The Japanese animated tale Mirai might chart the fantastical journey of a young boy traversing space and time to connect with future versions of his family, but director Mamoru Hosoda says the themes of the film are actually grounded in the “current situation of raising a child” in Japan — which includes flipping traditional gender roles within the parental dynamic.
“In Japan, there are more cases of where a male parent would stay at home to take care of their children. There are more fathers who are carrying their babies on slings. Six years ago that was rarer, but now in Tokyo it doesn’t even stand out,” he tells EW of the scene set by Japanese society for the film, which sees a stay-at-home father (voiced by John Cho, heard in EW’s exclusive clip above) raising an adventurous (if ill-tempered) child, Kun, and the titular newborn while his career-driven wife (Rebecca Hall) brings home the bacon.
No longer the center of attention within his close-knit clan, the four-year-old grows jealous of his family’s affections for Mirai, ultimately storming off into a magical garden that transports him through various stages of life. Along the way, Kun meets a teenage version of his sister who reaches out to him from the future — an act that teaches him the value of savoring familial bonds, even amid growing pains figurative and literal.
“Among families, there are always going to be problems, but understanding each other is really important,” Hosoda says. “Adults tend to scold children as if they were adults from the beginning, but if they can remember that they were children before, I feel like they would be able to understand their children more. And familial problems are connected to societal problems, so I think the world can be a better place if the family can remember their bonds…. That’s why I wanted audiences to remember that and that is why I made this movie.”
Mirai enters limited release in the U.S. on Nov. 30 (ticketing information is available here). Watch EW’s exclusive clip from the film above and read on for our full conversation with Hosoda.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why is this film going to resonate with American audiences?
MAMORU HOSODA: This movie is set in Japan about a Japanese family but I believe that what is depicted resonates with everyone across the world. The theme is about the everyday life of a boy and his family, but also it’s about how one learns about his place in his family history, and understanding the meaning of life.
I love the element of our future selves confronting younger versions of ourselves. Why was that concept intriguing to you?
This movie is about learning the different aspects of your family members, but in the end Kun realizes a different part of himself as well. Learning about your family’s true intentions results in learning about yourself. It’s a journey. I don’t think that is restricted to just children, but adults as well.
What were your visual inspirations for the more elaborate sequences, like the ending train scene or the fish scene?
The nightmares I had as a child — not just the ones I saw while I was sleeping but also the terror of my imagination when I was lost — were my inspiration for the station scene. I tried to recreate the way I saw the world around me when I was scared. It wasn’t important to depict reality, but more of how I saw it objectively. Even though in the film it’s Tokyo station, and Tokyo station is only about 30 minutes away from the studio, we actually flew many hours on a plane to go to Paris and London to research old train stations. Musee d’Orsay inspired the look of the station. Even though it’s a museum now, it was a station before. The round roof is taken from Orsay. The fish is also based on imaginations from my childhood as well.
Why are the train conductor and his little clock companion presented in a different animation style than the rest of the film, and why did you want the train sequence to look so different from the rest of the film?
When I think of when children get lost, the world seems like a very vast and scary place. Because the children’s imagination would make it look that way. And when you’re lost and alone, even people look robotic and scary, so to depict that I used cut art — where their eyes are cut out — for the sequence. I hope the audience would remember the times when they got lost as children when they watch the scene.