Mamoru Hosoda, the Japanese director of hit animated feature “The Boy and the Beast,” is reuniting with high-profile banner Studio Chizu for his next film, “Mirai,” (working title) which is being shopped at the Cannes film market by the newly-launched sales banner Charades.
“Mirai” follows a 4-year old boy who is struggling to cope with the arrival of a little sister in the family, until things turn magical. A mysterious garden in the backyard of the boy’s home becomes a gateway allowing the child to travel in time and encounter his mother as a little girl, his great-grandfather as a young man and his sister has a grown woman. These fantasy-filled adventures allow the child to change his perspective and help him become the big brother he was meant to be. Hosoda discussed about the project and his body of work with Variety in the run up to Cannes.
What is the genesis of “Mirai”?
There is a common thread in the themes of my films: “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” was about youth, “Summer Wars” was about family, “Wolf Children,” “Ame” and “Yuki” were about motherhood,” “The Boy and The Beast” was about the father, and my new film is about the relationship between brothers and sisters. “Mirai” is about a boy who is trying to reclaim the love of his parents.”
How personal is this new project, “Mirai”?
If I decided to tell the story of a brother and sister, it’s because after the birth of my second child, our eldest one got the impression that this newly arrived baby stole her parents, which made her ferociously jealous. I understood then what humans fundamentally desire, what they thirst for. It’s my child’s jealousy that gave me the idea to do this film.
Can this film appeal to adults as much as children audiences?
Yes. When I directed “Wolf Children,” which was also about the upbringing of children, I wasn’t a parent yet, but I wanted to become one. It was probably this desire of becoming a father and no longer the desire of individual self-accomplishment that pushed me to make this film. Now that I’m the father of two kids, I’ve understood that things aren’t the way I imagined them to be. The experience of fatherhood taught me the meaning of life. I hope I can show that in the film.
At the same time, the role of the mother is a crucial one. In your films, you underline the importance of women.
This stems more from my wife than from women in general. Her influence on me is considerable. She’s the one who stimulates me and gives me the desire to make films. She gives me her strength and her ability to face problems and how to solve them.
“Summer Wars” and “The Boy and the Beast” belong to a different category of film. It seems to me that this new movie is closer to “Wolf Children” and “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.”
To a certain extent, yes. One could classify my films in two categories: “Summer Wars” and “The Boy and the Beast” are more action films, whereas “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time,” “Wolf Children” and my new film are more human dramas that talk about life and bring up the lived experiences of several generations. It’s true that in “Summer Wars,” it is through action that the protagonist overcomes his problems. And it’s true as well that this new film tells more of a human drama.
Are there any similarities between The Boy and the Beast and your new film?
Yes, because I directed “Wolf Children,” I was able to do “The Boy and the Beast,” and it’s because I directed “The Boy and the Beast” that I was able to do this new film. Each project allows me to develop, to show something new, while at the same time staying coherent with my previous films. This is because I share my life with very young children. This experience gives me the sensation of finding back my own childhood, to relive the different steps through which I grew up. This sensation makes me understand how life repeats itself, how lives and time overlay one another. There is this flow of life and time in my new film.
Did you write the screenplay alone or with someone else?
This time I wrote it alone. But I always listen to the opinions and the experiences of the producers, so that the film becomes really universal doesn’t get made based my own personal experiences.
How important is it for you to write stories that are not only for Japanese audiences but for international ones as well?
Very important, not only for the screenplay but also for the subject matter. When it comes to dialogues, I often use the words of my own wife. But I think these words are not meant for me, but hopefully for everyone on Earth. I want my films to be seen by very diverse international audiences.
In the West, during the making of an animated film, animators are constantly asked to change and modify things every step of the way. Is that also the case in Japan and for you?
In my case, I often make changes in between the screenplay and the storyboard, but not in between the storyboard and the finished film. I write the screenplay myself and I consider the storyboard to be the final version of the screenplay, with the drawings and the mise en scène already established. So, I polish the final version of the screenplay while writing the storyboard, which in turn becomes the final screenplay. After that, I change very little. Once the storyboard is finished, I delete very few shots.
From a Western point of view, the time in-between the storyboard and the completed film is so short in Japan.
This is due to the “auteur policy” that centralizes the power in the hands of the director. The director typically researches and thinks as much as he/she can during the writing phase of the storyboard, and then tries to be pragmatic when the film goes into production.