TOKYO (AP) — Time warps, half-bestial children and parallel worlds are, for Mamoru Hosoda, a natural way to pursue the universal coming-of-age story that has driven all his movies.
"A child growing up is fascinating and stunning, a true wonder of the world," the burly but friendly Japanese animation director said recently in an interview at his suburban Tokyo Chizu Studio.
"There is struggle in growth and change, between that wolf, that blood, that drive within you and order or reason needed to live as a human being. I want to keep looking at this child, standing alone in the middle of all that."
A retrospective of Hosoda's works, starting from his early shorts, is highlighted at this year's Tokyo International Film Festival, which opens Tuesday.
People think his films are about family, which they are, but it's the child in the middle of that framework that fascinates him the most, Hosoda says.
His latest, the 2015 "The Boy and the Beast," focuses on a boy's evolving relationship with a disheveled but well-meaning bear-father, complete with video-game-like martial-arts fight scenes.
All the films feature the trademark hand-drawn style of the art-school-trained Hosoda, especially stunning in the depiction of rural landscapes below cloud-filled skies that evokes luscious paintings.
A decade into his feature-animation career, Hosoda continues to defy the time and cost-saving technological advantages of computer graphics, now the standard at studios like Pixar and Disney.
"We are really barely hanging on," he said, stressing that given the time and costs required for drawing, rather than switching completely to computer graphics, his work has been a real struggle.
Sometimes, he is frustrated, even insulted, when he gets asked why he simply doesn't change with the times and use computer graphics.
Hosoda's first feature, "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time," portrayed a schoolgirl who finds herself suddenly able to go back and forth in time, a take on that common wish of having done or said something differently. The scenes in which she gets thrust through time are dazzling.
Hosoda, honored internationally, including at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival, as well as at home, winning the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year, is also recognized for his collaboration on animation with acclaimed visual artist Takashi Murakami, who designed manga-like motifs for Louis Vuitton luxury bags.
But Hosoda isn't at all happy about the title he has earned of "the next Miyazaki," referring to the legacy of Oscar-winning Hayao Miyazaki, of Ghibli Studios' "Spirited Away" and "Ponyo."
"There are as many angles are there are directors, and we must enjoy that diversity," said Hosoda, irritation clear in his voice.
Hosoda, who sees Disney's 1991 "The Beauty and the Beast" as the film that influenced him the most, stressed it's important for artists like him to be aware of their position in international filmmaking, while staying true to the storytelling of Japanese settings, situations and characters that are close to his every day.
Like the characters in his film, Hosoda as creator is also being asked that same question of identity, he added.
"It may feel like a tiny corner of the world, but it is about the eternal," he said, stressing that the answer is not about the gimmick of localization. "To face up to this with sincerity is what allows a work to reach people on the other side of the planet."
He also believes animation has great potential to do what would be hard to do on film, for instance, following a character over decades, or putting children through hardships.
And he thinks animation is underrated, pigeon-holed as children's entertainment, when it's a fabulous tool for filmmaking with a lot of unexplored territory.
Hosoda stressed his next film, set to be released in 2018, is top secret, but was so excited he couldn't hold himself back from talking about it.
It's the logical theme to follow, he said, after fatherhood in "The Boy and the Beast," and motherhood in "Wolf Children," a touching saga of a woman who falls in love with a wolf and raises two children on her own, a tale inspired by his own mother and his wife.
When this reporter guessed, "Siblings?" he acknowledged with a big laugh: That was the right answer.
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