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  • Writer's pictureKerry Chambers

Rating: ***

I was so pumped to watch A Whisker Away. Like, embarrassingly so. Not a day went by in the month beforehand did I not think about it. I checked every other day if I had added it to the watch list on Netflix. A school romance. A fantasy. A story about girl who tries to get close to her crush by transforming into a cat seems quaint. Delightful, even! Despite it being a Netflix production, something that often puts me off, it was in association with Studio Colorido, who produced the highly original Penguin Highway in 2018. And it was predominantly 2D animation which no one wants to see die yet. A Whisker Away kept finding ways to appeal to me.

...‘A Netflix Anime Original’.

The production was titled in English with the intention to reference Studio Ghibli masterpiece Spirited Away (Miyazaki, 2001) – in Japanese its title ‘Nakitai Watashi wa Neko o Kaburu’ translates as: ‘Wanting to Cry, I Pretend to Be a Cat’. Even its font is attempting to capture a Disney-esque feel, which of course works on me. I could see that Netflix were trying their hardest to market their anime picture, even going so far as to open the film (as a reminder) ‘A Netflix Anime Original’. And although I was drawn into its whimsical marketing and Disney nod, I found myself... disappointed.


The story: Miyo Sasaki loves her classmate Kento Hinode. He resists her, often even ignores her. She has acquired a mask from the feline ‘Mask Seller’ – a creature straight out of a Ghibli fantasy, like the Turnip spirit with fur – that allows her to change into a cat. Only then does she receive affection from her crush. Meanwhile the ‘Mask Seller’ pesters her to live her life wholly as a cat, her mother’s abandoned her, she doesn’t like her stepmother and her father is oblivious. All the while her crush has his own problems; from family pressure to succeed academically and eventually support the family and fear of losing his grandfather’s pottery shop, something he loves more than anything, our teens seem to be in a bit of a bother. All this comes crashing down around them.


The premise is strong and engaging. As were its characters. I really enjoyed our heroine’s feisty-ness as a human, leaping and bounding about the place. In anime it is rare that a girl who is outspoken for her feelings about a boy isn’t conveyed as a pervert, which is always a plus in my books and refreshing replacement to a shy, soft-spoken or socially-awkward protagonist the art form is used to. Miyo, a romantic and fantasist, knows what she wants and she’ll go after it. Even if she can’t always read the situation appropriately. Her best friend is also an enjoyable and supportive addition who seems to care for her very much, shown wonderfully in a flashback in which she chases a younger Miyo about by the ocean, the pair looking pathetic and ridiculous. Strong female friendships on screen are always welcome. All the characters were pretty well-rounded, and there were quite of few of them – possibly even too many for much focus.

'...people being cats, cats being people...'

It had too many threads. Those threads tied the premise all up in knots. But many of those threads failed to amount to anything satisfactory. With too many ideas on the table; we had romance, parental splits, weighty responsibility, a magical realm, a kind grandfather, a pottery shop, slice-of-life, people being cats, cats being people, an evil mask-selling cat, cats replacing people… I’m sure there were more. Although visually, it captured some of these moments well (Hinode’s home was beautifully painted against low sunsets and traditional architecture with scenes in the craft room nicely lit), story-wise it became underwhelming. If there was a thread I would have enjoyed seeing exploited more, the paw print in the bowl would have been one of them.


I had a problem with the runtime (again), an issue not unique to Netflix but to many production of the last ten years, leading to less conciseness within the story. Finding more aspects being introduced to me as the runtime pressed on concerned me, becoming more and more aware how much they had to resolve. I didn’t doubt they could end the film, it just mattered if it was executed. But its finale felt shoe-horned in, an attempt to capture the tone and feel of Spirited Away but at too late a time to really do anything promisingly with it. In fact the final scenes then begin to feel out of place with the rest of the film.


The writer, Mari Okada has worked as a writer and development team for some of the best Anime out there including; Basilisk: The Kouga Ninja Scrolls (2005) The Anthem of the Heart (2017), Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (2011), Toradora (2008-2011) and Maquia (2018) to name just a few. Amazing projects and some personal favourite’s in there. Experienced though she is, I can’t help but feel as though she tried to jam too much into it. Although a story about two people struggling to say what they mean, she’s trying to say too much and it’s reaching capacity.


Its director’s Junichi Sato and Tomotaka Shibayama, both at different points of their careers having found their origin in animation departments on a variety of projects, are perhaps conflicting talents. Shiubayama is a relatively new director, with A Whisker Away being his first feature credit, with one of his earliest work being a Digital Ink and Paint Artist on, you guessed it, Spirited Away. Meanwhile, Sato is seasoned in many ways, with the predominance of his projects also being series. Which ties into my other issue with the film. My contrariness returns.

'To meet in the middle left it half-done.'

The film feels episodic. It feels as though I’m watching a series with main the major arc of the drama happening over half way through. By the time we are ‘whisked away’ to the finale, where much of the drama has to be resolved, I feel like I’ve just sat through a six episode slice-of-life. Possibly two. There’s a different feeling to the beginning that vanishes by the end; mostly its charm. Even the animation resembles that more of a series than of film, not a problem in itself, but the scope of the story is lost – I couldn’t imagine enjoying this on a big screen as much as say A Silent Voice (2016) which tells a small story in a big way. This tries to tell a relatively exceptional story in a semi-big way. So where A Whisker Away feels like it needs shortening, it could also have, possibly, worked better as a series. To meet in the middle left it half-done.


