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When a child asks, quizzically,
“Where did I come from?”
Who knows what the most fitting answer may be?
The truth of it, physically,
May create someone,
But ‘tis but a branch of the whole family tree.

For what you’re aware of,
Your path and your parents,
Are products of precursors we’ll never know,
Dependent on their love,
Their choice and forbearance,
The roots they put down that their children may grow.

MPAA rating:  PG

Back when I reviewed Netflix’s Flavors of Youth, I mentioned there were two new anime films I was dying to see before the end of the year, and now that I have, I also wanted to squeeze in a review for each of them. Thus, I’ll do one today and one tomorrow, starting with the one I’ve been expecting longer.

I’ve enjoyed the works of anime director Mamoru Hosoda for years (The Girl Who Leapt through Time and Wolf Children are still in my top 365 Movie List), and Mirai was one of my most anticipated movies this year. With every new feature, Hosoda has carved out a niche for animation fans, putting his own stamp on imaginative half-Ghibli-like fantasies mixed with real-world drama. In Mirai, his latest acclaimed feature, he does the same with a highly minimalist plot and a younger-than-normal protagonist.

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At its core, Mirai’s story is deceptively simple, that of a four-year-old boy named Kun accepting the presence of his newborn sister Mirai (which also means “future”). Yet the lessons he learns about jealousy, relationships, and family have surprising depth and are often taught through extended visual metaphors. I was a little surprised that any explanation for the time travel aspect was basically an afterthought. Thanks to the dad, the family’s house is an architectural curiosity with three levels, one of which is roofless with an interior yard, and anytime Kun passes the family tree, it’s as if his imagination conjures up another realm.

Sometimes, it’s the family dog transformed into a grouchy human, or his teenage sister arriving from the future, or his great-grandfather showing him how to ride a bike, and certain moments of the fantastical affecting the real world make you wonder whether it’s all in Kun’s head or not. These elements are a tad random and he sometimes tends to relearn the same lesson over again (be more patient with your parents/sister, for instance), but there’s an ingenious visual nuance to how Kun learns about his family and factoring his new role as a big brother into his identity.

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I said earlier that Hosoda excels at mixing the magical with the mundane, but it doesn’t work quite as well here as it did with, say, Wolf Children. Some of the transitions between real life and fantasy were rather weird for my taste, and I would have liked a definitive answer of what was actually going on beyond “it’s a visual metaphor.” To be honest, I found myself more interested in the day-to-day activities and struggles of Kun and Mirai’s parents. Let’s face it: Whiny kids can be annoying, especially kids in anime, so I felt more of a connection with the harried father and the long-suffering mother than with the often bratty Kun.

There’s a lot to love about Mirai, not least of which is the beautiful hand-drawn animation. (One scene in a train station is breathtaking in the amount of detail and motion on display.) Plus, it’s funny and relatable on multiple levels. I especially admired how many of the individual stories were brought together near the end to show Kun how a complex web of lives and choices combined to give him the life he had. It was profound and visually striking and helped make up for some of the plot’s earlier weaknesses.

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It’s worth noting that Mirai surprisingly received a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the Golden Globes this year, making it the first anime to be nominated. It’s certainly worthy and a sign of improvement in what gets recognized, but it irks me that they didn’t give that honor to even more deserving contenders in the past, like Your Name, Wolf Children, or A Silent Voice. But I digress…. Mirai may not be Hosoda’s best work, but it’s another laudable credit to his name. And it made me appreciate my parents a little more, so that I just had to give my mom a hug. Any film that gives me another reason to do that deserves praise.


Rank: List Runner-Up


© 2018 S.G. Liput
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