Japanese anime has problem with women and girls, says Mamoru Hosoda

Japanese animation director Mamoru Hosoda arrives for the screening of the film “France” at the 74th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France on July 15, 2021. Image: AFP / Valery Hache

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 Miyazaki portrays women.

The dystopian internet tropes that run through so many films, including Spielberg’s “Ready Player One,” do no one any favors, especially women, Hosoda told AFP at the Cannes film festival, where his latest feature film “Belle” is presented in preview.

Father of a young girl himself, the Japanese master 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 said.

“Belle” is his response, 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”.

Digital diva

Much to her surprise, and that of everyone else, Suzu becomes a pop diva called Belle in the virtual universe of an app called U.

Rather than being burned down 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. I wanted to show that this virtual world, which can be harsh and horrible, can also be positive, ”said Hosoda.

Suzu and her computer geek friend are far 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 a Japanese animation to see how young women are underestimated and not taken seriously in Japanese society,” he said.

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 said, with obvious frustration. .

The bursting of Miyazaki

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 blunt, I think he does it because he doesn’t trust himself as a man.

“This veneration of young women really bothers me and I don’t want to be a part of it,” he insisted.

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.

The director prefers stories that “show the good and the bad in people. This tension is the raison d’être of the human being ”, which is why he was also drawn to the update of“ 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. 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.

He is more convinced than ever that we cannot continue to dismiss him as the source of all evil.

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


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