Mamoru Hosoda: “Japanese anime has a problem with women and girls”

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Mamoru Hosoda has bones to choose from with Steven Spielberg and Hayao Miyazaki, the other great Japanese animator he’s often compared to.

Hosoda – whose brilliantly human “Mirai” got an Oscar nod three years ago – has had enough of the way Hollywood treats the digital world and the way Miyazaki portrays women.

The dystopian tropes on the net that run through so many films, including Spielberg’s “Ready Player One”, do no one any favors, especially women, according to Hosoda who is at the Cannes film festival where his latest feature, “Belle.” , created.

Early reviews of the film were ecstatic, with Hosoda receiving a 14-minute standing ovation. The Hollywood Reporter said its “wildly imaginative future takes your breath away” as the story escalates into a “series of bloated emotional crescendos” that are rooted in real emotion. And American critic Anne Thompson of Indiewire predicted Oscar glory for Hosoda.

Father of a young girl himself, the Japanese master says he wants to empower his generation to take control of their digital destiny rather than curl up in fear.

“They grew up with the net… but they are constantly told how malicious and dangerous it is,” he says.

“Belle” is her retort, a spectacular dive into the emotional roller coaster life of a shy teenage girl named Suzu, in a 21st century version of “Beauty and the Beast”.

To her surprise, and that of everyone else, Suzu becomes a pop diva named “Belle” in the virtual universe of an app called U.

Rather than being burned by online abuse and harassment as she gains billions of followers, Suzu uses her online avatar to overcome enemies and her own blockages.

“Human relationships can be complex and extremely painful for young people,” says Hosoda. “I wanted to show that this virtual world, which can be harsh and horrible, can also be positive.”

Suzu and her computer geek friend are a far cry from the women who usually populate Japanese anime – this is where Hosoda challenges Miyazaki, the Oscar-winning legend behind classics such as “Spirited Away.”

“You only have to watch Japanese animations to see how young women are underestimated and not taken seriously in Japanese society,” he says.

The director – whose films are more grounded in social realities than Miyazaki’s – was raised by a single mother, a rarity at the time.

Her 2012 classic “Wolf Children” is a hymn to the fierce independence with which she raised her little pack on her own.

“It really annoys me how often young women are seen in Japanese animation – treated as sacred – which has nothing to do with the reality of who they are,” Hosoda says, with obvious frustration.

Without naming Miyazaki, Hosoda did not spare the founder of Studio Ghibli.

“I won’t name it, but there is a great master of animation who always takes a young woman for his heroine. And to be frank, I think he does it because he doesn’t trust himself as a man, ”he says. “This veneration of young women really bothers me and I don’t want to be a part of it.”

He wants to free his heroines from being paragons of virtue and innocence and from “this oppression of having to be like everyone else”.

Hosoda and Miyazaki have a story. The 53-year-old was considered Miyazaki’s natural successor after being called in from outside by Ghibli to direct the Oscar-nominated film “Howl’s Moving Castle”. But Hosoda came out halfway to start his own studio.

As a director, he prefers stories that “show the good and the bad in people. This tension is the reason for being human.

This is why he was also drawn to the update to “Beauty and the Beast”.

“In the original story, the Beast is the most interesting character. He’s ugly and has that violence, but he’s also sensitive and vulnerable inside, ”he says. “Beauty is just a number. It’s all in its appearance. I wanted to make it so complex and rich.

This duality is also present in his fascination with the digital world which began with his first hit, “Digimon: The Movie”.

“I keep coming back to the Internet. First with ‘Digimon’ then with ‘Summer Wars’ in 2009 and now again.

And he is more convinced than ever that we cannot continue to dismiss the Internet as the source of all evil.

“Young people can never part with it,” he says. “They grew up with it. We have to accept it and learn to use it better.

In accordance with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is urging residents and visitors to exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, concert halls and other public spaces.

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