'Mirai' Director Mamoru Hosoda On Bringing Fantasy Into Fatherhood [Interview]

Mamoru Hosoda has laid his life out bare on the silver screen — though at first glance it doesn't seem obvious. The 51-year-old Japanese filmmaker exclusively directs in anime films, garnering critical acclaim for his deeply affecting, achingly human fables such as The Girl Who Leapt Through TimeThe Wolf Children, and The Boy and the Beast. Through his films as well as the upcoming Mirai, Hosoda has managed to turn his life into sweeping, whimsical fantasies that both enchant and educate.

"I tend to be inspired by what's happening around me," Hosoda told /Film in an interview ahead of the release of Mirai (out in select theaters November 29). "I hope that the audiences would watch my movies and think, 'I know this is fiction, but I wonder if that happened to him in real life.'"

But Mirai stands out from the pack because it doesn't deal with Hosoda's specific experience, but that of his son. The sci-fi film follows a 4-year-old boy named Kun, who is overcome with jealousy when his parents bring home his new baby sister. Unable to consolidate his complicated feelings of love and disdain, Kun finds himself confronted by a future version of his sister, now a time-traveling teenager. They embark on a whirlwind adventure through time in a breathtaking film that dances between dreams and reality.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Hosoda, who directed one of my favorite films,The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, about Mirai and how it became his most personal film yet.

mirai us releaseYour films have always had themes of family and fatherhood, but Mirai feels like your most personal yet. Would you say that is the case?

The previous film was an action film involving themes about how to be a father, but for Mirai, I wanted to take the stuff in life happening around me without exaggerating. To be accurate about how siblings are.

You don't have siblings yourself right?

I don't have any siblings. But when my son got a sibling, he was really jealous. And I was thinking, "Oh my gosh, my son is going to have to live with a sibling for the rest of his life, how's that going to be?" So that's why I made this film.

How old is your son?

Currently my son is 6 and my daughter is 3, but when I thought of the idea for the movie, my son was 3 and the daughter was just born.

Your protagonists have frequently been flawed, but Kun is particularly hard to sympathize with in some parts because he's such a realistic little boy. Did you draw specifically on your son or did you have other influences in creating Kun?

I wanted to show a realistic child because in other movies, children are depicted as simple or easy to understand, and I wanted to accurately depict how children are in real life: They can be selfish, they can throw tantrums.

But it's not just the children who are selfish. Adults, we tend to act unselfishly but we want what's best for ourselves or we want to be self-centered, like "I want to do what I want." I feel like [Mirai] depicts people in general.

Mirai especially is much less epic and fantastical than your previous films like The Boy and the Beast or The Wolf Children. Why did you decide to go in that much more intimate direction?

Currently in Japan, there's a problem of having less children. A lot of adults in Japan are not getting married or not having children, so the number of children is getting really low, it's become a social danger. I feel like everyone is forgetting how children are like, so I want to remind everyone that this is how children are like, this is how children are, don't forget the children. Because in Japan, the society seems to be made for adults. So I wanted to remind Japan in general that there are kids and also, that we were kids once before. So don't forget that.

I remember that you've said before that you're fascinated by the "struggle" of childhood. How does Mirai tap into that?

The adult perception of children is that we need to educate them, or they're inferior to adults because they're not adapted to how to live in society. But when I spend time with children, I feel I learn more from them instead of the other way around, as society thinks, because they're so pure. They live differently and freely because they're not confined to society's rules or norms. Through Mirai I wanted to remind adults that adults should enjoy being more with children, or being like children in how they live freely. I'm hoping that Mirai will change the perception of the adults.

With Mirai, Kun is your youngest protagonist yet. Was that intentional?

I did this on purpose. Having a 4-year-old protagonist, I think it's the first time in cinematic history. Except for Boss Baby, but that's unrealistic. To realistically depict a 4-year-old, seeing the world in the way that he sees it, I wanted to purposefully depict that in the movie. 

This is what I think about a lot when I depict children and adults in my movies: when we get mad at children and we scold them, adults tend to act like we were adults from the beginning. We don't act like we were kids once and we made those same mistakes once too. We tend to be unfair in that way towards children. I think we need to teach the children that we were kids once too, and that's why they're getting scolded for the mistakes that they're making. I feel if we do that, if we make the whole issue relatable, there would be less family problems. That's the sort of thing I want to depict in Mirai.

I wanted to ask about your use of animation in Mirai. You've experimented with 3D animation before, but I noticed in Mirai that you have a surreal sequence that is stop-motion animated. What went into the decision to do that?

When children get lost, they're so scared that when they see other adults, the adults look very scary. That's what I experienced when I was a child. It's not really stop-motion, but it's cut-outs animated by CG. I thought that gave it an eerie look of what a child experiences when he or she is lost. 

The last three movies you've made were made when you had become a father. Have you found that when you became a father, the type of movies you make change?

I tend to be inspired by what's happening around me. With Summer Wars, I got the idea when I was about to get married. With Wolf Children, [my wife and I] had a hard time getting pregnant, so I wondered what it would be like to have children. With Boy and the Beast, I became a father finally but I didn't know how to be a father, so that's how I explored it. I hope that the audiences would watch my movies and think, "I know this is fiction, but I wonder if that happened to him in real life."

Are there any other influences that you bring to your films?

When I was younger I used to gain inspiration by foreign creators or movie creators who lived in faraway countries, or painters who lived 500 years ago. But now that I make movies that are inspired by what's happening around me, I seem to understand that those painters and those foreign filmmakers were probably inspired by what was happening around them too. It made me think the history of how people create things. I'm beginning to understand the history of art and how they are inspired as well. I do get inspired by that history.

This interview was conducted through a translator and has been edited and condensed.