Mirai is the fifth feature length film from Mamoru Hosoda (not counting his directing efforts derived from famous franchises: Digimon: The Movie and One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island). After a string of meaningful masterpieces, dominated by Wolf Children, the Japanese director is back with what could, at first glance, be simply considered as a cute family film (which it is nonetheless) but is actually a pertinent illustration of the vicissitudes of life when growing up.
The birth of a sibling is a joyous time for many, but not for Kun. Four years old and spoilt rotten, he sees the arrival of baby sister Mirai as competition for his parents’ love. That is, until magical encounters with an older Mirai and family past, present and future send the siblings on an intimate journey through time and space, to confront Kun’s uncertain feelings and prepare him to become the big brother he needs to be.
Hosoda’s new film is first and foremost a real rejuvenating experience. Through a fairly well known starting point, the arrival of a new born baby in a family, the director manages to make us remember the turmoil of learning to grow up at a very young age. This acute observation of the discovery of life and its associated feelings is even more impressive when knowing that Hosoda is an only child, even if he has said that he drew inspiration from his own family (he has recently become a father). It is this capacity of observation which usually makes the great narrators of Animation cinema.
There is an inherent difficulty to tell a tale from the unique point of view of a toddler. One does not particularly realise the narrative challenges link to this aspect because Hosoda manages to make it all appear very fluid for the audience who accept everything as something obvious but choosing a four year old as the main point of reference in a film is not obvious; older children, aged around 7, might start considering the world around them but it might not be the case of such a young child.
In Mirai there are very often moments of life that one can recognise because we all experienced them, for instance the arrival of a new member in the family, or merely remembering being a child. The film functions very well thanks to the realistic representation of the scenes of family life which make the imaginary scenes work even better because the audience can recognise itself.
On this level, the technical aspects of the film are even more relevant; different animation technics are used throughout the film (2D and 3D animation but also abstract sequences) to emphasise elements of the two worlds. During the realistic sequences, the film is full of accurate details (such as the MacBook Pro used by Kun’s father who is an architect) and numerous shots highlight key aspects of the story. For instance, during the opening sequence, the camera hones in on the city’s scale and skyline before tightening in on the family’s house. The buildings echo the father’s occupation but also focusses on the familial house which plays a key role in the story. Particularly, its central garden which contain the tree of the house - literally associated as the family tree.
Hosoda also makes use of cinematic language - usually reserved to live action films - while taking advantage of what Animation cinema allows; to perfectly create mise-en-scène ideas to shape and reinforce the impact of the story (again something that is usually the mark of great Animation directors). For instance, a lateral way within the homestead to metaphorically join two characters, both located in the same space within the home but one downstairs and one upstairs.
As in all of Hosoda’s films, there is a parallel between reality and the fantasy world (for instance the real and virtual world in Sumer Wars) which reveals the hero to himself. Mirai is symptomatic of the way Hosoda uses the imaginary world to fuel the real world; they are not separated or inextricably linked, as the irruption of the fantasy in the film clearly suggests. However, Hosoda’s films are not pure fantasy films (The Boy and the Beast is maybe the closest to a fantasy film in his filmography) but actually very realistic, both in terms of animation and the emotions he tries to spark in the audience.
With his new film, the Japanese director adds a new building block to an astonishing filmography. Mirai is an emotional gem which demonstrates yet again that Hosoda is one of the most important directors working in Anime today.