The first Japanese animated feature to have its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, ‘Mirai’ is the latest work from Mamura Hosoda, the critically-acclaimed director of anime films such as ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’, ‘Summer Wars’, ‘Wolf Children’, and ‘The Boy and the Beast’.
Kun is a pampered 4-year-old boy (voiced by Moka Kamishiraishi) whose world is rocked when his mother (Kumiko Aso) and father (Gen Hoshino) bring home his baby sister, Mirai. When the baby replaces her brother as the centre of attention, Kun can't bring himself to accept her as his sister. Not only that, but his mother is exhausted and his father isn't able to keep up with the housework, leaving Kun to feel neglected.
One day, in a huff, Kun comes across a magical garden where the family dog has been transformed into a shady-looking human. Soon, he meets a teenage Mirai (voiced by Haru Kuroki) who has travelled back in time to visit him. Their adventures, as Kun jumps backwards and forwards through history, visiting key figures from his family tree, change how the young boy sees the world and helps him to grow into the big brother he was meant to be.
The word "Mirai" means the same thing as "future" in Japanese (weirdly, it makes the Japanese title, ‘Mirai no Mirai’, literally translate to ‘Future of the Future’) and the film returns to the time-bending of ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’, but with a focus on Kun’s family. Is the garden magical? Does Kun actually meet his dog in human form, Mirai and himself from the future, his serious mother as a mischievous child, his deceased great-grandfather as a young man in post-WWII Japan and get lost in a ghostly train station? Or was it all just his fantasy to cope with the situation? Hosoda never spells it out for his audience and, honestly, it never needs any extra explanation. ‘Mirai’ also explores the emotional truths of growing up via the storytelling trickery of the fantasy and sci-fi genres (similar to ‘The Boy and the Beast’, ‘Wolf Children’, and ‘Summer Wars’).
‘Mirai’ is a beautifully designed film (featuring a lovely score from Masakatsu Takagi). Kun’s home is a narrow, distinctive building, designed by his architect father, hemmed in by larger, more traditional houses. The modern design of the house heightens the impact of Kun’s sudden trips backwards in time to a coastal village in the 1940s and other realistically detailed locations.
My personal highlight occurred when Kun became lost in a nightmarish Tokyo train station - sitting at the back of the cinema, I could see parents in the audience squirming uncomfortably in unison to console their children over this potentially scary set piece (note: it isn't that scary).
Screened at Sydney Film Festival, many of the laughs were drawn by the expressively animated faces of the characters, like Kun, whose toothy mouth splits into huge grins or grimaces whether happy or mid-tantrum, or the family dog, Yukko, whose facial features vary from playful to aloof. My personal highlight occurred when Kun became lost in a nightmarish Tokyo train station - sitting at the back of the cinema, I could see parents in the audience squirming uncomfortably in unison to console their children over this potentially scary set piece (note: it isn't that scary).
On the downside, ‘Mirai’ has an episodic, almost plotless storyline, taking place almost entirely inside a single house and mainly focusing on the simple journey of a child finding his place in the world - credited as scriptwriter and for the original story, Hosoda has said this film draws inspiration from his own childhood, when he had a younger sister whom he was jealous of. This becomes somewhat repetitive until the next spectacularly animated sequence occurs onscreen.
Fans of Mamura Hosoda’s previous films may find his latest to be too younger-skewing and twee. However, as family entertainment, ‘Mirai’ is still a leap ahead of most other animated films in cinemas.