When legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement in 2013 following his final film The Wind Rises, discussion about who would become the “next Miyazaki” inevitably sprung up across the Internet. Miyazaki is such an illustrious director that seeking someone out to take up his mantle is almost condemning them to never meet such lofty expectations. Nevertheless, the question persists: of the current crop of Japanese animation directors, who could become the next genre-defining director?
Could it be his son Gorō Miyazaki, who has directed two films for Studio Ghibli (Tales From Earthsea and From Up On Poppy Hill)? Or perhaps Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature in 2015 for his second film, When Marnie Was There?
While there is no doubting the talents of both Yonebayashi and Gorō Miyazaki, the successor to Hayao Miyakazi’s throne may be found outside of Studio Ghibli altogether. Enter Mamoru Hosoda, the director of many beloved animated films such as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, and Wolf Children. His latest feature, The Boy and the Beast, may indeed cement his position as the next animation great. When released theatrically in Japan, the film made ¥5.85 billion (AU$69.5 million) and was the second highest-grossing Japanese film at the Japanese box office in 2015. Not bad for a director who was once attached to direct Howl’s Moving Castle but quit the project due to failing to come up with a concept acceptable to Studio Ghibli bosses.
Comparisons between Miyazaki and Hosoda are not uncommon, however, this by no means indicates that Hosoda is a carbon copy of Miyazaki. Hosoda’s films are generally more realistic and set within present-day Japan (similarly to longtime Miyazaki collaborator Isao Takahata), yet he is also just as easily able to construct intricate and fantastical worlds reminiscent of Miyazaki. The Boy and the Beast, for example, is set between both current day Tokyo and a parallel world that resembles feudal-era Japan.
The Boy and the Beast is a coming-of-age action fantasy tale about Kyuta, a misfortunate, lonely boy who lives on the streets of the human realm (Tokyo’s Shibuya ward) and Kumatetsu, a lonesome beast who lives in the bakemono realm (“Shibutenmachi”). These worlds must not intersect, but one day, Kyuta stumbles upon an entry to the bakemono realm. With no family to call his own in the human realm, he becomes the disciple of Kumatetsu.
The, at times stormy, relationship between the beast and his young apprentice gradually grows stronger. Overcoming their solitude, they come to realise how much they need each other. Their fortunate encounter will be the beginning of an adventure that goes beyond your imagination, illustrating that Hosoda, like Miyazaki, is also an incredibly gifted storyteller. Entertaining, beautiful, and wildly popular: these are the elements that both directors share and that will ultimately define Hosoda’s legacy.
Ultimately, who knows if Miyazaki’s retirement will stick? This is his sixth “retirement”, which was shortly followed by an announcement that he’ll direct a short film shown exclusively at the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan. While we certainly hope that he continues to make films for as long as he’s able, the future of Japanese animated film is certainly looking bright when we have directors like Hosoda.