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by Richard Lim Jr

Among the Moviexclusive crew, there is an unspoken agreement that "The Girl who Leapt Through Time" was a meaningful piece of Japanese animation feature. That wonderful Japanese animation skillfully rolled Science Fiction, drama, comedy and romance into one and it bears testment to the storytelling capablities of the director Mamoru Hosoda. Needless to say, when Mamoru Hosoda was in town recently for Singapore Anime Festival Asia to promote "Summer Wars" and Moviexclusive caught up with him to chat about his latest animation, "Summer Wars".

It turn out that the inspiration for Summer Wars actually came from his wife who comes from the country side and her family members. Initially Mamoru Hosoda found that it was troublesome to deal with so many family members but after getting to know his wife's extended family better, he found a refreshing new change to his perception and worked the strong family bond concept into his latest animation Summer Wars.
He infused various different bonding aspects of the family members from the diversifying age range that stretches from the young baby of the family to the old grandma of the household and made them come together to achieve one common goal. With small numbers forming the nucleus in families that staying in cities like Tokyo, he hoped to bring across the message that having a big family could have it's advantages. While it's true that in reality, technology (particularly computer games) are creating a gap between the younger and older generation in most family, Summer Wars' objective would be to present the importance of communication between family members and how technology could also be used to close the gap.

Taking inspiration from his wife's family, Mamoru Hosoda decided to set the animation in a country side setting as there where you can still find families that made up of larger numbers. From what he researched, there are no movie that featured so many relatives in prominent spotlight and that for the sake of grandeur, he took the time consuming and extremely difficult task of handling 30 odd characters in this animation. The difficulties were amplified when he seek to bring about an interesting contrast between the internet world (the Oz) and the real world that would appeal to the audience. Even though he likes all the characters that inhibit the Summer Wars realm, his favourite would be the Natsuki’s spunky grandmother as she is a strong character that function as the breadwinner in the family. The manner how she accepted Kenji was also particularly endearing to him.

If you are interested in what the job scope of a animation director, it turns out that although it differs from one director to another, he does almost everything in this animation project. Tasks such as writing out the storyline, checking the layouts and directing the actors for their voice acting. However he leaves the characters design and animating works to his trusted crew that had been following him for a long time.

Although he had been hailed as the next king of Japanese animation and there had been rumors of a largely unexplained fall out between him and Studio Ghibli, he was somewhat embarrassed by that title and clarify that he has the utmost respect for Hayao Miyazaki and the staff of Studio Ghibli. He felt that despite working in a different animation company, competition for accolades between companies shouldn't be the main objective. The real goal should be in creating more variation in their animation (such as Pixar) for people to watch together and inspire each other in this field of work to do better.

When asked why he had chosen animation as his medium to tell a tale, he told us that he found that compared to live action, it easier to portray the human nature through animation. The good points (such as innocence) and bad points of humanity have a honest feel when it's presented in the animation format.

Before we ended our interview session, we asked him a question that any fans would and it was what his next project going to be. It turned out that his next animation project is still currently in the thinking process but one thing is for sure, his next project won't be featuring so many characters. In the meantime, catch Summer Wars at all good cinemas in Singapore.

Summer Wars opens in theatres 25 February 2010 and is reviewed here

By Richard Lim Jr
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