Japanese zoologist and filmmaker Masanori Hata, who made connecting humans with animals his life’s purpose, died at 87.

Mutsugoro, as he was fondly known, was famous for directing The Adventures of Milo and Otis, an 80s classic about the unlikely friendship between a kitten and a pug.

Back home in Japan, he also served as an oracle of sorts for TV audiences who wanted to better understand their pets.

He reportedly died of a heart attack.

He lived much of his life at a ranch in Hokkaido, an island in northern Japan, which he shared with his wife, brown bears, horses, and dogs of a variety of breeds and sizes.

The property, which he often called an “animal kingdom” is named after him – Mutsugoro in Japanese means mudfish. The ranch was also the setting for The Adventures of Milo and Otis. Released in 1986, the film is still loved by children from that decade.

Hokkaido was clearly proud of him given his features on the prefecture’s tourism website. Their profile says Mr. Hata’s eyes “shone with wisdom and kindness”.

“My vision is to be among a thousand galloping horses, with children astride them,” it quotes him as saying. “They can communicate with people without any words.”

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For years – and even during the pandemic – Mr. Hata had been giving pet owners practical advice on his YouTube channel; his Instagram account was filled with photos of his encounters with animals big and small, spanning decades.

Before he discovered social media, Mr. Hata hosted Mutsugoro and His Wonderful Friends on Fuji TV.

By filming real animals as he did in The Adventures of Milo and Otis, Mr. Hata “lends this children’s film a poignancy that cuts much deeper than might a similar story featuring animated characters”, according to a glowing 1989 review in The New York Times.

The paper also praised the “almost hallucinatory beauty” of nature in the film, where Otis the pug runs after Milo the cat through vast fields and raging rivers.

Hata was born in Fukuoka City in southwest Japan. He earned a degree in animal physiology at the University of Tokyo, then joined the film division of the educational firm Gakken, where he made over 20 documentaries, according to the Mainichi Shimbun.

He won the Japan Essayist’s Club Award in 1968 for a book with the English translation, We animals are all brothers. In 1977, he won Japan’s Kikuchi Kan Prize for literature.

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