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Interview: Mamoru Hosoda on his animated Oscar hopeful "Mirai"

by Nathaniel R

If Americans outside of the subculture of anime enthusiasts know anything about Japanese animation it's generally only related to Studio Ghibli. That legendary studio has been mostly dormant these last few years considering the on-again / off-again retirement of Hayao Miyazaki. It's long past time that American audiences start familiarizing themselves with other giants of the huge Japanese industry. One such artist is Mamoru Hosoda of Studio Chizu. The filmmaker, just 51, has already directed four films which won the Japanese equivalent of the Best Animated Feature Oscar: The Girl Who Lept Through Time, Summer Wars, Wolf Children, and The Boy and the Beast. He's yet to break through with Oscar but his latest feature, Mirai, is eligible this year and was among the nominees at the Golden Globes. It remains to be seen whether Mirai can repeat that trick to become an Oscar nominee (the new Academy rules allow non-animators to participate in the nomination process now, which will theoretically make it harder for the lower profile titles to score)  but we're hopeful.

We had the opportunity to speak to the filmmaker through a translater recently about his beautiful new film about childhood...

It's the story of a little boy named Kun who struggles with the arrival of his new baby sister Mirai (Japanese for "future") and begins to throw tantrums when he sees her getting all the attention. In a series of fanciful imaginative episodes Kun transforms into a dog, is visited by his baby sister as an older girl from the future, and does a lot of time travelling himself. Hosoda majored in oil painting and originally made live action student films in college "Since I was creating art and interested in making movies, it was a natural evolution," he says of his entry into the industry that he's now a major force in.

Hosoda began his career helming installments of long-running anime franchises. His first original feature was The Girl Who Lept Through Time (2006), a science fiction romance. But the director says time travel is not a particular fascination. "I dont consider Mirai a sci-fi film," he says, resisting the link, and comparing Mirai to something more akin to The Secret Garden in western literature. "It's more metaphoric. It's about self-discovery." Time travel isn't a science fiction tool, for children, but a natural gift, he explains. "Adults can't travel through time on their own. We're too jaded. But children have wild imaginations. They can go to so many places on their own. They don't even know what sci-fi is!" 

Hosoda is particularly appreciative when we mention the exceedingly realistic movements of Kun, who zooms around his house with childlike abandon, but also slows down adorably when he hits steps like he only learned to walk a couple of years ago. Hosoda explains that he didn't want a stereotypical movie child. "We focused on actions, and expressions. Children are so soft, they way they move. Their center of gravity is different because they have bigger heads. This is a really big part of the film. And it's not just the external movements. Even the way they emote is really different than adults. To use animation as a medium to portray a four year-old realistically was really important to me."

As it turns out it was his own children who inspired the film. Though the director himself is an only child he dreamt up Mirai when watching his little 3 year old boy react to his daughter as a newborn. "Before I had kids I always thought it would be a huge hassle. They're a lot of trouble. I worried I wouldn't have any time on my own. Part of that is true. It is a lot of work. But when I started interacting with them I realized how precious and important the time I spend with my children is and also how much happiness it brings me."

But given that his now six year old son knew that he had served as the inspiration, the artist/father worried a bit. "I thought he would be embarrased but he loved it!" 

The press release describes Mirai as something like 'the epic capstone' of the director's career. We wondered aloud how he felt about that, adding 'You're not even that old!'  The director laughed, a truly delightful laugh. Fans can be assured that he promises to keep making movies at his current pace (about once every three years). He's proud of Mirai but isn't remotely finished. "They might say the same thing about the next movie!" 

More interviews
More on the Animated Feature Contenders 


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Reader Comments (2)

Mirai better get an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film this year or else I am not going to support the Academy anymore!

January 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAlex Hartsell

I love love love that you guys got an interview with him. He's long overdue for an Oscar win (not even just a nomination). It's a shame Mirai is his weakest film, though...

January 12, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbeyaccount

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