People | WHY DID YOU LEAVE JAPAN?

Yosuke Hosoi: The mission to get it all on film

by Louise George Kittaka

Contributing Writer

Having a work screened at the distinguished Cannes Film Festival in France would be a dream come true for most filmmakers. Not only has Berlin-based director Yosuke Hosoi achieved this, but he did it within just seven years since moving to the U.S. to study filmmaking.

His film “Man of the House” was accepted for the Short Film Corner at Cannes in 2012. A family drama, it centers on the relationship of an elderly woman and her young bicultural grandchild — the son of a Japanese mother and American father. The father is visiting Japan on business when the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami hits, preventing him from returning to his family.

“It was actually my (university) graduation project, and it just happened that it was 2011, the year of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. My teachers advised me to choose a subject that was personal to me. I was close to my grandmother, and so I based my story around that relationship,” Hosoi says.

As an international student, Hosoi points out that he had more resting on his projects than his American classmates.

“My international career was dependent on getting the visa I needed, so results were important. I had to be proactive in getting my name out there, and my teachers encouraged me in this respect,” he explains. “Going to Cannes and meeting some of the top directors in the film world was like a dream come true!”

Growing up in Saitama Prefecture, Hosoi was an imaginative child who was always looking for ways to express his creativity. However, it wasn’t until the end of high school that he settled upon film as his media of choice.

As a teenager, his desire to study abroad had been fueled by two visits to New Zealand through sister city ties. Right after high school graduation, he headed to Los Angeles for a two-year course at a college in Santa Monica, followed by a period of interning and working in the film industry in various capacities on independent films, music videos and commercials. Then, in 2008, he moved to New York to pursue a bachelor of fine arts at The City College of New York.

“I was able to live and work on both sides of the U.S. At first I wasn’t that great at English. I tried my best, but it wasn’t like I was fluent or anything. It was pretty hard. But there were lots of other international students and people from other countries working on projects as well as me,” Hosoi recalls.

After a total of eight years in the U.S. and then four more back in Japan, he decided to make a base for himself in Berlin two years ago. The nature of his industry means he has quite a lot of flexibility when choosing a location.

“I didn’t move for a particular job or project, but I’d always wanted to live in Germany at some stage,” says Hosoi, who still travels frequently for his work.

“I still can’t speak much German,” he admits with a grin. “Everyone can speak English so my German doesn’t improve. And when you work with an international team, English is the main language for communication anyway.”

For the past four years, Hosoi’s main project has been “Who I Am,” a series for the private Japanese satellite TV company Wowow documenting the lives of Paralympic athletes. The International Paralympic Committee joined Wowow as official partners on the series. Hosoi initially came on board the project while still living in Japan, but with his producer’s blessing, has continued working on the series since moving to Germany.

He directed an episode for each season of the series, dealing with a diverse range of nationalities and athletic disciplines, including a Brazilian swimmer, a snowboarder in the U.S., a German shot-putter and a British sprinter. After working on fictional story projects in America, Hosoi admits that initially he wasn’t that interested in making documentaries. However, after meeting the subjects of “Who I Am,” he quickly changed his mind.

“At first I thought it was just going to be some people doing their best, but after working with them closely, I realized how truly inspirational they are,” he says. “It’s not just that they are fast or good at sports — these are people at the very top of their game.”

The second season of “Who I Am,” for which Hosoi directed an episode featuring para-snowboard cross racer Evan Strong, was nominated for a 2018 International Emmy Award in the documentary category.

Hosoi also recently found himself in front of the camera, rather than behind it. In his early days in the U.S., he took some acting classes in order to better understand the actor’s position. Fast forward, and he landed a small speaking role in “Minamata,” a Hollywood film starring Johnny Depp.

Slated for release in 2020, the movie is based on the devastating industrial mercury poisoning in the Minamata area of Kyushu. Depp plays W. Eugene Smith, the legendary American photographer who lived and worked in Minamata in the early 1970s, bringing the poisoning incident to international attention.

Hosoi participated in filming in Serbia, where he says production and labor costs are relatively inexpensive. “I went to a casting call for Japanese actors living in Europe, just as an extra. But then one thing lead to another and I was asked to try out for a speaking role,” he says.

When asked about directors he finds inspiring, he mentions Hirokazu Kore-eda, who he’s had the honor of meeting in person and whose 2018 film “Shoplifters” was among the nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards.

“Kore-eda made documentaries in the past and then turned back to fiction,” says Hosoi. “As a Japanese living overseas, I can see various points of view and my work is a reflection of my experiences. I hope to have the chance to make more (fiction) films in the future.”

With the recent international success of Japanese films such as “Shoplifters” and Makoto Shinkai’s romantic anime “Your Name.”, what does Hosoi think are the key aspects of movies that appeal globally?

“There are various people in the world, but even if lifestyles and appearances are different, when you dig down, our emotions are the same. If you can tap into these, then you can reach out to people in other cultures,” he says. “Also, (you should) write about what you know!”

Profile

Name: Yosuke Hosoi

Profession: Director and cinematographer

Hometown: Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture

Age: 33

Key moments in career:

2005 — Moves to the U.S. to study film

2012 — Has a film shown at the Cannes Film Festival in France

2017 — Moves to Berlin

2018 — The documentary series “Who I Am” receives an International Emmy Award nomination. Things I miss most about Japan: “Good sashimi, seasonal transition with food, top-notch service, my hometown.”

Things I like about Berlin: “The diversity. It’s a unique and special place.

Words to live by: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”