The messages and the exploration of the modern-family, issues with broken homes are handles well enough. For a youngster, they will probably feel rather moved by the story but having seen my fair few of slice-of-life, school romance, and these topics have been handled in tighter ways that have felt more human and less cutesy. Maybe that’s its biggest problem. There’s no doubt it’s cute, sweet and tries something new with the saturated genre. But when it bloats it’s no longer cute or as sincere as it intends to be. Certainly not as sincere as Okida’s work, School romance The Anthem of the Heart, which explores similar themes of broken homes, not saying what you mean and parental betrayal wrapped in a fairy-tale like narrative.

'A Whisker Away broke less ground...'

My mistake was getting my hopes up. Of course it was. Maybe I was the wrong audience for it – maybe not, I love a romance. But it’s also evidence of Netflix trend. Where the majority of audiences still expect less from Netflix, as many of their originals were notoriously poor a few years ago, they were just pleasantly surprised. A Whisker Away broke less ground than its filmmakers have. But I expect to see much more from the Studio in the future and I’m sure they’ll be stronger than this film. I also believe the directors are incredibly talented; their filmography is proof of this. There were many great people on this project; it’s just a shame it didn’t turn out great. I didn’t feel like bringing the claws out, however. Because a little romance to start the day with wasn’t too bad.


Image:

Screencap Of A Whisker Away. A Whisker Away Official Trailer 2020- Netflix. Netflix Asia Youtube Channel. 28th May. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXc9DVfLTGo.

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*Minor Spoilers - but not too many, hopefully enough to get you interested*

‘…I have an ideal to make movies that deal with values that are fundamental to humanity - like what it means for children to grow up, or what families are…’ Hosoda in an interview with NHK World Japan (Masataka, 2019)
Screencap: Wolf Children (2012)

This month I received my copy of BFI's Sight & Sounds Summer 2020 Anime special. A great volume which explores the cultural impact of Anime, the foreseeable future and the most significant films made in the one-hundred years of animation, it includes the works of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata a combined total of six times, Makoto Shinkai twice and Satoshi Kon a total of three times along with a great number of new recommendations to myself. I enjoyed the issue very much but upon reviewing, I was surprised when their Top 50 essential films only included one of Mamoru Hosodas’ productions. This was Summer Wars (2009)

Screencap: Summer Wars (2009)

Ranking at 40, the tier system being in chronological order, the publication described its inclusion ‘…made just before he started his own studio, Chizo, [Summer Wars] connects the two phases of his career…’ (Turner, 2020). It later goes onto discuss further how it’s a continuation on the ideas he explored in his franchise driven Digimon (2000) film, exploring the digital world and its presence in our lives. Meanwhile, running parallel to this, the film explores the immersion of a teenage boy into the girl he likes family, pretending to be her boyfriend. It has one of my favourite scenarios, extended family and one of the most realised worlds of his. It may be essential to his timeline as a filmmaker but this does not make it a favourite of mine, or the most essential of his films.

Screencap: Wolf Children (2012)

Then I began to question what was my favourite Hosoda film. And more importantly, why? The Girl Who leapt Through Time (2006) and Wolf Children (2012) were my first experiences with the filmmaker and have left their deepest tracks, encouraging me to re-watch them multiple times following the original double bill and always with great pleasure, and renewed curiosity. The former, I could say, is my favourite. So the obviously answer would be that; but if Summer Wars is the most critically essential film of his, why does The Girl Who Leapt Through Time feel so essential to me? Through this article, I want to breakdown the intimate details of Hosodas’ film and explore exactly why it is significant to me, even as a twenty-something.

‘Kyuta thinks he can stand on his own two feet already, but really he still needs someone to help him… I'll make up for what's missing inside his heart. That's the one thing this small-timer can still do!’ - Kumatetsu, Boy and the Beast

Family, friendships, growing up, fantasy and adventure are all explored in anime. It’s, also many of the themes explored in his work that makes Mamoru Hosoda so widely accessible, even to those who otherwise would not enjoy the popular form of animation. With so many great projects under his belt, it is clear to see why Hosoda is highly regarded internationally as well as in his native Japan, cited as being ‘humble in tone, high in concept, and an absolute rollercoaster in style and animation’ (Cubillas, 2019). From working with large franchises such as the aforementioned Digimon and One Piece (2005), to working on his own independent productions, tipped to be the next Miyazaki, even once being hired and later fired from Studio Ghibli, and going on to found his own studio, Hosoda has left a large mark on the industry.

Screencap: Mirai (2018)

Hosoda is known my many fans as the ‘Family Man’. This is due to all his films, be they blood-related or found, focus on the family dynamics or the role within the unit. If Summer Wars explores the large, extended family then Mirai (2018) explores the world through toddler’s eyes and their perception of family. The Boy and the Beast (2015) is about fatherhood and growing into a man and Wolf Children is the story of motherhood and allowing our children to follow their own paths. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is the teenage years, first love and discovering consequences.

