(2018—Director: Mamoru Hosoda)
— by Renard N. Bansale —
(out of 5 stars)
Potential spoilers below
Among the handful of anime directors touted these past two decades as “the new Miyazaki”, it is arguably Mamoru Hosoda who boasts the most well-rounded career. Hosoda rose through the ranks at Toei Animation and helmed several episodes and a feature for the Digimon’s season one around the start of the millennium, before migrating to Madhouse in 2005. It was after leading the sixth One Piece film that Hosoda directed 2006’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, his breakthrough standalone film. From there came Summer Wars (my personal favorite of Hosoda and one of the most well-scripted animated features I have ever seen), Wolf Children, and The Boy & the Beast (the latter two produced by his own Studio Chizu). The theme of family runs strong throughout these movies and, with his slice-of-life fantasy Mirai (Japanese: “future”), Hosoda meditates on that theme more than ever before and with soothing poignancy.
Four-year-old Kun (Moka Kamishiraishi, dubbed by Jaden Waldman) is upset that his architect father (Gen Hoshino, dubbed by John Cho) and executive mother (Kumiko Asô, dubbed by Rebecca Hall) now dote more on new little sister Mirai (Kaede Hondo as baby) than him. Fortunately, Kun discovers a magical garden that allows him to travel across time. Kun encounters middle school-aged Mirai (Haru Kuroki, dubbed by Victoria Grace), along with his mother as a little girl (Sakura Saiga, dubbed by Madigan Kacmar), and even his great-grandfather (Masaharu Fukuyama, dubbed by Daniel Dae Kim). Kun’s adventures with his family across time help him gain a new perspective on his role as an older brother.
Hosoda describes Mirai as both “modest” in its intimate take on family and “epic” in how it deals with the human experience across time. He certainly succeeds in the aim of making his story, inspired by a dream one of his sons recounted to him, both specific to Kun’s family and Kun’s sudden older brother frustrations, yet universal for its audiences. Also, Hosoda impressively allows Kun’s tantrums to escalate (in that tragic yet adorable way little kids do) up to the right moment for him to pivot to Kun’s fantasy adventures with relatives. Few moments in cinema in 2018 gave me as much joy as the mounting realization that the disheveled and middle-aged “prince” Kun meets in his first out-of-body experience is none other than the human version of family dog Yukko (Mitsuo Yoshihara, dubbed by Crispin Freeman), who naturally was as jealous for newborn Kun as Kun is now for newborn Mirai. Additionally, few moments in cinema in 2018 contain as much heart as when Kun goes horseback and motorcycle riding with his great-grandfather as a way for him to muster courage in bicycle riding without training wheels. One might say that Mirai is Japanese anime’s answer to the family-centered themes of Disney-Pixar’s Coco from last year.
Mirai is not without its flaws, however. From the start, English dub actor Jaden Waldman succeeds far more than original voice actress Moka Kamishiraishi in sounding like an actual little boy. Because of that, I somewhat prefer the English dub over the original Japanese audio. As for the ending, a common challenge for most slice-of-life tales, Mirai admittedly loses steam. Kun’s last big fantasy, triggered by his refusal to wear yellow shorts instead of blue shorts for a much-needed family vacation, involves him running away to a train station and getting tempted to board the train to “Lonely Place”. (The kid loves his trains.) This sequence reminded me of Riley’s decision to run away towards the end of the 2015 Disney-Pixar movie Inside Out, and that felt much more organic and less arbitrary than Kun’s situation. Worse yet, this sequence contains most of Mirai’s noticeably-imperfect 3D animation and concludes with Kun and older Mirai making a deep dive into their family tree (visually reminiscent of the time jumps from The Girl Who Leapt Through Time). Perhaps designed as one last thematic stamp, the scene comes off as a grab-bag of ancestral memories that Kun’s earlier fantasies ought to have incorporated—a haphazard tossing-in of deleted scenes, to put it bluntly.
Despite not landing perfectly, Mirai should still bring much pride to Mamoru Hosoda for its generous emotional resonance. Mirai, like the best of Japanese anime, knows how to soothe viewers even with the mundanity of family life. As the titular character from Jason Reitman’s dramedy Tully from earlier this year reminded us all, one should not take the boredom and labor of family life for granted. Somehow, someway, even the most foolish, selfish, and immature of our fellow human brethren find the family way a sensible peak and a natural and worthy goal to pursue and defend.
*The informal Hepburn romanization of the film’s original Japanese title is “Mirai no Mirai”, which literally translates to “Mirai of the Future” (other international title renderings here).
Renard N. Bansale once aspired to become an astronaut, before he found his passion in film discussion, criticism, conducting script-reading sessions of feature film screenplays, and annual Oscar tracking. Hailing from Seattle, WA, Renard graduated from JPCatholic in 2016 with a B.S. in Communications Media (Emphasis in Screenwriting) and is currently pursuing his M.A. in Theology online at the Augustine Institute.
For more movie reviews by Renard, click here.