In this charming little Japanese animated film, a young boy named Kun feels forgotten by his family when his little sister Mirai arrives. Kun can’t stand the attention Mirai gets. Running away from home, Kun stumbles upon a magical garden that serves as a time-traveling gateway, where he encounters his mother as a little girl, and has a series of adventures with his baby sister who is all grown up, opening a new perspective on his world.
This is the latest film from the director of the wonderful Wolf Children and Summer Wars, Mamoru Hosoda. Here he delivers a story of such intimacy and compassion, which feels like receiving a warm hug from a loved one. Mirai depicts the way a young boy’s world is turned upside down by the arrival of a baby sister, and it is clear that this film could not have been made by anyone else. This seems like his most personal film yet, and many can probably relate to its story and its main character.
The film’s narrative is told through the eyes of four-year-old Kun, who comes to accept his initially unwelcome sister via a series of visitations from other members of his family: past (his war-hero grandfather and his mother as a young girl), present (his dog, is actually a human trapped in a dog’s body), and future (Mirai, appearing as her teenage self). These magical interactions manage to convey how it can be a struggle to make the adjustment from only child to an older sibling.
The strange house that Kun and his family live in has an important role within the film, built on multiple levels with a large garden and a special tree (which can be seen a representation of the ‘family tree’) growing between Kun’s downstairs playroom, and the living room. His play room is his own personal space, overrun by elaborate train tracks and scattered toys. It is in that open space, between the split halves of the house, Kun plays alone, interacting with the aforementioned family members. Makoto Tanijiri is actually an architect by trade and was brought onto the film specifically to design the the family’s home. Tanijiri designed the family house to have stairs (and different levels) as a key feature: “A child will be able to see the bottom room clearly from the garden, but an adult will only be able to see what’s right in front of them. The child’s view will change as he grows up.”
These interactions are with the following family members: Kun’s pet dachshund, who inexplicably transforms into a human with a long, fluffy tail and a weakness for playing fetch. Then Kun’s mom as a young messy girl, who we discover wasn’t always the responsible adult he knows. There is also Kun’s Grandfather who takes Kun on a motorcycle ride, sharing advice with the boy. And finally, Mirai drops in, visiting from the future, to give her big brother a glimpse of the young woman she will become. Each of these interaction helps to enable the little boy to grown and develop, but the advice is also something the viewers can take away with them too.
The animation is simple but powerful and very compelling to watch. There are moments of pure brilliance, for example how Kun’s face comically distorts as he throws a tantrum. There are also scenes of pure heartfelt tenderness and compassion, like when the brother and sister team up to take down a shrine that their distracted dad has forgotten to put away – which could have an effect on her future happiness. Already, the viewer is seeing how Kun is becoming more mature, and it’s a delight to watch his character grow and develop. Mirai is aided by a pleasant score from Masakatsu Takagi, which is nice addition. The voice acting is also perfectly cast with Haru Kuroki as Mirai, Moka Kamishiraishi as Kun, and other voice talent from Gen Hoshino, Kôji Yakusho and Kumiko Asô.
In Japan, Hosoda has often been tipped as a successor to animation giant Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli group. That promise appeared to be fulfilled when Hosoda’s film Beast earned $49 million in 2015 at the Japanese box office and the film racked up a large haul of international sales. Last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival dedicated a special screening section to his work. When asked about his inspiration behind Mirai, Hosoda stated that “I never had the opportunity to have a drink or a meal just with my father — he was hardly ever at home and as a father his existence was ambiguous.” Mirai is a perfect film for all the family, and will certainly become a classic that will be watched and loved by many for years to come.