Screencap: The Boy and the Beast (2015)

His first feature removed from a franchise and an adaptation of Yasutaka Tsutsui’s 1967 novel of the same name, Hosodas' film is the fast-paced, funny and moving depiction of a care-free teenager, Makoto, who acquires the ability to go back in time following a near-fatal bike accident. A tomboy, who loves nothing more than playing baseball with her two guy friends, Chiaki and Kousuke, and avoiding the future, she takes this gift for what it is, using it on trivial matters to make her life easier - these hijinks include returning to a time before her sister ate the left over pudding. However, gradually she begins to learn the weight of her actions has carried for those around her and that ‘Time Waits for No One’. What follows is a frustrating but revealing account of a teenager given an ability that is bigger than her, an eye-opening experience and a finale that is both mysterious and powerful. In the end, it is clear that Hosodas’ character has a stronger ‘…sense of the importance of family ties and friendships… who overcomes a series of difficulties on the way to final vindication… offering audiences release from their daily worries and depicting without embarrassment the growth to greater maturity of the main hero.’ (Rysuke, 2016).

Screencap: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)

Although often criticised for his lack of world-building, it is this which Summer Wars is often praised for. This may be the case, possibly his most ‘explained’ film of them all; I also can see the benefits of reduced world-building. I tend to see it from a different viewpoint; that by providing a minimal information on the mechanisms of the world, it leaves more to the viewer’s interpretation of a universe. Although frustrating in some contexts, in the context of Hosoda’s films, it can be argued whether these films exist within the same universe or parallel as in the case for The Boy and the Beast and Wolf Children. The former takes place in two worlds - that of the human world and the one of the beast with the final showdown melding the worlds together. The latter it wholly set in the human world, without ever exploring further the concept of the wolf people that seem to exist. This could lead to the theory that these worlds could have met in some capacity. But by the lack of explanation, the audience must suspend their disbelief and speculate further the state of the world. This can be said of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. That leaves much to interpretation whilst never exploring the future that is hinted to us and also provided the ‘Leaping’ ability and the, later seen, time-freezing abilities. But this could be restrictive and confusing if we are viewing this from Makoto’s perspective, in the films context. It has never been established that she is observant or unusually intelligent, so perhaps the information is leaked to us as much as it is to her due to the fact that Hosoda wants the mystery.

‘But, Makoto... you're not like me, right? If someone were late to meet you... wouldn't you run out to meet him?’- Kazuko, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a Coming-of Age, Sci-fi, Romance. But those themes don’t describe the film as accurately. The time-travel within the film is with little back-story, as discussed above. This element enters the realm of magical realism, a hint of magic in our otherwise ordinary world, which can be furthered by the comment made by Makoto’s aunt, art-restorer Kazuko, upon learning of her niece’s new ability, “It's not that rare. Many girls do it at your age.” Not only does it suggest that she has been through it herself, but that ‘Leaping’ is a rite of passage for all young women. Therefore, this world has always had a link to the future in which humans have discovered time-travel, and it is these future beings that have tainted the past through their visits, leaving remnants that we can use. Complex as it is, it could even be argued that her aunt is of the future, but this is speculation.

Screencap: Makoto and her aunt

‘Leaping’ and therefore the Sci-fi elements have been woven into the coming-of-age element of the film. Progressive in its depiction of a tomboy girl with no interest in anything other than her friends and wasting time, this tale uses the familiar high school trope of Japanese anime but holds back on its romanticism, painting a more realistic depiction of teenage life. It is not about the character coming into their own skin, as much as growing-up out of the self-centred way of viewing the world. As with many of Hosodas films, he explores this ‘…within the Japanese concept of seishun, the springtime of youth…The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars deal with nascent pubescent feelings of desire, attraction, love. These aren't, simply, coming-of-age tales, but ones in which Hosoda uses the liminal upheaval of youth as narrative impetus.’ (Carew, N.D).

Screencap: Chiaki and Makoto

This leads me onto the final genre this film falls into. Growing up can mean falling in love, and although not an outright romance for much of the film, its focus purposefully being on her lack of awareness for the people around her, the film approaches what is possibly one of my favourite anime romances on screen. Chaste and restrained, it contains all the yearning and mystery that a teenager would desire from their romantic viewing, whilst also being pretty realistic about its dynamics between the characters discovering their budding feelings. Established that Makoto is a tomboy, she does not see relationship with Chiaki as anything more than friendship; the romance comes about later and is only hinted at by their playful banter and follows after their friend Kousuke is asked out by a girl from their school. It is only though Makoto’s desire for a simple life that she ‘Leaps’ to avoid the confession of romance. However, by avoiding the scenario all together, we discover her feelings for Chiaki once he starts dating a female friend of hers. The childish jealousy also reveals that she is only beginning to understand her true feelings.

