Mamoru Hosoda in Western Theatres: Why Now?

Did you hear? The Boy and the Beast is coming to theatres in March!

I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, assuming my Beginner’s Guide entry wasn’t a dead giveaway, but I’m a huge Mamoru Hosoda fan. He’s my favourite anime director next to Hayao Miyazaki, and the vacancy in my heart that exists from the latter’s retirement has been replaced by him. The styles of the directors are quite different, Hosoda deals with more grounded fantasy, but since The Wolf Children’s currently one of my favourite animated films of all-time…yeah, it’s safe to say that I love his work. I’m incredibly excited aout his latest film, The Boy and the Beast, coming to theatres in dub-form on March 3rd, exactly one week after Only Yesterday makes its own debut after 25 years.

Sound like great news, right? Yes, but I’m actually baffled by one detail surrounding this film’s theatrical release: why now?

To give context, Hosoda’s been in the industry for a while. He got his start working for Toei Animation on Digimon Adventure in the late-90’s, even directing two short-films and an episode. He’d go on to direct a One Piece film as well, before being given the opportunity to tackle Howl’s Moving Castle. The latter didn’t pan out for…reasons, leading Hosoda to team up with Studio MadHouse for The Girl Who Leapt Through Time in 2006. And that’s where he really became a household name in Japan, with three more films, Summer Wars, The Wolf Children and now The Boy and the Beast, since.

Sufficed to say, Mamoru Hosoda’s no slouch when it comes to showcasing his prowess. Not only has he been nominated for several awards in his home country, but he’s even started gaining notoriety over here, albeit via cult following, through the efforts of FUNimation Entertainment. The company's dubbed his previous two films, and by the looks it The Boy and the Beast will be too; after all, here’s the cast:
“Kyuta (Young)-Luci Christian.
Kyuta (Teen)-Eric Vale.
Kumatetsu-John Swasey.
Kaede-Bryn Apprill.
Chico-Monica Rial.
Hyakushuno-Alex Organ.
Tatara-Ian Sinclair.
Iozen-Sean Hennigan.
Ichirohiko (Young)-Morgan Berry.
Ichirohiko (Teen)-Austin Tindle.
Jiromaru (Young)-Brittney Karbowski.
Jiromaru (Teen)-Josh Grelle.
Kyuta’s Mother-Jessica Cavanagh.
Kyuta’s Father-Chuck Hüber.
Lord-Steve Powell.”
That’s quite the powerhouse list! But, again, why now? Why, of all the movies to pick for a wide-release, did it have to be Mamoru Hosoda’s fourth film? FUNimation could’ve easily done that with his last two works too. Judging by the reception they’ve received from fans and critics alike, why they didn’t is mind-boggling. Were they afraid of the movies not selling? Considering how ticket sales have helped Studio Ghibli with their films in the West-

Okay, that’s not fair. Yes, Studio Ghibli’s movies have been released in theatres on numerous occasions. But that’s because their library already had a fan-base prior to Princess Mononoke debuting in North America in 1999. They’d been around since the 80’s, giving them more than a decade head-start. Comparing them to Hosoda is like comparing a sirloin steak to a cheap hamburger in that regard.

But you know something? Part of what made Studio Ghibli so big here was the theatrical releases. Prior to 1999, Studio Ghibli was known, but mostly by underground Otaku. Post 1999, the fan-base was small, but it wasn’t as underground anymore. These days, many non-fans of anime know of the studio, even if not by name.

So to start advertising Hosoda’s work in theatres early on is good. It might not generate great returns, that’d be unrealistic, but it’d allow for long-term word of mouth. With theatrical releases, the chances of “Hey, that looks cool!” or “Why don’t we go see that?” or even “I saw that recently, and it’s well-worth your time!” happening are that much greater. With a straight-to-DVD release, however, it’s less-likely.

To use a personal example, last Summer I invited some of my co-counsellors from camp over for a movie night. We watched The Wolf Children, which they’d never heard of. When I initially tried explaining what it was, the first response I heard was, “The only anime I’ve seen is by that guy who made Spirited Away. What’s his name again?” Everyone ended up enjoying the film, but that kind of response shows that FUNimation had missed an opportunity by not releasing the film theatrically.

They missed an additional opportunity to have the film submitted for an Oscar for Best Animated Film that year. For the record, The Wolf Children was released in Japan in 2012. It came over here in December of 2013. The opportunity was there, as The Academy’s guidelines allow for submissions within one calendar year of their original release. But since it went straight to video, the opportunity was lost. I guess FUNimation realized that too late…

If I sound bitter, I’m not really. If anything, I’m excited about a Mamoru Hosoda film being released in theatres. With Studio Ghibli no longer making new movies, and their only release this year being too old, The Boy and the Beast stands a chance to score an Oscar nod for next year. Perhaps not a win, Disney or Pixar’ll probably get the trophy, but a nod nonetheless. And nods are good enough press for a movie, trust me!

And the film? I’m down! I don’t think I’ll pre-order my ticket, I don’t need to with a film like this, but I’m planning to see it as soon as possible. And I’m sure, judging by its reception and my past experience, that I’ll love it to bits. How much remains to be seen, but Hosoda's earned my trust, and that counts for something!


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