Wolf Children and a Meeting with Mamoru Hosoda

On Monday 15 April, Mamoru Hosoda, the director of anime movies The Girl who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars, made an appearance at a screening of his most recent movie Wolf Children in Newtown Dendy, Sydney.  I haven’t read a manga book or watched a One Piece episode in my life so I wouldn’t call myself an anime freak, but something about Japanese animation movies (…and Doraemon, but that’s another story) really gets to me. I think it has something to do with the fact that when you can enjoy it as a child but when you rewatch the movie when you’re older you start to see it in a different light and understand the hidden meanings behind the films. This post isn’t a review of the film itself but the Q & A session with Mamoru Hosoda which followed the film screening. I voice recorded most of the session so hopefully it gives you an idea of how amazing Mamoru Hosoda is and his inspiration behind the film. At the end of the session, he had a signing and I got to meet him and talk to him in Japanese…such an honour! He took the time to talk to each person and drew a little sketch of one of the characters in Wolf Children. Very inspirational advice for those who want to get into animation!

Here is a trailer of the film just so you know what it’s all about.

Why did you choose to work in animation rather than live action films?

I feel that there are things that you can only express in the animation medium which is why I chose to work in animation. I recently watched 101 Dalmations and Beauty and the Beast, both fantastically compelling animation films which have inspired me to want to do things that are like that in many ways. For example, a lot of people that have seen this film have asked me ‘Why couldn’t you just shoot this with live action and have CG [computer graphic] bits?’ I don’t quite see it this way because there are things that could only be expressed through animation.

In this film, the little kid swaps in and out of being a wolf. I think this concept would be hard to express through a live action film whereas if you do it as an animation, there’s an element of it where the imagery just goes straight into your brain and you accept it. On a conceptual level, you can just open up the topic without having to explain it which I think is a strength of this film.

Of course, I do like live action films; I like them both.

What would you recommend to a person that wants to get into the animation industry?

It’s a good thing that you’re studying animation! Animation is tough and arduous and takes alot of time to get things done even if you use computer graphics. The thing about animation is that you can feel and be involved with what you do from start to finish; everything that’s in a frame is something you came up with. In terms of getting into a career in animation, the most important thing is that you make things yourself. My first theatrical production was a 20 minute piece, and that went out to the public and afterwards they said ‘look why don’t you do something more meaningful’ so I did something that was 40 mins. Then it was only after that they said ‘would you like to do a full theatrical release?’. You actually have to build a body of work. My first film was called Digimon and this created more opportunities for me. The important thing is that you actually start small and you do something that you present to the world because with my film, it actually opened doors for me. So no matter how small it is, just get the ball rolling.

What has been the hardest challenge of becoming an anime film maker and how did you overcome it?

The thing about animation is that you draw frame after frame in order to express movement and through this, what you come to realise is that a large amount of this can only come from observation. You have to have the ability to see how people behave and how people move and store it in your head, then recreate it in your drawings. The best thing about animation is that kids watch this stuff, that’s the greatest thing about it. So they watch it in their childhood and they carry it with them throughout their adulthood.

How long did it take you write this film? Did you use any 3D software or was it all made in 2D?

This film took me 3 years to produce. I didn’t want to use a whole lot of computer graphics but there ended up being quite a lot in the film. It has been used in places that you don’t really expect to see it. For example, the wavering trees, the plant life, the breeze – that’s where we used CG. The thing about CG is that it’s inevitably very expensive and here we are trying to work on a picture that shouldn’t look very analog and we are spending all this money on CG and that was pretty tough.

You’ve been working for the production company Studio Ghibli then decided to branch out into you’re own animation company, Studio Chizu. I was wondering if you can share a bit of this experience with us.

In making this film we actually had to make a production company dedicated to animations. Right now in Japan there are two company’s that work in animation: one is Studio Ghibli and the other is us (Studio Chizu). So as you probably know Studio Ghibli is humungous and Studio Chizu is much smaller! The point of the company is that we specialise in making animations for film and theatrical pieces. It seems to us that it was really important to us to start an animation studio that specialises only in theatrical releases.

What was your inspiration when making this film?

I didn’t have children at the time of making this film so I felt like I wanted to explore this theme more closely.

What made you come up with the idea of “fox children”? (asked by a 5 year old)

Wolves in Japan are now extinct. Do you have wolves in Australia? (No). When you read fairy tale books like Three Pigs and Red Riding Hood, the wolf is always the bad guy. So I thought maybe wolves are just misunderstood, maybe there’s a good side so why can’t I explore the good side of the wolf. In my opinion, foxes and wolves get bad press but when you go out and encounter a fox they are actually quite neurotic and sensitive. If you come to like wolves just a little bit from this film then that would be great to me.

Is there any particular reason why you think Japan has a higher standard of storytelling through animation when compared to Western animations?

I myself actually like those Western animations so it’s hard for me to say but I think in Japan you find that the directors are willing to express things that probably normally aren’t expressed in other animated films that come out in America – I think that could be the difference. So if you look at the history of film making, I’m not really convinced that there are a lot of films that focus on child-rearing whereas this film was able to take on that theme. If you looked across the board, there is a willingness from Japanese directors to tackle different kinds of themes. Coming up with something that’s entirely different to something that has been done before – that’s not a quality that is unique to Japanese film makers. Surely you can do it here as well and I really want to see that!

The film comes across very strongly expressing the maternal instinct. Is there anything that you actually had thought of pertaining to maternal instincts?

From my part, I didn’t particularly make the film about motherhood as such but parenthood in general. As I am man, I’m not likely to become a mother but I really wanted to express this feeling about when you do rear a child and watch them grow into good people and I really wanted to express that part of it the most. When I was making this film, I wasn’t a parent but what I came to realise is that people talk about parenthood as in raising the child and giving them what they need to grow. In fact, what really happens is that parents grow as human beings as well and that was the bit that my eyes were open to while doing this film. Now that I have reached this point, I have tremendous gratitude for my parents. I know when I was younger I would argue with them and said things that I really regret.

Are we going to wait another three years for another film? Can we have one sooner?

I have to tell you, getting it done in three years is sort of miraculous. But when you are making it, you don’t feel the three years and it goes by really quickly. You have to understand that it does take a lot of time. Thanks to the film getting such a great response from audiences around the world, I am able to make a next one so I will try to get it done in three years time!

How did you feel while making this film?

While I was making the film, it actually felt like I was raising the two children, Ame and Yuki. So when the three years passed by and the film was finally done, I felt like I had lived 13 years through that film. After the film was made, I finally had my first child but when my child arrived it felt like this was my third child – that’s how much like child rearing it felt like while I was making the film.

In a recent article it says that you feel that it is important to make your audience cry. Can you please explain this?

I don’t know how it got reported – I don’t think I said that. I know a lot of people who have seen this film have cried but as a film maker, I don’t feel like its my purpose as a film maker to make people cry. The feeling that I really wanted to put across was the sense of fulfilment in raising children and the happiness that comes from it. The thing about child rearing is that there are two conflicting emotions: the sadness that the child has grown up and he/she becomes independent but at the same time, it’s an accomplishment too.

So thank you for coming to Sydney, Mamoru Hosoda, and being so generous with your time to answer questions and sign (and draw) autographs.

Mamoru Hosoda signing

Mamoru Hosoda

Mamoru Hosoda Signed Drawing

Note: The interview was translated on the spot and what I have typed above is a recording from the translator.