Mirai (Mirai no Mirai) (2018)

Mirai reviewed exclusively for Projected Figures

Aged just four, and keen to be like the bigger boys, Kun (voiced by Moka Kamishiraishi) has removed the training wheels from his brand new pushbike, and after a couple of abortive attempts, has learnt to ride unaided.

“Children are incredible!” exclaims Kun’s amazed father (Gen Hoshino) to his wife Yumi (Kumiko Aso). “Nobody taught him!”

We know better – or perhaps we do not. For in Mirai, the latest animated feature from Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, 2006; Summer Wars, 2009; Wolf Children, 2012; The Boy and the Beast, 2015), two different frames are made available for understanding Kun’s learning experiences – one a flight of fancy, the other with more realistic foundations. For on the one hand, the spoilt, tantrum-prone little boy, jealous of the newborn sister Mirai who is displacing him from the centre of his parents’ attention, is in fact taught valuable life lessons by a series of family members – including a princely personification of his pet dog Yukko, a teenaged Mirai (Haru Kuroki) from the future, his own mother as a child, and ancestors from further back in the past – whom he encounters in the shifting geographies of an enchanted garden. On the other hand, left to his own devices, the fanciful Kun is piecing together fragments from his limited knowledge of the world to work through the various challenges that face him. In other words, maybe nobody does teach Kun besides his own imaginative conscience.

After all, the fantasy worlds that Kun conjures in his alone time are composites of the children’s book Fantasy Garden that we glimpse in Kun’s collection, of the old family photo albums that we see Yumi sharing with Kun and baby Mirai, of the toy trains with which Kun is always playing, and of the (possibly invented) stories that Kun hears about his great grandfather and great grandmother. Even the ‘Mirai of the future’ who keeps visiting Kun is imaginatively constructed from the very meaning of Mirai’s name (the Japanese for ‘future’). If indeed, from all the free-associative flotsam and jetsam around him, Kun is thinking through his problems and discovering his own place (as son and big brother) in the family tree, then it really is incredible what he achieves for himself without a teacher. Meanwhile his parents too are trying, and more or less succeeding, to renegotiate their status as both breadwinners and homemakers, without losing either their tempers or their children.

With a variety of visual stylisations in the fantasy sequences to offset the photoreal vividness of the domestic scenes, Mirai is beautifully animated. It also conceals beneath its breezy sentimentality a dream-like narrative complexity that you may find yourself pleasantly unravelling for some time afterwards, as you revisit its scenarios from the twin perspectives of a child and an adult.

© Anton Bitel