No one is looking forward to the day Hayao Miyazaki dies only to come back as a zombie just to keep his place in the pandemonium of film-makers occupied. Let's face it, the only way the guy ever will give up is if we find him a successor. Which is why the whole nation of Japan is always on the lookout for just such a person, someone to take over from the living legend himself. Every time a Japanese born humanoid creates something that resembles animation, people ask: "Is he/she the next Miyazaki?" Unfortunately, the answer always seems to be "No".
You see, we believe we may have found him. The man who will take over from the Master himself. Our Funny Little Men Talent Spotting Radar® went in overdrive and nearly exploded when we pointed it at this guy. We believe he is the real deal. And it's not just your Funny Little Men who say this. Oh no. Other people are saying the same thing. Not that other people's opinions count in the world of Funny Little Men. But it's still reassuring.
The man who caught our attention has everything it takes to be the next Miyazaki. The talent, the energy, the skill, the originality of vision. The only thing he doesn't have is the film to prove us right. Which, of course, is a problem.
That's the guy's name: Mamoru Hosoda. Born in 1967, he is plenty young with more than one feature length movie under his belt. And we're sure many more are to follow.
Our main man Mamoru impressed all his peers by turning what should have been a run-of -the-mill sausage factory bit of animation into a truly wondrous visual poem when he made the first Digimon movie. Don't bother trying to find it on DVD. What you're likely to find is the 20th Century Fox remix of the first three Digimon movies into something called "Digimon the Movie" which is to be avoided at all cost. We have provided you with Mamoru's original first Digimon Movie as YouTube links on the right.
After that, our little boy wonder went on to direct a 5 minute commercial for Louis Vuitton together with Takashi Murakami. The commercial was meant to be shown in Louis Vuitton shops only. But as always, you can't keep a good thing to yourself, so we kindly provided you with a YouTube link to "Superflat Monogram".
Eventually, Magic Mamoru got picked up by Ghibli studios to direct their next film, "Howl's Moving Castle". He got removed from the project for reasons only known to the people involved and went on to direct a low-cost movie "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time".
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
So, here we are. We have arrived at Mighty Mamoru's moment of truth. His feature debut. His first meaningful artistic milestone. What was it like, oh Funny Little Men?
The good news is that it shows he is the real deal. His early shorter works were no fluke. The bad news is that the film as a whole doesn't hold together. It starts off really well. But then it begins to loose itself. In fact, it overstays its welcome by, give or take, fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes! In animation that's an eternity. Mamoru, what were you thinking?
If the first half of the film is good, solid, well crafted story telling with all excess fat removed. Succinct, witty, to the point. The second half starts to meander and completely stretches the story in a desperate attempt to create a logical ending.
Mamoru reminds us at this point a bit of Quinten Tarantino. With his massive amount of talent, he directs individual scenes incredibly well. But the overall film always ends up being less than the sum of the parts.
Mamoru, we decided, needs a script-writer or some sort of collaborator who can help him getting rid of what isn't needed. A cruel but kind person who is happy to throw away good ideas to make room for better ideas.
Let's see how he fares in his next film...
With our collective fingers crossed, bunny paws at the ready, four-leaved clovers in our hats, we went to the London premier of Mighty Mamoru's latest, "Summer Wars".
Will he have learned the lessons from his first foray into feature length animation? Will he have spend more time getting the overall structure right? Will he? Will he? (oh please, oh pleaaaase)
Will he hell.
You see, at first, Summer Wars is an exquisite, beautifully observed film about family life. In the first half we are introduced to a massive extended family that comes together to celebrate the matriarch's birthday. It all happens in a big country house which is shown as a heaving, almost living entity full of individuals that are running around in a seemingly chaotic way. And it all holds together beautifully. To be able to portrait a crowded, warm, real, diverse family with such ease in animation takes some real directorial skills. And Mamoru delivers. Few can do what the man does in those scenes. Animators are notoriously rubbish at showing chaotic stuff that looks like its being made up on the spot. They want to show perfectly choreographed scenes. Someone give that Mamoru a lollipop and a pat on the head.
But then it all starts to go wrong. In order to connect with "da kidz", the story veers off in cyberspace. Yup, cyberspace, with avatars and virtual worlds. Remember when all that stuff used to be hip and exciting? We do. But that's because we're getting older.
Dear Mamoru. No one thinks setting a story in cyberspace is hip and cool in this day and age. Showing people as their avatars in order to show another part of their personality is old hat man.
So here we are, a beautiful, sensitive cinematographic poem about family life suddenly gets invaded by a bunch of cyberspace Pokemons. What follows is a silly story about a computer virus running rampant. Remember when films about computer viruses were hip?
To make matters worst, the virus completely overshadows another part of the story where something truly heartbreaking happens to the family. The tenderness and humanity with which the devastated family is shown is an indication of what this film could have been.
But some idiot left the door open and let the Pokemons in. Was it Mamoru? Was it an overbearing producer? We don't know. But whoever it was, didn't have enough trust in Mamoru or didn't appreciated his true strengths.
What's even weirder is that the cyberspace part of the story is an obvious carbon copy of Mamoru's second Digimon movie and the designs of the cyberworld are lifted directly from his Louis Vuitton commercial. Is this Mamoru's way of taking possession of his ideas and concepts in his commissioned works? What a silly boy.
We think Mamoru needs a good talking to...
Mamoru, Mamoru, Mamoru...
... You've got sooo much talent, so much to offer. You could make the most beautiful movies with your eyes closed. And you're wasting it all on - oh stop rolling your eyes around like that, we're saying this for your own good, you know - Get yourself a good collaborator, work with someone who brings out the best in you. Believe in yourself. We know you have what it - are you actually listening to anything we're saying? - Anyway, good luck. Let us know when your next film is finished. We're looking forward to it. With trepidation.