Anime Director Mamoru Hosoda on Drawing by Hand and the Industry Post-Hayao Miyazaki (Q&A)

Mamoru Hosoda - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Toyko International Film Festival

His anime 'The Boy and the Beast' was the biggest-grossing Japanese film released in 2015, finishing with nearly $60 million domestically.

The World of Mamoru Hosoda at the Tokyo International Film Festival showcased the anime director's work in the first-ever retrospective of his films. His charming animations, often centered round stories of family and growing up, have won him fans in Japan and around the globe.

The 49-year-old director studied oil painting at Kanazawa College of Art, the alma mater of Studio Ghibli's Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Nintendo video game creator Shigeru Miyamoto. His love of painting has inspired him throughout his career, and he continues to draw most of his anime by hand, even as the most of the industry is increasingly shifting to digital.

Beginning his career at Toei Animation, Hosoda then worked at Madhouse from 2005 to 2011 before branching out with his own Chizu Studio. Hosoda followed films in the Digimon and One Piece franchises with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time in 2006, Summer Wars in 2009 and the acclaimed Wolf Children, the story of a young woman who falls in love with a werewolf and raises two half-wolf children by herself, in 2012. Meanwhile, The Boy and the Beast (Bakemono no Ko) was the highest-grossing Japanese film released last year, taking nearly $60 million at the domestic box office.

The director talked with THR Japan correspondent Gavin J. Blair at the Tokyo festival about the real theme of his movies, the state of Japanese anime post-Miyazaki and why he wants to keep drawing by hand as long as he can.

A recurring theme in your films is families, but fantastical families -- is there a particular meaning or reason behind that?

It's often said to me that my films are family-themed, but for me family is more of a motif. The theme I'm concerned with is the development of children and the development and changes within people. But of course, if it's about children's development, then there is usually a family around them. The reason I use that kind of family is that it's easier to portray the universal occurrences in families through that medium to all kinds of people, like the woman who falls in love with a wolf in Wolf Children or the character in The Boy and the Beast that becomes like a surrogate father to the boy.

Why are you so interested in the theme of children's development?

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.

You've written or co-written most of your recent films. What are the advantages and disadvantages of that, and do you have plans to work from somebody else's work or script?

Of course it's easier to get someone else to write a script -- you can make criticisms and ask for rewrites. But my films have come from my personal experiences. For Wolf Children, my mother had passed away, and as a son, I wrote that while thinking about how I was raised. And for The Boy and the Beast, it was based on my own father and fatherhood. So for something based on your own experience, you can't ask another person to write it. The downside is that I wish I could get someone to write a better script based on my experiences. It's possible in the future that I'll do something based on someone else's idea or on a classic story.

You've been compared to Hayao Miyazaki for a long time, but now with the success of Makoto Shinkai's Your Name, the spotlight has shifted to him. Is that kind of a relief?

I've been asked about it in nearly every interview for about 10 years. Miyazaki-san was a kind of hero to me while I was growing up, but as a director your mission should be to make better films than him, so in that sense he has to be a kind of rival. But the success of Shinkai's film is good for anime as it has expanded the market; it's overtaken Avatar now.

How do you see the state of Japanese animation in this post-Miyazaki environment?

People are looking for someone to fill his role. But conditions for making anime drawn by hand are growing more and more difficult year by year. Fewer artists are drawing by hand and with the shift to digital. The number of people who know how to do it and appreciate its worth is declining.

You still draw by hand?

I do draw by hand. I imagine at some point the complete shift to digital will happen, but I'd like to keep doing it as long as possible. In America now, there's absolutely nobody left drawing by hand. Winnie the Pooh [in 2011] was the last hand-drawn U.S. film. So there's nobody left to teach those techniques. But I think the hand-drawn culture needs to be preserved.

What is the advantage of drawing by hand for you?

To put it simply, it's like the difference between a photograph and a painting. Both of them have their own value, but the appeal of paintings is very broad. Painting has thousands of years of history, and the newest way to express that culture is through anime films drawn by hand, that's the way I see it. If you go to an art museum you can see that context of painting history, and I see the continuation of that line as the production of anime, expressing through pictures and adding something contemporary to those thousands of years of history.