‘I have lived knowing nothing of the forest so there is nothing I can teach you. Go into the wild. Know the world....’ - Hana, Wolf Children

It’s theme of family and the teen narrative focus suggest Summer Wars similarities to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. However, it is the differences in themes that drew me to the latter. These initial themes only touch the surface as Hosoda said himself in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, ‘It's often said to me that my films are family-themed, but for me family is more of a motif. The theme I'm concerned with is the… development and changes within people. …it's easier to portray the universal occurrences in families through that medium to all kinds of people’ (Blair, 2016). If family has become his motif, which is visible from his filmography, then the deeper themes he explores within his first solo project would be, obviously, ‘Time’ and more specifically it waiting for no one (as the movie states the old proverb). The other significant themes would be ‘consequence’ and the path to adulthood.

Screecap: 'Time Waits for No One'

In an interview with Film School Rejects (Wardlow, 2018), Hosoda discusses the use of binary opposites in his films, a choice made by many storytellers, as a way to highlight the significance of the theme. So if we have ‘Time waits for no one’, its opposite within the context would be that Makoto wastes it more than she needs to, or at least avoiding it. She’s also a character in which time is a constant struggle and that perfectly personifies the theme; always late to school, absent to family meals, rushing about on her bike but never thinking very far into the future.

Screencap: The 'consequences' of Makotos Time-travel

There is a further conflicting theme that supports that of ‘time’. If it waits for no one, there is a balance that must be met in enjoying the present. When Chiaki longs to see the painting that Kazuko is currently restoring, it’s a cry for preservation of a beautiful. Makoto does not see past the end of her nose like most teenagers, but whilst she should be looking towards her future, towards the horizon, she should also be appreciating the now. The ‘Leaping’ she does back in time, is a significant theme for any young woman, a metaphor of her going after what she wants, taking the ‘leap of faith’. However, with Makoto inability to see the world around her, it is through the consequences of actions, her leaping blindly forces her to see the wider world and the people in it when it begins to affect their happiness.

Screencap: Makoto and her family

So ‘consequence’ comes into play. As a naïve teenager, it is now that she must take responsibility for her actions and her imperfections, which until now she has laughed off. As she says so herself; "When I'm not lucky, I'm really not, but I usually am, so it balances out." This happy-go-lucky outlook on life at the start of the film is rapidly tested when she gains her ‘leaping’ ability. It becomes a ‘be careful what you wish for’ scenario. So perhaps a further theme could be that of luck, and not testing that luck. And as a foolish teenager, by testing the boundaries of her good fortune, it has led to too much of a good thing. Therefore that luck has turned sour; much is the way with a tale like this. More familiar, more recognisable is that of an arrogant teenager to the audience. We were all one once ourselves, were we not?

‘Are you saying you’ve lost yourself?’- Mirai

One of my favourite things about Hosoda is his distinct style; his long-limbed character designs, his lack of sexualisation, beautiful skies and simplicity. Moving away from franchises meant that this style could be honed and perfected over the years, and there is no doubt that the quality has improved both with technology and his skills and distinctive voice. However, it is in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and it’s slight roughness, that he is able to really establish visual motifs and his language as a director.

Screencap: Chiaki and Makoto

With his beautiful animation, a recurring motif Hosoda uses as significant indicators of time - besides clocks and numbers that appear in scenes and on characters to calculate her number of ‘leaps’ - is the setting sun and divided paths for her to follow. The horizon represents just what it does, looking beyond it to the future. He uses many wide shots with the scope of the city behind Makoto to capture the girl being part of a bigger picture, of interconnecting lives whilst the sun-setting at the end of a day captures the passing of time. When the sun-sets, it’s another day over and so another day closer to her future.

Some of the most significant scenes are coloured in these warm, orange twilight scenes. Twilight is a significant visual, as used in Your Name (Shinkai, 2016) as well; it is a time where the divide between universes is at its thinnest. It should be noteworthy that many of these scenes she shares with Chiaki who is revealed to be not quite as he seems later on in the film. Furthermore, the use of these warm colours in comparison to the rest of this film which focuses on bright blues of the sky he’ll always pan up to, realistic palettes for urban scenes and lush greens captures the romance of their interactions. The fiery orange, which also matches Chiako's hair, is passionate, warm with hues of purple which can connote budding sexuality.

The divided paths, as mentioned earlier, are prominent in one stand-out scene in the film where Makoto is desperate to reverse Chiaki’s proposal. A scene I have briefly discussed, it is worth mentioning again as every time she ‘Leaps’ from the moment, returns her to same moment in which they bid farewell to Kousuke, and she and Chiaki set off in the same direction, he giving her lift on his bike (a very romantic trope). In time she learns that the path is written for her, and discovers that the only way avoid this is by taking the alternative path in front of her. But if she does not take it someone else will tread there ill-fittingly. Her denial highlights the urgency this film later has, when her neglect of this concept places her in mortal danger.

Screencap: Kousuke, Makoto and Chiaki on the divided path

Many of Makoto and Chiaki’s scenes before this moment, sees them distant, or just passing by one another. As discussed above, Hosoda’s style is basic in comparison to his contemporaries, choosing to minimalise his character designs and environments. But something I noticed on my latest re-watch is how much the director uses this and how effective it is. We often don’t get close ups on Chiaki’s face, capturing the world-view of Makoto and her obliviousness to him; as the audience, we don’t get to see his expressions and are lead to believe at the start that he’s simply the loud-mouth friend. So the scene on the bike, his face still covered by his hair, he remains somewhat of a mystery yet has been let into his character more in that moment than we have been throughout.

