REVIEW: 未来のミライ [Mirai no Mirai] [Mirai] [2018]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: PG | Runtime: 98 minutes | Release Date: July 20th, 2018 (Japan)
Studio: Toho / Gkids
Director(s): Mamoru Hosoda
Writer(s): Mamoru Hosoda

“I don’t like everyone!”

Young Kun (Moka Kamishiraishi) is excited to welcome his mother (Kumiko Asô) home after giving birth to his baby sister. I single out “mother” because she’s whom he misses. Dad (Gen Hoshino) has never really been around due to constantly working so Kun doesn’t necessarily have any affinity for the man. As for the new child: if she can’t pull her weight playing bullet trains with him, what’s the point of her even being there? Kun is barely removed from the toddler age scale himself, though, so you must take his desires and tantrums with a grain of salt. I won’t lie and say this is an easy task since he’s obnoxiously selfish and violently bratty, but I understand why writer/director Mamoru Hosoda would draw him this way.

未来のミライ [Mirai no Mirai] [Mirai] needs Kun to be borderline irredeemable for its fantastical magic to succeed. So Hosoda alters every aspect of the boy’s spoiled life to ensure calmness and civility must be taught by some unlikely sources. Not only does the baby (her name is Mirai) usurp the attention he so craves, but Mom and Dad have also agreed to change up their at-home dynamic. She will be working this time around while he stays behind to freelance, watch the kids, and clean the house. So as soon as Kun gets his mother back, she disappears once more. It leads him to blame his sister and ultimately hate her right alongside Mom (for leaving) and Dad (for being too distracted to let him always have his way).

And since both of his parents have their hands full with their mounting responsibilities, they prove too tired to deal with Kun’s devolving attitude. Mom starts yelling out of frustration and anger while Dad retreats into his insecurities and anxieties as far as whether he’s cut out to actually be a parent. Things get so out of whack that Kun is shown smacking Mirai in the head with one of his toys. It’s the type of act that forces you to hold your breath because you know the fallout is going to be extreme and yet nothing really happens. This could very well be a cultural divide between Japan and America, but boy does he get off easy. He’s allowed to cry, whine, and collide with the impossible.

It’s never explained beyond the simple fact that the film is an obvious metaphor for adolescent maturity and psychological coping (the parents learn some lessons too), but Kun’s rage somehow begins to tap into his imagination in order to cull together a set of educators in the way of love and empathy from his past, present, and future. First is a strange man (Mitsuo Yoshihara) sitting in their uniquely suburban home’s courtyard (Dad is an architect) who has experience with being replaced sans warning only to have to deal with the changes that arise alone. Next is a young woman calling herself Mirai (Haru Kuroki) because who’s better to teach her brother how to care for and treat his baby sister than that same sister all grown up?

Kun is given tasks to perform that clearly align with the cause of his latest bout of hysterics. When he resents his sister for sleeping instead of entertaining him, her older self arrives with a challenge to teach cooperation and reveal herself to be fun. When he attempts to learn how to ride a bicycle and Dad leaves to care for the baby (regardless of how Kun’s inability to stay upright is a product of his own creation), he becomes transported decades into the past so that a familiar looking man (Kôji Yakusho) can help him overcome his fears and have the confidence necessary to get back up. As Mom and Dad struggle to keep their sanity, Kun’s family tree picks up the slack to guide him forward.

The results are humorous, entertaining, and in many ways life affirming. It’s cutely rendered with personified pets and unreal characters interacting with fantastical surroundings (whether future Mirai in Kun’s time or him alongside youthful ancestors), the magic working in part because its target is precociously inquisitive enough to simply embrace the craziness without skepticism. And lessons are learned even if they’re only absorbed for the specific application they arise to focus upon. You could argue Kun actually relearns the same lesson over and over again, but he’s little enough to need reinforcement within differing situations since his brain can’t comprehend how one outburst and the next stem from the same underlying source. Every subsequent tantrum isn’t therefore proof that the previous lesson failed—they merely reveal his age.

This can be a tough sell. If I’m totally honest, these redundancies got me feeling bored at times too. But it’s still worthwhile to witness each since the family dog, future sister, and past mother have crucially unique perspectives to lend. And the climactic journey from year to year with glimpses at tiny moments proving astronomical in hindsight is gorgeous to behold. We move from the confines of a modern home to exotic outdoor locales, three-dimensionally rendered train stations, and the sky with a bird’s eye view of the city below. Hosoda delves into the mind of a child and all the turmoil and incapacitating stubbornness that comes from needing to rely on someone else for everything. In such a complicated scenario, big changes can be naively interpreted as abandonment.

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