists and has made almost $1.5 billion to date.
3. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
“I had just started out at Toei in my career as an animator and really thought [Beauty and the Beast] was a brilliant film. It showed me what you can do with animation. I wanted to make something like that,” says Hosoda of the Disney classic, which got a live-action remake in 2017.
The film itself is based on the French fairy tale of the same name and is also inspired by the 1946 French-language screen version directed by Jean Cocteau. It tells the story of a prince who is transformed into a monster, and his servants who are turned into household objects, by an enchantress punishing the arrogant royal for his arrogance, vanity, and unkindness. The prince in beast form sets about imprisoning Belle, a young local woman, who he hopes to make fall in love with him, and vice versa — lifting the curse. Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.
4. Wolf Children (2012)
“My film,” says Hosoda, “as it’s one of my favourite of my films.”
And why not? It’s got the beef to back it up. It was the fifth-highest grossing film in Japan the year it was released and has won a batch of awards. Plus, who could argue against including a film about two half-human, half-wolf children whose werewolf father has died, leaving them to be raised by their human mother?
“It’s about my mum,” explains Hosoda further. “It’s very, very personal. She had just died. I just wanted to make a film about her. And also, I’d just found there aren’t many films about a mother bringing up her children. The theme itself is very universal, I just couldn’t find any films that I could actually reference. So I really wanted to make a proper good film about mothers. And bringing up children is an important act, and I really wanted to do it well. And I think I did it pretty well.”
5. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Despite Hosoda insisting that we leave the number 5 position blank to be filled in the future, we’re including Howl’s Moving Castle, which Hosoda says is “a very important movie in my life”.
The film is based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones and tells the story of a young woman who is cursed by a witch to live in the body of an old woman. Seeking to break the curse, she strikes a bargain with a demon who asks in return that she help him out of a contract he is under with a wizard named Howl.
Hosoda’s attachment to the project and subsequent departure would play a part in shaping the direction of his career.
He explains: “Before I got involved in Howl’s Moving Castle, I made a short film, then Ghibli contacted me — [former Studio Ghibli president Toshio] Suzuki contacted me actually — for a feature film [Howl’s Moving Castle]. The story was chosen by Miyazaki and I was involved in the production for two years, but as you are aware, it never materialized and Miyazaki took over eventually. So obviously what came out is different to what I was making. But also, at the same time, the film is important because it made me want to make a new movie for myself.”
Hosoda would go on to make The Girl Who Leapt Through Time in 2006. Hosoda’s latest film, Mirai, hits screens in the UK on November 2 and in the US on November 30.