‘Mirai’: The Surprising Influences Behind 2018’s Most Groundbreaking Anime

Kim Taylor-Foster
Movies Anime
Movies Anime

Acclaimed anime director Mamoru Hosoda this year achieved the distinction of helming the first anime feature to premiere at Cannes. That’s no mean feat when you consider just how long anime has been around (since around 1917, fact fans). Its Cannes screening is proof positive that the world is finally waking up to the fact that anime is more than the niche genre it’s historically been seen as. Indeed, as Hosoda himself asserts, it’s simply just a method of filmmaking; one way to tell a story — like live action, traditional animation or CGI. Mirai is essentially a family drama – just one that’s best told through the medium of hand-drawn animation, as far as Hosoda is concerned.

Mirai tells the story of Kun, a four-year-old boy who has to come to terms with his life completely changing when his mum brings his new baby sister home. With mum the main breadwinner and quickly returning to work, dad stays home to look after Kun and the new arrival. The story sees Kun discover a magical garden in his own backyard where he meets his grown-up sister, Mirai, who has come back in time to visit him. It’s through their adventures together that he comes to accept his new baby sibling.

FANDOM spoke to Hosoda, director of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Wolf Children, who told us that alongside his own experiences, there are three films that had a heavy influence on Mirai – only one of them an anime.

His Own Children

Baby Mirai's arrival forces Kun to work through his issues by retreating into fantasy.

That’s not the title of a film. Literally, Hosoda’s own children inspired Mirai. The filmmaker’s personal experiences as a father are reflected in the film, which is arguably one of the best depictions of events seen through a four-year-old’s eyes that will ever make it on screen. So how did he manage to recreate his son’s perspective so accurately?

Hosoda says, “I’ve got two children. The older one is five now and she is two, the girl. So he was three when I was making the film and she was newborn. When you become parents, it’s interesting: you see a lot, you observe a lot. And I used to think as a grown-up, as a parent, you teach them — about life and how to do things. But as it turned out I’m learning a lot from them. So it was a brand new experience. I feel like I am four-years-old, in a way. So when I was making this film, it wasn’t that hard to put my feet in his shoes.”

Just like Kun in the film, Hosoda’s own son was jealous when his baby sister came along.

“At the beginning, he was just curious, he was looking at this new creature: what is this?” says Hosoda. “If you’re a grown-up, you know she’s a baby, she’s his sister, but if you’re three or four you don’t have a concept of your sibling. So I was curious about how he would feel or react to a situation. We know she’s newborn, she’s a new girl, but he had no idea what this new thing is. And also he had no concept of having a sister or brother or whatever, so I was very much interested in the process of him accepting this new existence in his life.”

The Films That Birthed a Breakthrough Anime

“When I started making this film, I looked around and realised there aren’t any films with a four-year-old as a main character, [looking at events] from his point of view,” says Hosoda. But there were other films he looked to featuring young protagonists that had a strong influence on Mirai.

“There are films with about five-year-old girls,” he says. “There’s a Spanish movie called The Spirit of the Beehive, 1973, with a young girl as the main character.”

Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive tells the story of the young Ana who is fascinated by the 1931 US screen version of Frankenstein. She’s six-years-old, a shy girl who lives in a remote Spanish village with her parents and older sister. Set in 1940 after the civil war, the film deals with family dynamics and the inner life of a troubled little girl, bringing in fantasy elements much like in Mirai.

My Neighbour Totoro influenced Mirai.

Hosoda also cites Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro as a major influence on Mirai. This 1988 cult classic is another film in which a young girl, Mei (“She’s five years old”), escapes or deals with real life by retreating into a fantasy world.

The third film referenced by Hosoda with clear parallels to Mirai is Yi Yi: A One and a Two, for which Taiwanese director Edward Yang won Best Director at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, where the film was also nominated for the Palme d’Or.

It’s a live-action film about “a family seen from the point of view of this young boy,” according to Hosoda. Three hours long, it’s an epic story seen from three different perspectives, in fact – through the eyes of the father, son and daughter. All have to deal with their own problems while caring for a seriously ill mother-in-law and reeling from the departure of a mother/wife in the throes of a midlife crisis who has taken herself off to a Buddhist retreat. The boy, Yang Yang, is suffering bullying at school and turns to photography, which helps him through, much like Totoro‘s Mei, The Spirit of the Beehive‘s Ana and Mirai‘s Kun seek solace and answers via their own personal outlets.

Mirai hits screens in the UK on November 2 and the US on November 30.

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Kim Taylor-Foster
Kim Taylor-Foster is Entertainment Editor for Fandom in the UK. She was raised on an unsteady diet of video nasties and violent action flicks.