Mirai (Cert PG)
1 Disc DVD/Blu-ray/3 Discs Limited Edition (Distributor: Anime Ltd.) Running time: 98 minutes approx.
Much like the legendary Yasujiro Ozu, Mamoru Hosoda has made a career from making films centred on the family unit, yet manages to avoid repeating himself with each passing project, instead finding new ways to convey the message of the importance of family.
For his latest work, Mirai, Hosoda looks closer to home for inspiration behind the story whilst keeping true to his noted penchant for flights of inventive fancy to help illustrate his point. The protagonist – or antagonist, depending on how you want to look at it – is Kun, a typically rambunctious four-year old boy waiting for his parents to return home from hospital with his new baby sister.
At first Kun is both happy with the new addition to the family, named Mirai, but it is not long before he realises she is now the focus of his parents, leaving him largely ignored. Letting off steam after almost hitting Mirai, Kun throws a tantrum outside in the garden, where he is visited by Mirai as a teenager, hoping to encourage Kun to be a better big brother to her.
Even if you don’t know much or any Japanese, hopefully you’ve heard of the anime Mirai Nikki – Future Dairy which might help explain the pun of this film’s original full title Mirai no Mirai, translation – Mirai Of The Future. In a sort of subverted retelling of A Christmas Carol, Hosoda brings Mirai from the future as well as some other figures from Kun’s family history to help him see the error of his ways.
One might argue that at just four years-old this is a little premature to be dishing out drastic life lessons to Kun but Hosoda deliberately chose to tell this story through such callow and inchoate eyes. The inspiration was his three year-old son when a baby sister was brought home upsetting the stable family dynamic in his eyes, his jealous reaction bewildering Hosoda enough to give him the idea for a story.
Indeed, this gives not just Hosoda but also the audience a fresh perspective to view this situation from, since convention would dictate we follow the beleaguered parents in their struggle to keep both children happy. But with a child’s mind at that age being unable to comprehend and reconcile basic concepts like consideration for others, sharing love with their parents a stern talking to isn’t going to fix the problem.
The first twenty odd minutes of this film is concerned with setting up the characters and the family home Mirai’s addition to is about to disrupt, which is already different as the freelance architect father is going to stay at home while his wife plans on returning to work instead. This provides an interesting commentary on the role of the modern man with the father’s clumsy handling of his domestic duties but at least he is earnest though we do learn later on the reason for his apparent shortcomings.
So far and nary a hint of the fantastic adventures to come, the first sign being Kun’s tantrum which prompts the big old tree in the garden to light up and open a portal to a different world before him, where a mystery man berates Kun for his selfish behaviour. This unsolicited commentary comes from someone who knows whereof he speaks, for he is the human manifestation of the family dog Yukko, himself one the sole attention of the household until Kun was born.
Jealousy in dogs is a proven phenomena though they also adopt a sense of duty to form a bond with a newborn baby and offer them protection and comfort. Kun’s parents try to instil this in their truculent son but as much as he agrees to abide by this instruction, he finds himself unable to adhere to it whenever he doesn’t get his way.
Like many children in anime, Kun is as precocious as he is petulant, able to somehow recognise the teen Mirai as the future version of his baby sister upon their first meeting, one of the few slips in the script that take us out of the fantasy. Generally, Hosoda’s observations of the children’s behaviour is spot on, replicated by the animators based on Hosoda’s own children who were used as study reference points.
Teen Mirai isn’t so angry with her brother as more disappointed, showing far more grace in trying to get him to buck his ideas up than Kun does. But she is still young herself and has an endearing playful streak, providing some nice comedy moments. Her prominence in the promotional artwork in her teen form is a little misleading as she only make two appearances like this but easily forgiven as Mirai is after all the pivotal character of this tale.
Hosoda has never been short of unique ideas as his previous films have shown, but here he really delves deep into his box of surreal tricks, recalling the psychedelic virtual reality world in Summer Wars in the final act. Employing CGI more prominently with a different, harsher art style, Kun finds himself on a nightmare journey at a train station suggesting Hosoda may have been taking notes from Masaaki Yuasa in preparation, it is that creepy and out there.
While Hosoda’s name is bandied about for the mantle of the “next Miyazaki”, there is no comparison in the whimsy both directors imbue in their films; the resolution scene subtly channels Miyazaki but never imitates him. Avoiding soppiness and saccharine sentiment, Hosoda concludes his film with an enigmatic, heart warming scene that was not only worth the wait but underlines the themes of wasting energy with jealously perfectly.
Yet, Mirai doesn’t feel like classic Hosoda. I don’t know if this is because the interaction between teen Mirai and Kun was so underplayed of its surreal sequences are atypical of Hosoda, but something about this film is stopping it from being as great as its predecessors, though it is highly enjoyable, inventive, and recommended entertainment nonetheless.
Japanese Language 5.1 DTS HD-MA
English Language DTS HD-MA
Limited Collector’s Edition
Rigid Digi Pack Case
Music Soundtrack CD
5 Art Cards
Rating – *** ½
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