Co-director Daniel Askill tells EW how they cast martial arts sensation Mahiro Takano—and how she's connected to the story of "Chandelier."
Credit: Jeff Vespa/WireImage

Sia is gearing up for the release of her new album This Is Acting early next year and that means she’s taking advantage of a medium she’s mastered—the music video—to promote its release. On Thursday, the singer-songwriter dropped the new clip for “Alive,” and true to form, it’s a stunning visual that stars 9-year-old Japanese martial arts star Mahiro Takano.

If Sia’s latest clip looks similar to viral videos like 2014’s “Chandelier,” well, there’s a reason. Co-director Daniel Askill, whose credits also include Sia’s “Elastic Heart,” “Big Girls Cry,” and “Chandelier”, says he and Sia were looking to continue the storyline.

“I thought we were in some way finding a sort of nemesis or friend to Maddie [Ziegler, star of “Chandelier”], that maybe Maddie was someone in America who had been inspired by Sia’s music to make the choreography, and maybe in the Far East there was a counterpoint to Maddie — Mahiro,” he tells EW. “Maybe there’s a story in the future to that too.”

Mahiro’s character came from a film project Askill and Sia had been working on for years. “The initial ideas were built around a manga-style character,” he says. “We decided to make the new avatar something in that space. We still wanted to do choreography, and this moved away from traditional dance and became based on martial arts.”

When it came time to cast the video, which was shot on location in Chiba, Japan, Askill and Sia looked at actors who had been in films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but they decided to find someone with a little less on-screen experience.

“There was such a magic in the way Sia found Maddie through Dance Moms and her YouTube sensations,” Askill explains. “I think at one point I was like, ‘Sia, I wouldn’t be surprised if we could find someone out there who’s a little less discovered with amazing talent. Sia jumped online and started Googling something like ‘young karate expert’ and she immediately sent me links she dug up. It became clear Mahiro was a star.”

Askill can’t confirm that she’ll appear in other music videos from This Is Acting—but he teases that her story isn’t over yet. “We’ll probably continue across this album a little bit. We’ll allow Mahiro to evolve in the way we did with Maddie. There’s a symbolic part there.”

That symbol, he says, stands for empowerment. “Fundamentally, hopefully, with all of these videos there’s a message of empowerment for people who like Sia’s music — young girls around the world, expressing yourself in a way that’s truly yourself. It’s about celebrating the spirit of the individual.”