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Interview: Mamoru Hosoda

by Justin Sevakis,

After making a huge splash with the debut of his first feature-length animated film The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, director Mamoru Hosoda makes a triumphant return to the film world with his new feature Summer Wars. While in Singapore to promote the film, he spoke with Justin Sevakis about some of the motivations and inspirations behind his work.

ANN: You're in Singapore to promote the release of your new film, Summer Wars. Could you tell us a little about the film, what it's about?

Hosoda: It takes place in what could be the near future, where people spend a large amount of their time on a big social networking system known as OZ. Our protagonist is a math nerd who gets tricked by a cute girl into pretending to be her boyfriend to her very large family. Then both he and the family get mixed up in a giant disaster in OZ that spills over into the real world, and they have to band together to stop it.

ANN: Now, the world of OZ has a lot in common with many of the social networks we use today, such as Facebook and Second Life. Did you have a particular network in mind when you made the movie?

Hosoda: Well, that's quite true that Second Life has a lot of similarities. Actually, the network I thought the most about was mixi. Do you know mixi? Do they use that overseas?

ANN: I've seen it, but it's a little hard to use if you're not Japanese.

Hosoda: (laughs) That's true, the interface doesn't have any English at all, does it? Well, it's pretty much the most ubiquitous service in Japan. It seems like everybody is on it.

ANN: What about you?

Hosoda: I have a Facebook account, but I never use it. (laughs) But I use Twitter a lot. I'm hooked.

ANN: Do you think the culture around social networking, and maybe the internet in general, is different in Japan than it is elsewhere?

Hosoda: People in Japan tend to really like their anonymity. Almost everyone uses a handle for their account names, never something derived from their real names. I guess it lets them feel more at ease, and lets them speak their minds more freely. They feel like they can be more free with their opinions because they don't have to worry about it reflecting badly on them. As for me, I think that's totally boring. I always use my real name.

ANN: The other major theme in Summer Wars is the idea of family, and the one in Summer Wars is almost comically large. What made that such an important theme for you?

Hosoda: Well, after The Girl Who Leapt Through Time wrapped up, I got married. And it was great, but you know, being an animator I'm pretty used to my solitude. Getting married means in-laws. Suddenly I had all of these new family members, and I was really struck by how those interpersonal relationships work. It takes a lot of effort, and sometimes those new family members are hard to deal with, but you can also make a very deep connection with a total stranger. That really meant a lot to me. I never really thought about the idea of "family" being the theme of a film before, but somehow it just clicked into place.

As for the size of it, big families mean constant chaos, and that feeling of being bowled over every second with a new relationship was important. Families in Japan these days tend to stay pretty small, so I guess a family that big would seem even more bewildering.

ANN: Was there any particular anime or animation that made you want to become an animator yourself?

Hosoda: I was, and still am, a huge fan of the works of Hayao Miyazaki. I spent a lot of time when I was younger watching his films. Also, the classic films from Disney, those were great.

ANN: Your films both feature stylized worlds that are very distinct in appearance: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time had the "time world" that Makoto falls through repeatedly, while Summer Wars has OZ. These worlds look very inspired by Takashi Murakami's "superflat" art style. Was he quite a big influence on you, particulary in working on the short film "Superflat Monogram?"

Hosoda: You're far from the first person to ask that. I had a great time working on Superflat Monogram, and of course I have great reverence for Murakami and his work. However, the look of those scenes isn't really something I made with his style in mind. Simply, it's a very clean, uncluttered look -- there's virtually no backgrounds, just layering and compositing effects -- and that visual simplicity appeals to me.

ANN: It's been a few years since The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was released. Are there any particular memories about its reception that stand out for you?

Hosoda: Well, the first festival I attended was the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. Do you know it? It's basically THE big festival for animation every year, and there's always a huge number of very impressive films from all over the world competing. There's always a huge gap between the short films, which tend to be very artistic and experimental, and the features, which tend to be very broad. It's the sort of place where there's an enormous amount of attention paid to the artistry of each film.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was really only made to connect with an audience of teenage girls, so I was very nervous about it competing on the same stage with all of these very novel works. So when we won [Mention Spéciale - Special Distinction], I was really moved. It was amazing to think that even in such a competitive environment, that so many people could relate to it. That was quite an experience.

ANN: Was that your best memory from its release?

Hosoda: Absolutely.

Special thanks to the staff of Dentsu, Kadokawa, Anime Festival Asia, Animation Asia Conference, Encore Films and Red Dawn PR for their assistance.

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