By separating us from Chiaki, and having us become that intimate with him during that scene creates a mystery for his character. Hosoda’s design of the red hair and relaxed school uniform could suggest two things, however; that he has a fiery attitude or he is a more significant character. He appears on the UK cover of the DVD and is still so distant that one probably would not take much notice of him. Although he has an attitude, the latter statement is true. So upon re-watching one can pay attention to him and his significance throughout the plot, something I think Hosoda wants you to miss the first time around.

Screencap: Chiaki merging with the crowd
‘He told me to keep smiling through tough or painful times, even if I had to force myself to do it…’ - Hana, Wolf Children

Hosoda is possibly one of the leading figures in the anime industry besides Miyazaki, Naoko Yamada and Shinkai, that is showing a progressive depiction of women in Japanese animation. From the lack of sexualising his female characters, placing them as working women going after what they want or bull-headed teenagers, it is good to see a representation of women that accurate and should pave the way for future productions to do the same. As Hosoda said himself in an interview during the press tour for Mirai, that he wanted to capture ‘…how society is changing in how we tend to see the roles of gender. I think we tend to keep [charming] parts of our traditional views, but then we’re also changing, so that’s what I wanted to depict. I don’t think it’s just in Japan that society is changing; I think worldwide, we’re all trying to figure out what family is, what gender is, and what our place is in society’ (Grobar, 2018).

Screencap: Makoto in the final scenes

This is why Makoto is probably one of my favourite anime protagonists (despite the excessive crying-watch it and you’ll understand). I think she is probably the most relatable. I have discussed the realistic perception of a teenager, and I think what she learns to value is a struggle that even an adult faces from time to time. That of responsibility and consequence weighs heavy on the adult, and her actions come with something to regret. But through it she finds her first love and the promise of an exciting future. I think her personality can be perceived as ignorance, but what she goes on to do is quite impressive, and ‘throughout the film, the main character Makoto acts and thinks positively and without hesitation, and demonstrates great bravery. The film depicts the passion and energy of youth, and presents young people as the embodiment of purity and honesty.’ (Ryusuke, 2016). It is this I admire most about her, and why I think Hosoda paints a wonderfully flawed protagonist. She makes many mistakes along the way by not opening her eyes, and this is something incredibly relatable to me now.

Screencap: Chiaki's Promise

During the final scenes of the film - set against the sunset backdrop with sweeping score and moving image as Chiaki whispers in her ear – what we feel is the weight of her world on her shoulders and one of the most romantic scenes in Anime. And although this is my favourite scene, incorporating romance into the fantastical elements, the following conclusion as we see all the side characters leading their lives as they should be and a more content Makoto welcoming Kousukes’ new girlfriend to their after school baseball games, is equally as satisfying and moving. She has the promise of tomorrow before her. And now she’s appreciating life, looking up at the wide blue sky as though seeing it for the first time. The little moments, the human moments between family – her mother and her cheeky sister – and her friends and their teasing strike deep. As is Hosoda’s intention, acknowledging that ‘[we]… easily ignore what the most important or cherished things are in their day-to-day lives. By incorporating science fiction and fantasy elements, audiences are more likely to discover what they don’t notice normally.’ (Hosoda, 2018) By telling these stories on an epic scale, he is able to get through to the human inside all of us, those things that connect us all.

‘Never turn your back on family, even when they hurt you. Never let life get the better of you. And if you remember nothing else, remember to find time to eat together as a family. Even when times are rough; especially when times are rough. There's no lack of painful things in this world, but hunger and loneliness must surely be two of the worst. Thanks to you, my precious family, I didn't know a moment of either of those the last ninety years.’ - Sakia, Summer Wars

So what was I saying with this essay? I was gushing of course and exploring a film close to my heart. More so, I wanted to discuss a film that is just as significant to Hosoda’s filmography as Summer Wars is. The digital world is something, since that films release, which he has not revisited as much. But family, fantasy and time-travel have all played significant roles in some capacity in his films and this began with The Girl Who Leapt through Time. It’s the film he tested the waters in and where he came to prominence in the West. This is not about whether Summer Wars and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is better than the other. For me reading Sight & Sounds’ list intrigued me to think that the former could represent his body of work when the latter’s swept me into its world in a way the other could not. After re-watching both, I can confirm that his first film still left my heart pounding, my soul aching - Makoto still frustrated me. I spotted more from my last watch and yet still clung to the edge of my seat, terrified of the outcomes. It sucked me in and hasn’t let go since that viewing. So this essay is saying that I love The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and it will always remain my favourite Hosoda film. Because it’s reminded me to see the world a little clearer and to take life in my stride.

Screencap: The final Scene

 

References:

BLAIR, G. (2016). Anime Director Mamoru Hosoda on Drawing by Hand and the Industry Post-Hayao Miyazaki (Q&A). The Hollywood Reporter. [Online]. 1st November. Available from: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/anime-director-mamoru-hosoda-drawing-by-hand-industry-post-hayao-miyazaki-q-a-942844. [Accessed: 15th June 2020].

