This article about “Mirai” first appeared in TheWrap Magazine’s Oscar Nominations Preview issue.
Mamoru Hosoda knows that he is maintaining a dying tradition. For decades, animators have built worlds for their characters to inhabit using hand-painted backgrounds, and he has been loyal to that tradition. But the inexorable transition to digital is coming, as the director of “Mirai” knows well.
“I have been creating animation films using paper and pencil, paper and paint, but the situation in Japan has been changing rapidly,” Hosoda said in an email interview. “‘Mirai’ could actually be the last film I create with paper and paint. But when you think about the history of Western art when the photograph was invented, painters faced a challenge of what it meant for them to paint. In the same way, I would like to acquire new ways to express my art.”
If Hosoda is indeed moving on to a different medium, his last hand-drawn film is a breathtaking one. “Mirai” follows an exuberant — and rather spoiled — little boy named Kun who is not pleased by the fact that his parents are now focusing on his newborn sister, Mirai, more than him. But his worldview is quickly changed by a magical, time-traveling adventure that sends him into the past to meet his mother as a child and his ancestors during World War II. Then he’s flung into the future where he comes face to face with none other than his sister as a teenage girl.
There have been many anime films that follow little girls through magical worlds. Hosoda said he was influenced by the legendary “My Neighbor Totoro,” but his chief motivation as he shaped Miraicame from his own boyhood. “For Kun, I got more inspiration from my childhood and my children,” he said. “I couldn’t find many [films] that featured a 4-year-old boy as a protagonist.”
While Hayao Miyazaki remains the most well-known anime filmmaker among Western audiences, Hosoda has steadily gained his own devoted international following through beautifully detailed fantasies like 2006’s “The Girl Who Leaped Through Time” and 2012’s “Wolf Children.” But unlike Kun, Hosoda doesn’t have time to voyage through his past.
“I hardly look back at my past work, but among the context and the accumulation of them, I do think about what I should portray in my next work,” he said. “I think films are waiting for the right time to be made. Just like how ‘Mirai’ wasn’t made after ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.’ ‘Mirai’ was a film that I was only able to make now.”
To read more of the Oscar Nominations Preview issue, click here.