Japanese Title: Mirai no Mirai
Similar: Wolf Children
When Marnie Was There
Watched in: Japanese
Length: 1 hr. 38 min. movie
- Beautiful visuals, particularly in environment details.
- Small quirks.
- Lacks real substance.
- Parents don’t have enough story.
Mirai is the latest film from director Mamoru Hosoda, known for other anime films Summer Wars, Girl Who Leapt through Time, The Boy and the Beast, and Wolf Children. While I haven’t seen the first of that list (review coming soon™), I find Mirai to be his weakest. It doesn’t have an element that draws me in, attaches me to it in the way Girl through Time did with its protagonist’s personality.
Based on Hosoda’s experiences with his own children, Mirai is about a little boy called Kun who, up until this point, received all the attention from his parents. Now with his newborn sister Mirai around, he’s no longer the centre of the universe. And that doesn’t sit well with him.
He throws tantrums. He hurts his sister. He chucks his toys on the floor. He does everything in his four-year-old power to turn the attention back to him. Nothing works. In an effort to teach him much-needed life lessons, family members from the past and future visit him in the house courtyard, taking him on small adventures.
This narrative quickly reminded of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, which I coincidentally saw for the first time last week, where ghosts of past, present, and future visit the protagonist to change him for the better. In the case of A Christmas Carol, it’s about turning a nasty rich miser into a generous man. With this connection made, I became more interested. Unfortunately, Mirai doesn’t have the weight and emotion found in Dickens’s title.
Mirai’s structure alternates between the present day world, where Kun misbehaves in some way to garner attention, and the past/future world with a relative that teaches a lesson relating to the aforementioned behaviour. One time, he throws his toys on the floor in a temper tantrum against his mother. So when he runs to the courtyard, it takes him back in time to when his mother was a little girl and loved throwing everything on the floor as well. This shows him that she too was a kid once, but they also go too far and trash her whole house, which earns her a scolding. “Your mother knows you’re just a kid, but don’t go too far. Give her a break looking after a newborn.”
It may sound as though I am simplifying the lesson too much, but I’m not. That’s all there is to it. These mini adventures have no nuance, no depth, which is perhaps intentional so that little kids get it. Even then, it’s too on the nose and has little for older viewers.
I could look over this, somewhat, if the adventures were more…adventurous? There isn’t enough fantasy in this fantasy adventure story. When he’s with his mother, why didn’t they go on some Peter Pan style adventure fighting pirates, feasting on junk food, blowing stuff up, only to come back to the reality of a trashed home? Any kid’s imagination would conjure up far more outlandish adventures.
The exception to this lack of fantasy is with the last adventure for the finale. Kun goes on a train journey (he loves trains) and has to face his biggest fear before he can return home. This was the only adventure I cared for in the whole film.
The other issue in Mirai is with the parents’ subplot. When we first meet them, we learn that the mother will return to work sooner than she did with the firstborn while the father wants to become a stay-at-home dad, though he has much to learn. The film’s first half sets up their situations and struggles, but the second half doesn’t pay them off. The third act all but forgets their storyline. It suddenly goes, “I guess their fine parents now.” It’s weak.
What I do really like in Mirai is the visual detail. First, there’s the house itself with the courtyard. Hosoda hired a real architect to design the unusual house for film, explained in-story by Kun’s father being an architect. I love this house. The way it makes the most of their narrow plot of land and the courtyard is great. I would be happy to live there. I also love the small details – not just in the environment. The dog barking at the vacuum cleaner, the way Mirai behaves like a real baby, and dad’s quirks when working from home while looking after the kids add a layer of authenticity to the world.
It’s a shame the story lacks gravitas to back up all the effort that when into the visuals. For emotion, I look to how Wolf Children made my heart break; for fun, I look to how Girl Who Leapt through Time made me fall in love with the girl’s attitude. Mirai is Hosoda’s love letter to his family, yet not one I recommend to others.
Art – Very High
Lots of detail, beautiful animation, and interesting environment designs are a pleasure. The only real flaw is an overreliance on making background objects in CG.
Sound – Medium
The acting is good all around, though I wonder if Kun doesn’t sound a few years too old. The 80s “city pop” opening and ending themes are a nice touch.
Story – Low
Past and future relatives of a little boy teach him life lessons when he can’t handle all the attention given to his newborn sister. A severe lack of weight to the adventures and overly simplistic moral storytelling don’t make an engaging story.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For art fans only. Mirai’s story isn’t worth attending for. However, if you love anime with lots of visual and animated details, then there is much to notice here.
Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)