CANNES (AFP) – Mamoru Hosoda has his work cut out for him with Steven Spielberg and Hayao Miyazaki, the other great Japanese host to whom he is often compared.
Hosoda – whose brilliantly human Mirai (2018) received an Oscar three years ago – has had enough of the way Hollywood treats the digital world and the way Miyazaki portrays women.
The dystopian internet tropes that run through so many films, including Spielberg’s Ready Player One (2018), do no one a favor, especially women, Hosoda said at the Cannes film festival, where his latest feature Belle premiered. in preview.
Early reviews of the film have been ecstatic, with The Hollywood Reporter claiming its “wildly imaginative future takes your breath away” as the story rises to a “series of bloated emotional crescendos” that are still rooted in real emotion.
Hosoda, who has a young daughter, said he wanted 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 retort, 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.
To her surprise and that of everyone else, Suzu becomes a pop star called Belle in the virtual universe of an app called U. Rather than being burned by online abuse and harassment as she acquires million followers, Suzu uses her online avatar to defeat enemies and her own blocks.
Hosoda said: “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.
Suzu and her computer geek friend are a far cry from the women who usually populate Japanese anime – this is where Hosoda challenges Miyazaki, the Oscar-winning legend behind classics such as Spirited Away (2001).
“You only have to watch Japanese animations to see how young women are underestimated and not taken seriously in Japanese society,” he said.
Hosoda, 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. .
Without naming Miyazaki, he did not spare the founder of Studio Ghibli. “I won’t name him, but there is a great master of animation who always takes a young woman for his heroine. And to be frank, I think he does it because he doesn’t trust him. as a man, ”Hosoda said. .
“This veneration of young women really bothers me and I don’t want to be a part of it.”
He wants to free his heroines from being paragons of virtue and innocence and “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 Oscar-nominated Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). But Hosoda went halfway to create his own studio.
He prefers stories that “show the good and the bad in people. This tension is what human beings are.” That’s why he was drawn to the Beauty And The Beast update as well.
“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,” Hosoda said.
“Beauty is just a number. It’s all about how she looks. I wanted to make her 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 (2000). “I keep coming back to the Internet. First with Digimon, then with Summer Wars in 2009 and now again.”
And he is more convinced than ever that people cannot continue to dismiss the Internet as the source of all evil. “Young people can never part with it. They grew up with it. We have to accept it and learn to use it better.”