OP-ROB RATING: LEGEND
“Mirai no Mirai” or “Mirai of the Future” is a 2018 Japanese anime film directed by Mamoru Hosoda centering on a toddler named Kun (voice by Moka Kamishiraishi). In the film he is referenced as Kun-chan, chan being a common name ending for Japanese children. Kun-chan’s life takes a sudden turn, as most first children’s do, when his mother and father return home with a newborn baby girl. Interestingly, Hosoda refrains from naming any of the adult characters who appear in the film; Kun-chan’s salary woman mother and architect father are simply cast with the Japanese names for each, Okāsan (voiced by Kumiko Aso) and Otōsan (voiced by Gen Hoshino). Through the lens of a toddler, parents first names do not matter so much. They are just mom and dad. The baby is named Mirai 未来, meaning “future” or “not yet come”. As Kun-chan’s life at the center of attention is shaken up by the newborn, he is whisked away on several imaginative journeys that help him to accept his sister.
Our initial impression of Kun-chan is that of a loveable, yet ornery toddler. He sleeps face-down with his butt in the air, is fascinated by trains, and loves playing with the family dog, Yukko. He also screams, cries, throws his toys everywhere, and is generally disagreeable. However, there are subtle signs from the beginning of the film that the young boy is perhaps wise beyond his years, on the cusp of maturing beyond his current rambunctiousness. This is alluded to early on, in a scene where Kun-chan looks out of the window waiting for his parents to return home with baby Mirai. He breathes on the glass, and then attentively wipes away the fog in anticipation for a car pulling in the driveway. In another scene his father asks him for baby name recommendations, as the boy stares wide-eyed at his newborn sister. Kun-chan responds with “Nozomi” and “Tsubame”, names his father realizes belong to certain Shinkansen (bullet) trains. It is in moments such as these when we witness Kun-chan’s profound thoughtfulness, as contrasted with his frequent temper tantrums.
As the film title implies, some of Kun-chan’s adventures take us into fantastical realms in the future where he encounters a teenaged version of Mirai and an anthropomorphized version of Yukko. Others take us as far back as 70 years in the past. Each of his journeys teaches a lesson, while also providing insight into his heritage. My favorite is his encounter his great-grandpa, identified in the film as Seinen (meaning “young man”). When Kun-chan meets his great-grandpa in a realistic, immediate post-war rural Yokohama, he is working in a motorcycle shop building engines. A note that permeates other parts of the story is that Seinen walks with a permanent hitch due to an injury during WWII. During the journey Seinen takes Kun-chan to a stable where they climb onto a horse and go for a ride through radiant fields in Yokohama, where Kun-chan’s urban neighborhood has yet to be built. Kun-chan is initially terrified, eyes glued to the ground. However, Seinen encourages him, telling him to never look down and always to the horizon. As the horse goes from a trot into a full on gallop a train speeds through the frame blocking our view, upon passing the two are suddenly on a motorcycle zooming along the seaside. This episode is preceded by Kun-chan failing to ride his bicycle at a local park, a feat he conquers immediately after the sequence with Seinen.
As with all great children’s movies, there is a mature and complex story accompanying the basic fantasy driven plot of “Mirai”, especially regarding the father and mother. Though the film begins with a whimsical introduction with still shots showing the progressions of life: a house renovation, the mother’s pregnancy, and the birth of Kun-chan, we soon get an idea that the marriage is not as rosy as it seems. In one scene the father speaks with a well-wishing group of mothers outside the house just after baby Mirai has arrived. He explains that he has switched to a freelance architect, and will be shouldering many of the domestic duties at home as the mother goes back to full-time work. Back in the house, she questions his authenticity, and essentially accuses him of phonily portraying the supportive husband. In subsequent scenes, we get the sense that he had been consumed with work and neglectful of his family duties during Kun-chan’s infancy. Mirai is born with a large birthmark on her right hand, perhaps indicating that she was born into strife, or maybe that she will play a special role. As the film progresses, we see the family come together, as they must face similar challenges of acceptance as Kun-chan, only entirely in the real world. Baby Mirai is a catalyst for introspection in the fantasy-laden imagination of Kun-chan, as well as the reality-based relationship of the mother and father.
My one complaint with “Mirai” is that Kun-chan’s fits can become redundant. Almost every one of the imaginative journeys is preceded by Kun-chan erupting in tears, leaving high-pitched echoes of “Okāsan” (mother) and “Otōsan” (father) ringing in your ears. Perhaps this is simply a realistic depiction of an irritable toddler, but certain tantrum scenes drag on far past their usefulness. Despite this considerably minor flaw, “Mirai” is a near perfect film. The run-time is a non-arduous 100 minutes, and the film has a breeziness about it that carries you from start to finish aided by a brilliant soundtrack featuring songs from Tatsuro Yamashita. Perhaps the genius behind “Mirai” is that it can be taken in lightly, as an imaginative and innocent story of a toddler coming to terms with a new sibling, but also as a complex story of a strengthened marriage and appreciation of family history. In many ways, “Mirai” harkens back to the mastermind of Yasujiro Ozu, with his focus on the subtle profoundness of family, but in this case through the eyes of a toddler.