Earlier this year, Mirai was selected to be the first-ever Japanese anime film to premiere at the esteemed Cannes Film Festival as part of the Directors' Fortnight. That in itself should signal we’re in for something exceptional, and director Mamoru Hosoda (Summer Wars, The Boy and the Beast) doesn’t let the audience down. It’s a beautifully realized, intimate examination of a modern Japanese family as seen through the eyes of its four-year-old protagonist Kun (Kamishiraishi). The spoiled, tantrum-prone toddler can be just as much of an antagonist to his nevertheless doting parents, who seem to take the budding trainspotter’s frequent screaming outbursts in stride. Until, that is, his mother returns from maternity leave with the newest addition to the family, baby Mirai (the name translates to “Future”).
Kun’s immediate reaction is goggle-eyed wonder at the arrival of his baby sister, but “firstborn syndrome” soon sets in as he realizes tiny, helpless Mirai is now his parents’ primary focus of attention. The little boy’s increasingly worrying paroxysms of sulky petulance test mom and dad’s parental mettle, especially after she returns to her (presumably) corporate day job and he commences working from home, keeping house and caring for the kids.
An anime version of Mr. Mom this is not. Director Hosoda’s clear-eyed story allows for comic moments of fatherly ineptitude but focuses just as often on the marital and familial stress this sudden role reversal causes. Lest that sound too prosaic for a Hosoda anime, the resentful Kun mysteriously encounters a future, teenage version of his baby sister (Kuroki) in the backyard one day, initiating by incremental degrees a brotherly maturation regarding the infant in the home. Thus begins a series of magical encounters with family members long gone or seen at previous stages of their lives. Even the family dog appears as a “human” prince, albeit one still prone to chasing balls.
Mirai is a preternaturally wise movie about looking beyond one’s own too- often-narrow point of view. Hosoda’s narrative is a multifaceted kaleidoscope of one family’s past, present, and future as experienced – or perhaps imagined – by young Kun, alternating as it does between magical realism and a smart, realistic depiction of an everyday family going and growing through a difficult time. Previously unknown confidences are shared between the fluid, dreamlike time shifts of the story as Kun and his kin view one another in surprisingly emotional encounters. Hosoda and his team at Studio Chizu match the weighty narrative issues – parents in the audience would be well advised to bring a tissue or two – with enthralling and inventive animation that only serves to up the overall emotional impact of Mirai. Highly recommended.
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