CAREW, A. (N.D). The Fullness of Time: The Anime Films of Mamoru Hosoda. Questia Magazine. [Online]. Available from: https://www.questia.com/magazine/1G1-504178608/the-fullness-of-time-the-anime-films-of-mamoru-hosoda. [Accessed: 15th June 2020].

CUBILLAS, S. (2019). Ranking The Films Of Anime's Family Man: Mamoru Hosoda. CBR.com. [Online]. 2nd October. Available from: https://www.cbr.com/mamoru-hosoda-anime-films-ranked/. [Accessed: 15th June 2020].

GROBAR, M. (2018). Mourning Loss Of Paint-And-Paper Anime, ‘Mirai’ Director Attempts Animated First With Four-Year-Old Protagonist. Deadline.com. [Online]. 12th November. Available from: https://deadline.com/2018/11/mirai-mamoru-hosoda-cannes-film-festival-interview-1202494128/. [Accessed: 15th June 2020].

MATSATAKA, K. (2019). Anime legend Mamoru Hosoda on his art. NHK World Online. [Online]. 13th May. Available from: https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/backstories/459/. [Accessed: 15th June 2020].

RYŪSUKE, H. (2016). The Classic Storytelling of Anime Director Hosoda Mamoru. Nippon. [Online]. 17th November. Available from: https://www.nippon.com/en/views/b06801/. [Accessed: 15th June 2020].

TURNER, M. (2020). Anime Special: 50 Essential Films. Sight & Sound. Volume 30. Issue 6. Page 66.

WARDLOW, C. (2018). 6 Filmmaking Tips From Mamoru Hosoda. Film School Rejects. [Online]. 27th November. Available from: https://filmschoolrejects.com/filmmaking-tips-from-mamoru-hosoda/. [Accessed: 15th June 2020].


Images from:

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. (2006). Directed by Mamoru Hosoda. [DVD]. UK: Manga Entertainment.

Summer Wars. (2009). Directed by Mamoru Hosoda. [DVD]. UK: Manga Entertainment.

Wolf Children. (2012). Directed by Mamoru Hosoda. [DVD]. UK: Manga Entertainment.

The Boy and the Beast. (2015). Directed by Mamoru Hosoda. [DVD]. UK: Manga Entertainment.

Mirai. (2018). Directed by Mamoru Hosoda. [DVD]. UK: All The Anime LTD.


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*Minor spoilers ahead – predominantly vague*

Screencap: Cowboy Bebop (Watanabe, 1998)

The world is in a bit of a muddle; sometimes we all get overwhelmed by the misery that surrounds us, and distraction becomes harder and harder. With work on one side and the hostile planet we call earth on the other, I was inches from burying my head in the sand. How have I been avoiding work? Avoiding progression, the moving forward of the life that I have been fortunate to lead. Avoiding living in fear of losing? By spending some time back on the Bebop, that’s how.

“Don’t you want to hang out and waste your life with us?” – Spike Spiegel

Cowboy Bebop. The gateway anime series. Shinichiro Watanabe’s 1998 crowning achievement. The anime most anime fans can cite as one of their top ten anime of all time. What’s it about? The year is 2071. Earth has been left a desolate wasteland following a hyperspace gateway accident years before. As the human race has colonized the rest of the solar system, the world has gone rogue and a gang of bounty hunters travel through space to clean up the mess in return for a reward. That’s the basic description. There’s also a major arc involving the Syndicate and hanging onto your past. But you have to watch it to know what I’m talking about, and twenty-six episodes and movie isn’t too much to work your way through. I have four times.

Screencap: Cowboy Bebop (Watanabe, 1998)

I was late to Bebop. Like many an anime fan, I grew up on Pokémon (1997-present) but didn’t really get into it until my first year of University. I was twenty-one years old and working at HMV part time. I had always been curious having watched a couple of Studio Ghibli films ( Morita's 2002 The Cat returns one rainy afternoon and Miyazaki's 2001Spirited Away when I was very young, if you must know) but never really sought it out. Associating it with the girls in school who would cut holes into their uniform sleeves to make arm warmers, draw ‘manga’ on their work books and dye their hair blue which would turn a patchy green by the next day, they were often unapproachable and elitist for some reason.

“It’s just like Charlie said in my dream. If you want to receive you have to give. See Spike, you got to listen to your dreams, that’s how you find your dream girl.” – Jet Black

But I decided to buy a few Studio Ghibli movies on DVD (because I believe in the format). It was almost all new to me. Doing some coursework one evening, I stuck on Howls Moving Castle (Miyazaki, 2004) in the background, a practice I have when my work isn’t too focused. However, two hours later I ended up with a blank document in front of me and my heart soaring. It’s still my favourite Ghibli to this day. The emergence of the castle through the fog in the distance, still send chills down my spine. Seconds in and I was hooked.

