As Belle hits UK cinemas, the acclaimed Japanese director talks Digimon, virtual cityscapes, and parenthood in the digital age.
Mamoru Hosoda’s films have always concerned themselves with the lives of children, filled with anxieties and contemplations about the effect that the older generation has on the maturation of their offspring. He’s explored this from the perspective of the parent in fantasy films like Wolf Children, but also from that of the child, in that of Mirai.
Perhaps most striking, is his engagement with how the internet has an increasingly undeniable presence in that coming-of-age. And so his latest feature Belle feels like a culmination of all of the above, a ravishing update of Beauty and the Beast which reframes the classic story though digital culture, through a teenager finding herself through online relationships.
This interview was conducted with a translator, and edited for clarity.
LWLies: Compared to other films about the internet, Belle has quite an optimistic outlook about being online.
Mamoru Hosoda: You’re right. A lot of films based on around the internet tend to be dystopian. And whether that’s in a Spielberg or of the other directors that have done that, they tend to show the internet as being a problem in society. And then they use the problems that they see there to show some something about humanity. But I don’t really like that way of looking at the internet as sort of deliberately stirring up fear, and then using that to get a message across partly because I make animation and I have in mind, a young audience, I want to make something that’s going to help them. That was the same 20 years ago when I made Digimon Adventure and Summer Wars. I wanted to show the internet as a place where young people is a positive place for young people. And although the internet in real life is now full of trolls and slander, and in a way, does show some of the worst of humanity, I hope that young people will be able to change that and make it a better place.
You’ve spoken before about your family and personal experiences inspiring your past films. How much of your own experiences did you bring to Belle?
I suppose it wasn’t so much of an influence this time because my daughter is still only five and the protagonist of this film is in high school. But it was partly motivated by me starting to worry about when she grows up, when she gets to be a teenager and she faces all these teenage issues and how will she manage. The internet has changed a lot since I made Digimon and since I made Summer Wars, which were both based on the internet. Nowadays, there’s all this trolling that goes on online and parents, I think, tend to want to keep their children away from the internet if they can,