Mirai is acclaimed director Mamoru Hosoda’s seventh major feature length animated film and the third for his production studio, Studio Chizu. With Hosoda’s inventive storytelling and heartwarming message, Mirai is one of his best films to date. Following in the footsteps of Hosoda’s 2006 film, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Mirai takes us on a heartwarming trip through time with Kun, a young boy whose wild imagination takes him on a journey of self-discovery as he learns to cope with the birth of his new baby sister, Mirai.
Minor Spoilers Ahead – You’ve been warned
When 4-year-old Kun’s parents bring home his new baby sister, named Mirai (meaning ‘future’) his whole world is turned upside down. Suddenly his parents are too busy taking care of Mirai to notice their son’s growing frustrations and jealousy. Everything reaches a head when Kun storms off into the garden, only to encounter strange visitors from the past and future, including a teenage version of his baby sister, Mirai. Kun, teenage Mirai, and a whole host of visitors go on a journey through time and space to uncover bits and pieces of their family legacy, while also helping Kun learn to cope with the changes in his life.
On the surface, Mirai is the story of a 4-year-old learning to cope with the arrival of his new baby sister, but, it’s more than that. At its core, Mirai is a family story as seen through the eyes of a deeply flawed and at times painfully insensitive boy who is suddenly thrust into a situation he was unprepared for. He handles it with as much grace as you’d expect from a child. He throws tantrums. He lashes out at his sister. He is wholly unsympathetic, and yet, I related to him in a way I hadn’t related with any of Hosoda’s other protagonists, because like Kun, I had to contend with the arrival of a younger sibling and I dealt with it in much the same way as Kun. Pushed to his limits and seemingly abandoned by his parents, who are now too busy doting on the new baby, Kun seeks solace in the expanses of his imagination. His own backyard transforms into a magical gateway where time and space are in constant flux. There he meets the teenage version of his baby sister, Mirai, and together they embark to a journey through time and space. Along the way, Kun encounters a younger version of his mother -who like her son, was a wayward child- and his recently deceased great-great grandfather. Each encounter help peel back the layers of Kun’s family history, revealing something new about not only Kun but, his entire family.
Mirai isn’t just one story but many, each interconnected. The past, present, and future all seamlessly woven together to tell the history of this family and the little moments and actions that lead to who they are in the present and where they’ll be in the future. Hosoda juxtaposes Kun’s dreamlike adventures with the everyday misadventures of Kun’s family. Kun’s father stays home with the children, fumbling his way through his new role as house husband while his hurried wife becomes increasingly more and more put upon as she contends with the stress of her career and the growing tensions between her son and daughter. We see them as Kun sees them, their flaws just as apparent as their son’s and that is thanks to Hosoda’s ability to portray them not just as characters on a screen but as real people.
They stand in stark contrast to the fantastical characters Kun encounters on his journey, the teenaged Mirai chief among them. Each serves as a moral compass guiding Kun through the difficulties of growing up while also forging a deeper connection to his family. Teenage Mirai serves as his guide on his many adventures. In addition to his time-traveling sister, Kun encounters an overly dramatic prince, who serves as the personification of the family’s dog Yuuko, who experienced similar feelings of abandonment when Kun was born. Then there’s the younger version of his great-grandfather, a World War II veteran, who teaches him the importance of looking towards the horizon. But, the most intriguing encounter comes from Kun himself, when the boy inadvertently runs into a much older version of himself at the start of the film’s conclusion. Teenage Kun is openly stiff with his younger self, scolding him for his behavior throughout the film, urging his 4-year-old self to spend his time building memories with his family, including his baby sister, Mirai.
So, it is only fitting that the Mirai’s climax focuses on the relationship between Kun and Mirai. In one of the more surreal scenes in the film, Kun finds himself lost in a busy train station, while his earlier fantasy adventures had a degree of whimsy; this particular scene is markedly nightmarish with a distinctive artistic shift from traditional hand drawn animation to the colder more visually stark CGI. This a departure from Hosoda’s usual style, which favors softer character designs and warm color palettes, making for a much more terrifying experience. You feel Kun’s fear and mounting anxieties as the once comforting dream world takes a turn for the worse, forcing the young boy to draw upon the lessons he’s learned over the course of the film to save not only himself, but Mirai as well. It’s one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the film, not because it is particularly dramatic, but because it speaks to Kun’s growth. At the film’s conclusion he is still just a 4-year-old boy; not perfect, but wiser, and as such, much better able to face the future than he was at the start.
Keep Moving Forward
I’m no stranger to Mamoru Hosoda’s works. I absolutely loved the bittersweet sci-fi romance, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and Wolf Children always makes me cry; and who could forget the wickedly entertaining sci-fi fantasy, Summer Wars?! Hosoda has built a name for himself with his daringly original stories and relatable characters, producing some of the most awe-inspiring cinematic experiences I have ever seen. His works don’t just tell a story, they expand our imaginations, bringing to light the very nature of human experience, albeit in a surreal and often fantastical way. Beneath his flair for theatrics are human stories grounded in reality. Each of his stories has a personal element to them and Mirai is perhaps his most personal film to date. Wildly imaginative and heartwarming, Mirai, is yet another phenomenal film. This is Mamoru Hosoda at his best!
Available across cinemas in the US from GKIDS on 29 November (English audio and Japanese audio), 5 December (Japanese audio), 8 December (English audio)