Ep. 17 - Mushroom Samba
Screencap: Cowboy Bebop (Watanabe, 1998)

I didn’t stop after that and within a year I had completed my Ghibli collection (thank the lord for the discount). I also branched out, discovering new genres (I’m a sucker for a cute high school romance but a violent horror/fantasy doesn’t go amiss either), the works of Mamoru Hosoda, Makoto Shinkai, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Satoshi Kon, along with a lot of lovely series - Clannad (2007-2008), Toradora (2010), Hellsing (2001-2002), My Love Story (2015)... I was lost in the beautiful animation, the landscapes, and the sense of humour. Japanese filmmakers have a wonderful interpretation of the world with many thanks to their culture, rich with stories and creativity. It became my escapist fantasy. It was like Disney to me, but with higher age ratings.


I could never get enough, yet my purse would always resist. There were varying peaks in my intakes. Sometimes months would be taken up by other obsessions, and then I would return fresh-faced and ready for immersion as though I’d never gone away. But Bebop was one I always wanted to see. But never wanted to spend the money on. My anime buying slowed down a little for a while after the first wave, mainly due to the need to save and being more sociable in second year of University.

“You know the first rule in combat? Shoot them before they shoot you.” – Faye Valentine

But third year I was hyper stressed again; planning a dissertation on Japanese Cinema, the heightened pressure of impending deadlines and with a mind that was running on next to empty. Then one day, I had a lot of vouchers saved up and decided I’d splurge on some neglected anime that had fallen to the bottom of my ‘need’ list; Berserk (1997) was one of them. And Cowboy Bebop was the other. This was Christmas, 2018. I’m such a noob.

Screencap: Cowboy Bebop (Watanabe, 1998)

I don’t believe in there being a set way to get into anything, just as I don’t hold a single film accountable for an entire genre or allow an isolated book in a series put me off and the same can be said for anime. I’ve seen shit, which I’ve usually streamed, but when I buy something I want to know I’m going to like it (at least a bit). I was confident I would like Bebop, if just for a single run-through. In fact, I wasn’t into it immediately at all, my attentions waning a little. You have to finish what you start. And then, as all Bebop fans can firmly and enthusiastically concur, ‘The Ballad of Fallen Angels’ came on. Stuck it on, not thinking much of anything; the usual. Before I knew it, I was frozen to the spot, allowing the full credits to run for the first time, enjoying ‘The Real Folk Blues’ and making a fool of myself many times since, singing along in attempted Japanese and always unaware of what I’m saying (Thank you Yoko Kanno and The Seatbelts).

“There are three things I hate the most: Kids, pets, and women with attitude. So tell me, why do we have all of them packed into our ship?” – Spike Spiegel

So my re-watch has been with some purpose; to introduce my housemate to Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivruski IV and Ein the genius Welsh Corgi. A genre-bending show, there’s at least one episode for all to enjoy and an unforgettable amount of impressive animated sequences. The space-chase with Spike maneuvering through enemy barrages in the Swordfish II, during ‘Wild Horses’, for example, is the highlight of the episode. Zany characters, great lore, powerful stories, fantastic music and amazing visuals all make Cowboy Bebop more than just your average anime.

Screencap: Cowboy Bebop (Watanabe, 1998)

But something has struck me this time around in amongst all the action-packed sequences, moments of horror, and elements of humor. The depiction of adult relationships in the show. I always knew that the Bebop crew was a very dysfunctional, rag-tag family, but now they were more than that. The way they gravitate towards one another, the way they always come back and the intimate moments between that they never even acknowledge has broken my heart in ways I wasn’t sure Bebop could do anymore.

Screencap: Cowboy Bebop (Watanabe, 1998)

Relationships are harder when you’re older. When you’re younger, although it seems like more is at stake, things come more naturally. You’re finding yourself and in doing so finding others that compliment that in some way be it through music or books or even a t-shirt. When you’re older, these things don’t really matter. You have to meet at work and mutual misery forms a bond of survival in the hell hole. There’s never any common ground in particular, it’s just chatter to get you through the day. Or you have to be introduced through other friends, and then you don’t know whether or not you can consider an introduction friendship. When do you add them to your contacts? It all becomes harder. Your personality is pretty much set. And you’re more conscious of this, of yourself and all the things you want to change but have lost the malleability. I also found that I want to try less. That more friends complicate things and that trusting people is hard, being open is really hard.

Screencap: Cowboy Bebop (Watanabe, 1998)

This is where Bebop stands out to me. Three adults, a child and dog have all ended up on that ship and have created something of a home for themselves. They turned up and never left. Ed, computer-hacking child-genius, and Ein seem to be the only ones who know why they’re there. Ed is the only one that forced them to let her on the Bebop, hacking the ships core computer to make them turn back around and let her on. She seems to understand the need for companionship, the environment suiting her talents and desire for a family unit.

Screencap: Cowboy Bebop (Watanabe, 1998)

Jet, the father-figure of the household you could say, owns the Bebop and has worked with Spike the longest. It’s suggested that he picked him up not long after leaving the police force and the latter escaped the Syndicate. They’re been working bounty’s ever since. These two gravitated towards one another. Both have left organizations and become loners in their world. But why not work alone? Pride would say convenience. Jet cooks the food, fixes the ships and tends his bonsai trees. He needs to nurture. It’s why he has no problem with all these people under his roof despite his complaints. It also explains why he’s so riled up when they threaten to leave and never come back, like runaway children, but never making a fuss when they return. I think he’s just happy to be looking after someone again.

