Before Mari Okada stepped into her directorial debut, before Your Name stormed into the theatres and the hearts of many anime fans, and before Studio Ghibli hung up their hat on film production, Mamoru Hosoda was already making his name in the anime film world. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars are among many fans’ lists of ‘favourite anime films of all time’, and his small but memorable output makes him one of the directors often compared favourably in Western media to Hayao Miyazaki, especially with his blend of human-focused stories with fantastical elements. Now, in a fruitful time of back-to-back anime UK cinema releases, and four years since his last film, Mamoru Hosoda has returned with Mirai Of The Future (a.k.a Mirai) which made its debut in Cannes earlier this year but comes to UK cinemas officially this autumn.
Kun is a 4-year-old boy with not a care in the world. He has a loving mum and dad, a playful dog, a great house, and all his family’s attention – until the new baby is brought home, his little sister Mirai. Kun isn’t sure about his new sister, and dislikes how her arrival has changed all he knows, but luckily for him, his sister comes from the future to help him find his way into this new family dynamic and provide colourful adventures along the way.
Mamoru Hosoda has previously made films that centre on family, with a heavy focus on childhood and parental relationships, especially in his last two films Wolf Children and The Boy and The Beast. Mirai Of The Future seems to be a similar re-tread at first but it’s not in the same category. Wolf Children was about a mother raising two kids who happened to be part-wolf and had to find their own way in the world, whether that be human or animal. The Boy and the Beast had a young boy fall into the mystical world of anthropomorphic animals but eventually came to accept his troubled human family and upbringing. Mirai, on the other hand, is about a spoiled infant learning to cope that he’s no longer the only child. That’s it. Anyone who has had to experience a new sibling coming into the family or is a parent introducing one to their eldest (regardless of age or how prepared the family are) will have seen or felt the feelings Kun demonstrates: anger, upset, curiosity, happiness, and resentment. Speaking as someone who has three younger brothers, all coming in at different stages of my lifetime (eldest when I was three years old, and my half-brothers following at thirteen and fifteen years old respectively) sometimes whilst growing up you flipflop back and forth between the emotions as any new family addition creates conflict and changes the relationship dynamics, regardless of how old you may be when it happens. The film’s central conflict is small in comparison to Hosoda’s previous works, and certainly pales in comparison with the high stakes that his more famous film Summer Wars has, but he takes this simple conflict and demonstrates it at its rawest form; from the point of view of a very young child with little to no comprehension of the world or emotions outside of his own small view, because why would he? He’s a pre-schooler! It’s a pure, unfiltered look at this small struggle, mixed with a child’s imaginative drive to explore everything around him with fantastical results. In fact, he’s one of the most realistic pre-schoolers to be seen in animation, both for better (his obsession with trains is the source of great comedy) and for worse (he can cry and sulk just as much as any real child).
I’m half-tempted to call the original title Mirai Of The Future a misleading movie name, because even though Kun’s little sister does come to visit from the future, she’s not the only time-travelling guest and, if anything, Kun gets as many visitors and trips to the past as much as his sister swoops in to save him in the present. The film starts with Kun’s garden being transformed into luscious woods and magnificent oceans, but then expands into transporting him into his parents’ past and conjuring unique worlds, each one more much grand than the last. The time-travel trips range from silly to sentimental, but all are foreshadowed very well in the script; Kun is often in the room when his parents discuss with him or visiting adults about history of their family or stuff that needs taking care of in the day-to-day. So even though he’s not old enough to absorb the information on a conscious level, it’s buried into his subconscious and provides a gateway to the multiple and remarkable trips we get in the movie. However, because the movie doesn’t have a typical antagonist or high stakes, it can feel a bit long since there’s no typical ‘ebb and flow’ to give the audience an impression of where the story is going or when it will end. The only clue is when we enter the final future trip and the visuals become something unlike what we’ve seen before, with extra emphasis on 3D imagery to give it more of a surreal effect, including some very creepy imagery that only a child could conjure and the terror it provides leads into the final act.
Outside of Kun however, we do get a different perspective on the new addition to the family household, and that’s from the parents. Although it is not their story, they provide a nice breather from the limited understanding of the situation from the main character and it’s interesting how their arcs are in parallel to Kun’s. Not only is there a new child in the family, but it’s the father who has decided to stay at home and take charge in raising the children, with the mother returning to work full-time. So, the father is learning the struggles that the mother had to deal with when raising Kun, whilst mum is accepting that she’s not as involved with her kid’s minute-to-minute development. They both grow and settle into the new situation together with Kun, even if via different (and less visually interesting) ways of getting there. It was an interesting scenario to see on the big screen in Japanese animation, especially considering that the culture itself is still rooted in women being the ‘heart of the home’ and not working full-time, even if recent trends seems to suggest it’s changing.
As it’s a Mamoru Hosoda production, the film is animated by his own Studio Chizu. Visually it doesn’t look overly different to his previous outings, and even though the various fantasy sequences are beautiful, they are also quite typical of what we’ve seen with Hosoda’s work so far. You’ll notice (for example) that the shot in the climax of the family tree looks similar to the world of Oz from Summer Wars, and the zooming-in effect he has in several scenes when the drama picks up is also a tactic he’s used in the likes of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I’m not saying that the movie doesn’t look great, because it does, but there’s nothing here that really pushes the boat out for the studio or provide something you haven’t seen before from the director.
Mirai is another lovely, sentimental, enjoyable family film from Mamoru Hosoda that strikes the perfect balance between visually wonderful fantasy sequences and an emotionally relatable story. There are a few sequences towards the end that are maybe a little intense for younger viewers, but overall, it’s a wonderful film to experience in UK cinemas this autumn.