“I was envious of those who had siblings when I was younger, I thought that their lives were richer,” anime director Mamoru Hosoda admits to MyM Buzz, as he explains how he came to create the story for his latest film Mirai. A sweet, heart-warming family film about four-year-old Kun, who struggles to accept the arrival of his new born sister Mirai. Used to receiving all his parents’ love, the little boy begins to act out until one day he is visited by his sister -now a teenager- who has travelled back in time to help teach him how to grow up.
It’s a human drama that is a perfect next step for Hosoda, whose filmography includes the masterful human dramas Wolf Children and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. It also skilfully combines the themes that he used in these films with the ones featured in his more action-packed anime The Boy and the Beast and Summer Wars. With its imaginative narrative, compelling characters and stunning visuals, Mirai is a film that is sure to leave a smile on fans’ faces.
Mirai is named after your daughter, could you please elaborate on how fatherhood inspired this story?
“I think small children are strange creatures to many people, you don’t know what they’re thinking. I find it interesting, having my kids I just found everything that they do so interesting since becoming a father. But, they’re people. Okay, they might be three or four, looking back at my childhood I might have been vaguer, but I think nowadays children have more of an opinion for themselves now and I find that fascinating.”
The film focuses on the bond between siblings, Kun has a lot of learning to do to be a good older brother to Mirai but their relationship is very cute. How did you try to build that as a writer?
“It starts out as a sibling rivalry, I’m an only child so I didn’t experience that myself, but they fight for their parents’ love. Your sibling is the first person that you really fight with for love, of some sort. I was envious of those who had siblings when I was younger, I thought that their lives were richer, but this is a story about growing up. Kun is aware of this other person and becomes aware that she’s his sister. He’s learning that it’s not about receiving love, you also must give it. So, it’s a story about growing up, and that’s what I was focused on.”
Mirai features a lot of the same themes that you touch on in your other films, like parenthood in Wolf Children and The Boy and the Beast, family in Summer Wars, and to some extent time travel in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Why are these themes so interesting for you?
“The big theme here is childhood, I think in any of my films the key thing is that the main character changes as a person through the film. The story is there to show the process of them changing, in my films children change, and their parents change at the same time. But, you need to take time to develop these ideas naturally so that’s why I include time-travel in this story to explain the dynamic changes of the children in the film.”
The film truly captures a child’s imagination in the adventures that Kun goes on with a teenage Mirai and his other family members, how did you come up with these ideas?
“It’s a combination of various aspects, this film is based on my own experience and it’s based on what I didn’t have. For example, I didn’t have any siblings, so I had to imagine what it was like, I wanted to experience that first-hand, so I made a movie about that. The sibling relationship in the film is made from my observations of my children, but also the kind of relationship I wanted to have. With Wolf Children, I didn’t have children then, so I had to imagine what it was like, and in The Boy and the Beast I didn’t know how to become a father. So, I think I’m just trying to create what I don’t have, what I lack in my life, and I think I’m compensating that with my imagination. Also, a child’s world is quite small, but they have a huge imagination to compensate that, what’s in their head is bigger than what’s real to them. That’s what I wanted to achieve in my film.”
My personal favourite adventure that Kun goes on is with his great grandfather, and the story of how he met his wife, why did you choose to include this story in the film?
“That’s my favourite as well. When my kids were born they had their great-grandfather, but he didn’t live to see them grow-up, or to see my son start to learn how to ride a bike. But how he met his wife is a true story, it’s the story of my grandparents. We heard this story of how he told her to race him, and if he won then she would marry him. So, I wanted to include this piece of my family history there. It was a family mystery, because he had a bad leg -like in the film- so he couldn’t have won [by just running], but this is how I imagine it happened.”
The family’s home is such an interesting piece of architecture, it felt like every level has a special meaning to the story. Why did you want to use such a unique design for it?
“It’s not a normal house is it? It’s pretty much a conceptual space for this four-year-old boy to explore, and he doesn’t really go out and play with other kids so most of the scenes are in the house, that’s his world. So, the house had to represent this world, and I did speak with a real architect about this. He came up with this idea of a layered space to represent how he’s going up. It’s conceptual, but it’s also symbolic of Kun growing up.”
You previously worked with Satoko Okudera on the scripts for your films, but you have been involved with writing them since Wolf Children. What was this transition like?
“This film is based on my own family, my own children, so it would have been difficult to ask someone else to write about it with me. It’s the same with Wolf Children, that was based on my mum and myself, so any outside writer wouldn’t know about that. I think it was just a better idea if I did it, rather than explain the details of my family because they wouldn’t know it personally.”
Was it challenging to write about your family, and your life?
“It was challenging, yes, but as a filmmaker I could exaggerate for entertainment’s sake. There are some things that people could think ‘is this really true?’ and I can say it’s for the movie’s sake, but I wanted to be honest to my family, so I had to really face the facts, and be honest as a creator. I think as a filmmaker you must be honest if you want to look at your own story.”
Mirai had its world premiere at Cannes, the first anime to ever do so, how did it make you feel to have your film screen at such a prestigious festival?
“It was such an honour, but I felt there was a shift in trends. Animation used to be something for children, or for niche fans. But, I think that they are getting a wider audience now, I think people are aware that anime isn’t a set genre and there are many stories, obviously there are great children’s animation films, but it’s not limited to that. I think that not just the people in the film industry, but the public are aware that there is more to the animation than what they think it is.”
You might not be able to say much, but are you working on a new project?
“I think that in the right order the next one will be an action film, because this one is a drama and Wolf Children and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time were both dramas. Whereas Summer Wars and The Boy and the Beast were action films. So, in the right order there’ll be action in the next one. I don’t know for sure, but I am 60% certain that it’ll be an action film.”
Mirai screens at the BFI London Film Festival on Saturday 13th October and Sunday 14th October. “The Works of Mamoru Hosoda” Exhibition will run from Saturday 13th October until Saturday 20th October.
Mirai opens in cinemas nationwide from Friday 2nd November. Please visit miraifilm.co.uk for more information on subtitled and dubbed screenings. #miraifilm