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Lonely Castle in the Mirror Director Keiichi Hara on Bullying and Other Social Issues Facing Children in Japan

by Richard Eisenbeis,

Keiichi Hara
Earlier this month, Anime News Network was able to sit down with Director Keiichi Hara and talk a bit about his newest anime film, Lonely Castle in the Mirror, prior to its US premiere. In the process we talked about the social issues facing Japanese children today and how he hopes his film will have a positive impact on them.

When the opportunity to direct Lonely Castle in the Mirror came to Hara, a director of numerous films and TV anime aimed at children, he was intrigued—especially after reading the novel on which it is based. “In the original story itself, there were a lot of themes that resonated with me. For example, kids not wanting to go to school, bullying, and the worst case scenario, child suicide.” Hara continued, “Bullying and the feeling of loneliness in children is a huge problem in Japan and it's only getting bigger. Yet, no one's come up with any kind of solution or answers. Society, government, and schools recognize that it is a problem but, yet again, there's no solution.”

On a personal level, Hara had little experience with these problems himself. He remembers being a quiet kid—part of a group rather than the center of it. “I really can't remember any particularly stand-out episodes when I was bullied or ignored.” However, he was quick to note that many creators today have had such experiences—and telling their stories has helped many young people.

In fact, Mizuki Tsujimura, the original author of Lonely Castle in the Mirror is one such person. “As a student, she hated school. She felt that she couldn't enjoy school like every other kid.” Hara explained, “Yet all of her books are set in schools. And when a reader pointed that out, Tsujimura said that she thought she was probably rewriting the school days she wished she had.”

When doing research for the film—going over numerous articles and interviews—Hara came upon a quote from Tsujimura that he found particularly profound: “When it comes to your bullies, there's no need to forgive them.” Such a statement runs contrary to the popular common sense in Japan—that when you grow up, you should forgive those who bullied you and move on with your life. “It's a really bold statement from Tsujimura,” Hara stated, “And I feel exactly the same.”

Of course, sympathizing with the social problems facing Japanese youth is one thing. Fixing these problems is another. “It still just absolutely flabbergasts me the reality of how many kids don't want to be at school due to social issues. Statistically, it's gotten to the point where you have one or two kids out of school per class per day. […] So I ended up asking myself, 'What can I do to help?'”

The answer? Use his skills and his art. “As a film director, I really want to help these kids change how they feel. Rather than going out and changing the school system administratively, I've been given the chance—and the opportunity and the skills—to create anime. And that's the medium through which I can help children to see things differently.” The film Lonely Castle in the Mirror is the result. “Using fantasy as our platform, we're trying to show through these kids that there is hope.”

Unfortunately, Hara feels that the children most like the ones depicted in the film wouldn't be able to see this film in theaters due to the personal struggles they're facing in regards to going out in public—though he hopes that the ones on the edge have been able to see the film and gain solace from it. However, what's been surprising is the number of adults who have identified with the film because they've had similar experiences—either in their childhoods or in their current jobs. In the end, Hara only wishes that the film has helped those who needed to know they're not alone. “While I'm not some kind of hero, I hope that through this anime, I've been able to save someone.”

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