Mamoru Hosoda has made a name for himself as one of the most respected anime directors working today, so why do most of his films lack A-list anime voice actors?
Mamoru Hosoda doesn’t have a new film coming out this summer, but the famed anime director is still very much in the spotlight. Hosoda’s 2015 feature, The Boy and the Beast, is getting international attention for its recent North American theatrical run and English-language home video release, his adaptation of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and there’s even a themed cafe in Tokyo celebrating his works.
The director even stopped by prestigious Waseda University to speak with students as part of a lecture series by cinematic luminaries. While there, he was asked how he goes about choosing voice actors for his films, to which he responded that he prefers actors whose performance draws not so much from technical skills, but from a sense of presence and humanity.
That explanation gels with the more reserved, natural dialogue readings that are often present in Hosoda’s films. Many fans have noticed, though, that there’s something else that differentiates his movies’ vocal casts, in that established anime voice actors almost never play the lead roles in the director’s movies. The core vocal cast for The Boy and the Beast, for example, is made up of Koji Yakusho, Shota Sometani, and Suzu Hirose, all of whom work almost exclusively in live-action film and television. Previous Hosoda hits Wolf Children and Summer Wars are similarly light on big-name anime voice actors.
In this regard, Hosoda’s films have something in common with those of Hayao Miyazaki. While some of the famed Studio Ghibli director’s earlier projects had well-known anime regulars in key roles (most notably the female leads of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service), as his career went on he increasingly picked actors from outside the anime industry to voice his characters. Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino has also expressed dissatisfaction with the anime voice acting industry.
▼ Minami Takayama, the voice of sweet, innocent Kiki, would go on to play such violent psychopaths as The Vision of Escaflowne’s Dilandau and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’s Envy.
But in Hosoda’s case, his use of ordinarily live-action performers isn’t a rejection of their anime-centric counterparts. Instead, it’s a result of his personal filmmaking style and scheduling constraints. Japan is currently producing more anime than it ever has before, which also means popular voice actors are busier than ever. As such, it’s difficult to get multiple A-list anime performers in the recording studio at the same time.
“Professional [anime] voice actors are highly skilled, so you could record the dialogue for each character separately,” Hosoda explained. “But if you do that, they can’t feel and play off each other’s performances, so no matter how hard you try, the end product feels unbalanced. If you don’t have the performers recording their dialogue together, at the same time, it doesn’t come out right…If anime voice actors could open up enough time in their schedules to record for a movie together, there are people I think I could use.”
With the anime industry not looking like it’s going to slow down anytime soon, though, that’s not likely to happen. Then again, many moviegoers enjoy Hosoda’s films precisely because they feel different from more otaku-oriented Japanese animation projects, so maybe that’s for the best.