Many of us who grew up watching the animated Pokémon series still have questions about the inner lives of certain characters. What happens, for example, when a Pokémon master fills out his Pokédex and goes home? Do the regular citizens of Pallet Town revere explorers like Ash, or do they just work their regular day jobs and not think about the crazy monsters they share their world with?
Filmmaker Joshua Hoh was so curious about the nitty gritty of the fictional Pokémon world that he decided to answer some of those questions for himself. His artistic experiment turned into a three-part short film, Ash's Homecoming, which Hoh funded via Kickstarter.
"There are now literally over 1000 episodes of Pokémon and Ash and friends have never been allowed to grow up!" Hoh told SYFY WIRE, describing his drive to finish the film as a means of satisfying his personal need for resolution. He believes he's not alone. "Our story is meant to speak to everyone who grew up with the show... it's about where we choose to go next as young adults."
Ash's Homecoming arguably treats the emotional stakes of the Pokémon story more delicately than the cartoon ever did, though there have been emotional episodes sprinkled throughout the series.
Hoh also pulls off an element of adapting anime that many Western filmmakers haven't figured out yet; he cast a diverse group of actors as the classic characters, including Korean-American actor Jeremy Steel as Ash Ketchum.
"As a character, Ash is both courageous and stubborn, impatient but passionate," Hoh says. "His flaws are what make his journey so meaningful. So, of course, I just had to make a film about Ash as an adult."
Ash's Homecoming is Hoh's third imaginative fan film, though it was his first experience playing in the Pokémon franchise. In 2015, he published Star Trek Wars, a 24-minute parody of science-fiction fandoms at war with each other. In Hoh's dramatization, legions of screaming Trekkies and Star Wars obsessives watch as George Lucas literally battles J.J. Abrams for creative control of both fictional worlds.
"To me, [the franchises] represent two halves of the same core, and they offer fans two unique perspectives on the genre," Hoh says. "Neither franchise would exist today without the success of the other."
Two years before Star Trek Wars, Hoh began his journey into fan-filmmaking with Steven Spielberg and the Return to Film School, a parody clocking in at just over 21 minutes that sends the beloved genre director back to California State University Long Beach to finish his degree. (Spielberg finally received his bachelor's from Long Beach in 2002, 33 years after dropping out.) Of course, the veteran filmmaker probably didn't get into arguments with 20-somethings while finishing his coursework, but Hoh's film supposes hilariously that he did.
Hoh himself attended Long Beach in 2009, and he says that connection to Spielberg has always tickled him. Spielberg "fascinated me because of his unique and difficult journey to becoming a filmmaker," Hoh says. "He wasn't born into it, had no connections, and faced adversity all along the way, but he persevered and even after a lifetime of movies, he still wanted to go back and earn a degree from where he started."
Hoh's work does carry some hallmarks of a lifetime watching Spielberg movies: His heroes are righteous and just and he does seem to love a rowdy bunch of characters working haphazardly toward a goal.
As for his relationship with fandom, Hoh says his work has gotten the best reception from mainstream filmmaking communities, but his Pokémon project has the potential to introduce him to a geekier, fringe audience.
"We have a full-length version that we'll screen at festivals and conventions through 2019," he says, promising that he's widening his net to catch the attention of cartoon fans and gamers in addition to film aficionados. After all, Hoh is a part of both worlds — he's been cosplaying since 2007, and his first character was, of course, Ash Ketchum.