“They often say that humans can’t live alone. But you can live pretty long by yourself. Instead of feeling alone in a group, it’s better to be alone in your solitude.” – Faye Valentine

Faye and Spike are very similar in their sentiments towards life. A con-woman turned bounty hunter with a serious gambling problem; she is known to leave the ship for days on end, throwing money at casinos, the races and other such eventual losses. And more often than most, she claims she’ll never come back. With the theory that she wants to leave them before they leave her. It’s also better to be lonely on your own than in a crowd. That’s what Faye says. But I don’t think the Bebop crew is alone when they’re together. They don’t communicate, never really say what they mean and they can’t quite see what’s right in front of them (with the exception of Ed and Ein). For Faye, it’s the feeling of being forgotten all those years, with no one left to tell her who she was before she was awoken, that running away has become the better option.

Screencap: Cowboy Bebop (Watanabe, 1998)

Spike’s biggest problem is living in the past, which is much of what Bebop explores with all its characters; Jet for his policing days, Faye for her forgotten past and Spike for Julia, Vicious, the Syndicate. Maybe they see that life stopped when they united on the Bebop instead of seeing it as a possible new life, but until they can accept their pasts they cannot move forward.


Spike and his past are elusive as Faye’s, but one which is full of answers he’ll never relent to the crew or to the audience. Circumstance reveals more, but from the man himself, his lips are sealed. We learn through the end credits sequence of each episode as a series of faded memories and from significant turning-point episodes in which he is confronted with Vicious, his once comrade and now mortal enemy. The name Julia looms over them all. He falls hard in battles, he's not over-powered and more often than not, we see him on the brink of survival, on the edge of the mortal coil. Why does he push so hard? What more, how hard it is as an adult to wear your heart on your sleeve? Who are you fighting for when you don’t know what’s worth saving? When is it time to call it quits? These are things Spike Spiegel knows a lot about, and he’s known the answers for a long time. His story taught me that no matter how much you think that words can change the outcome of a person’s life, some things won’t change. And it’s childish whim that wishes it so.

Screencap: Cowboy Bebop (Watanabe, 1998)

They’re all broken in some way. And so Bebop perfectly captures the complication of the adult relationship. The need to shield oneself at every possible angle and the bubble we put ourselves in. In many ways, the adult friendship – the good ones – is genuine, more so than that of our youth. It comes with all the baggage. Those of the Bebop crew fail to see the harmony in their chaos and the fulfillment that entails. With each episode, I am taken by their intimacy and familiarity, their playfulness. Knowing the outcome makes me enjoy these moments, for what they are, all the more. As bounty hunters living a dangerous life, I don’t think they want a crutch. But if Bebop taught me anything, it’s about depending on your friends even when you’re too proud. I relate to their pessimism and in doing so can see right through them – see the generous soul that is Spike, the lonely child that is Faye and the soft-hearted man that is Jet.

“…I felt like I was watching a dream I could never wake up from. Before I knew it, the dream was over.” – Spike Spiegel

I’m currently in my third wave of anime, bingeing Gintama and hunting for new shows on CrunchyRoll like a hopeless Otaku. I’m finding more gems, but I’m not disillusioned by the worlds I’m escaping to. I have no misconception of Japan and reality. That anime is a romanticised version, capturing the dream world, the fantastical lands and the utopia in its Slice-of-Life whilst harbouring the real-life issues of its characters. There’s beauty in it that doesn’t really exist. Accepting this is hard for a dreamer like me. Because being an adult is hard, not a day goes by where I don’t yearn for my youth, for unforgettable days at eight years old, living in that hazy world where everything is still new and exciting and before I had anything to regret.

“Bang…” - Spike Spiegel

This is a long article about something not a lot of people will care about. Still, if there’s one thing I know about writing, write from the heart. This is what I know. Cowboy Bebop is an excellent series, and like a fine West Country cheddar, only gets better as time goes by. I can’t hear the words ‘Call Me’ without crying. ‘Space Lion’ breaks me. The colour ‘Blue’ has a deeper meaning to me now. Something about it holds you and won’t let you go. It taught be about growing up, fighting on and the right thing. Long after those final moments, it carves a space in your heart forever and nothing can fill it again – five individual spots for all the crew. Eternally. And it’s a heavy burden, but just like the past, it can’t leave you so just have to learn to ‘… carry that weight.’

Screencap: Cowboy Bebop (Watanabe, 1998)



Other Significant Quarantine Watching

Rewatch

· Spaced (1999 - 2001)

· The Story of Tracy Beaker (2002 - 2005)

· Inside No.9 (2014 - present)

· Psychoville (2009 - 2011)

· Cowboy Bebop (1998)

New

· Brass Eye (1997)

· This is England (2007 - 2015)

· Gintama (2006 - present kind of)

· Wotakoi: Love is Hard for an Otaku (2018)

Images from: Cowboy Bebop Complete Collection. (2014). Directed by Shinchiro Watanabe. [DVD]. UK: All The Anime LTD.


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A Space for Reviews, World Cinema Appreciation, Essays and Reflections by Writer Kerry Chambers

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