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Anime Files – Mamoru Hosoda: A Primer

After my retrospective on Isao Takahata concluded, I asked readers what other anime directors they’d like me to cover. Overwhelmingly, the response was for Mamoru Hosoda. The name was familiar to me, as were a couple of his titles—Wolf Children was one I’ve definitely been wanting to see, and his newest film The Boy and the Beast is coming out in the U.S. this month—but I hadn’t seen anything by him. Or so I thought. It turns out, aside from his feature films (of which I haven’t seen any) he’s done tons of work that I have actually seen. What’re the odds!

Next week, I’m going to begin with his major feature films (which are The Girl Who Lept Through Time, Summer Wars, Wolf Children, and The Boy and the Beast), but this week, I thought I’d give a bit of a primer for his work. He’s actually done a lot of things you’ve probably heard of or seen. I love leaping down a rabbit hole I didn’t know existed, and I hope you do too.


The 48-year-old Hosoda got his start in animation in the ’90s for Toei Sudios, doing key animation for an episode of Dragon Ball Z and two of the original video animation spinoff titles. He did similar jobs for the Sailor Moon Super S video animated movies and series Girl Revolution Utena. The key animator is in charge of animating specific important scenes and sequences, which is different from an in-between animator who does—you guessed it—the animation in between these key moments. Basically, it’s one of the highest jobs on an animated film or TV show.

Hosoda’s career as a director began in 1999 when he joined the team making the Digimon series. (That title, if you weren’t already aware, was an anime series that sprung up from a virtual pet in Japan—the anime was surprisingly popular on both sides of the Pacific.) Hosoda directed the 21st episode of the first season, called “Home Away from Home” along with the first short, “Our War Game,” which eventually got turned into the first movie. You can watch a sequence from that below. Notice the imagination in the digital realm sequences.

Digimon – Our War Game

Hosoda would go on to direct six more episodes of the series in 2001 before leaving Toei. He next directed a short film entitled Superflat Monogram, based on the writings of acclaimed writer Takashi Murakami. The short was used as an advertisement for Louis Vuitton, but in it you can start to see some of the visual trappings of Hosoda’s major works, including bright colors and things flittering around the screen. Below is that short in its entirety.

Superflat Monogram

There was even a brief time where Hosoda nearly became a member of the Studio Ghibli family. He was brought in on commission to direct Howl’s Moving Castle in 2003, but was taken off the project in the early stages for failing to come up with a concept that satisfied the Ghibli brass. That movie would eventually be directed by Hayao Miyazaki himself, forcing the auteur to break his self-imposed retirement following his Oscar-winning 2001 film Spirited Away.

With the Ghibli job not happening Hosoda took other director-for-hire gigs—including directing the opening titles sequence to the 2004-2005 anime series Samurai Champloo for director Shinichiro Watanabe. This title sequence is full of dazzling, whirling visuals that perfectly sum up the three main characters of that series while fitting the aesthetic of the anachronistic show (set in Feudal Japan but with definite leanings toward the modern day).

Samurai Champloo Opening Titles

Following this, Hosoda was approached to direct an episode of the long-running pirate anime series One Piece and the sixth original video animation film, One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island. Despite my best efforts, I’ve been unable to find a decent version of the film to watch in this country, so instead of doing a full write up of it as I had wanted, instead I’ll just show you a glimpse of it via the trailer.

One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island

Oh, Japan.

And so that’s what Mamoru Hosoda had done, in the tiniest of nutshells, during the first part of his career. But branching out on his own seemed to always be in the cards: After leaving Toei, he worked with Madhouse from 2005 to 2011 and then left them to create his own studio, Studio Chizu, in order to produce Wolf Children in 2012 (though he co-produced it with Madhouse).

I’m very excited to dive in to his work, and wish to thank all of the readers who suggested him. Next week, we get going in earnest with Hosoda’s 2006 film, The Girl Who Lept Through Time. What a super cool title, even!

Let me know your favorite Hosoda film in the comments below!

Images: Toei/FUNimation/Studio Chizu

Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Follow him on Twitter!

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