Mirai is the latest film from director Mamoru Hosoda, who is one of my favourite directors. I could go on about him and his career but I devoted a portion of my upcoming book ‘The Nerd Consultant’s Guide to Anime’ to talk about his career and his previous films. I want people to actually read that book, so all I will say at this point is, you really have to check out his other films, including: ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’, ‘Summer Wars’, ‘Wolf Children’ and ‘The Boy and The Beast’, which ended up in my best films of 2017 list. The man is a very credible director in television, having got his star from the series ‘Digimon’; he has done excellent in television but I would urge you to watch those four films I mentioned. They are all excellent in one form or another.
‘Mirai’ was one of the films I was most anticipating for this year, though I wasn’t entirely certain it was going to play in the UK, or at least not to a general audience. It did play at the London Film Festival which I was unable to attend this year, as well as the festival Scotland Loves Anime, for which the line-up was so good I’m actually considering going to check it out next year. Yeah, that would be worth a trip to Scotland.
Mamoru Hosoda has often been compared to Hayao Miyazaki, but his work has never quite hit the same in critical and financial capacity that Miyazaki has managed. That’s not to say that he hasn’t achieved a lot of success. Much like Miyazaki, he has managed to break out and form his own studio, in this case Studio Chizu, though they still affiliate with Madhouse who largely finance the movies.
This latest film is another excellent one up to its standard. The film is a rather interesting one. The story is about Kun-Chan, a little boy who finds out he’s going to be a big brother and his parents arrive home with his new baby sister, Mirai. However, being a typical toddler, he is obviously not too happy with her and the attention she is getting from his parents. He later begins to realise that when he is going into the garden he seems to be going into time warps, which means he is meeting a version of his sister from the future and the film then goes into a series of mis-adventures.
The film’s marketing is promoting the idea that it’s just him meeting his little sister from the future, however the time travel aspect means he comes into contact with various other family members from various times, including his mother when she was his age, his great grandfather, as well as a human version of the family dog who is played by Crispin Freeman, who is one of my favourite dub Anime actors.
Unlike other Hosoda works which have had a flowing narrative, this one is much more episodic. Kun goes through something then goes off in a strop, has an experience and then things get a little bit better. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. After about the third time, it actually starts to become a bit tedious and that’s a weird thing to be saying about a Hosoda production. Say what you like about the man, but his films are never boring. And this is certainly the case with ‘Mirai’. This is not a boring film, it’s just not as fulfilling, for lack of a better term, as you would get from some of his other films. Hosoda has certainly used family as a running narrative for most of his films, with the few exceptions of ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’ as well as parts of the ‘Digimon’ movie he directed, but even there you’ve got a sense of that. In fact, family being a big part of the parts in ‘Digimon’ he contributed to. This one involves similar themes to the other ones but whilst it is still a repeated theme, it’s a little but different this time; it’s one thing in a different dynamic. Whereas the other films did different sorts of bonds, such as the case of ‘The Boy and the Beast’ which was about fathers and sons, and in ‘Summer Wars’ it was about your first time meeting the in-laws (which just happened to coincide with an apocalyptic cyber virus that threatens to destroy all of humanity by hacking into nuclear weapons- it’s Anime – it’s weird as shit), this one is about becoming a new sibling.
Let’s talk about the positives of this film. Kun is a realistic little boy for his age. He gets into stupid fights, he has tantrums, he doesn’t pick up his toys properly. He is basically an average little kid. Now this is good as most films will tend to have kids be way mature beyond their years or be really damn annoying for the most stupid of reasons. At least when Kun is annoying he’s annoying in the way a normal kid would be, so it’s slightly forgivable.
Here’s the other factor: the paranormal elements, when introduced, all look brilliant. This is once again Hosoda’s signature style and it looks like he brought a lot of his left over ideas to the piece. The animation is very recognisable if you’re familiar with his previous works and he does another excellent job here. In fact, a lot of the 3D animation is excellent and compliments the 2D animation pretty well, bringing up memories of his brilliant ‘Summer Wars’ production.
Okay, that’s all the real positives.
Now, the rest of the movie does try to bring out a large cast of characters, but it feels rather blank. ‘Mirai’, as a result, feels like a very short film and it is quite short; it is one of Hosoda’s shortest films to date. It comes in at a total of an hour and thirty eight minutes. Granted, it is the exact same length as ‘The Girl Who Went Through Time’ but his other films all came in at just under two hours. Even though it has the same time as ‘The Girl Who Went Through Time’, that at least felt longer. I think the film’s structuring really doesn’t help this. It also doesn’t help that Kun really doesn’t completely develop as much as you’d like. I know it’s probably to add a sense of realism but he’s just not as compelling a character as other protagonists in Hosoda productions. Now, he’s not a terrible lead but your tolerance levels with toddlers will dictate your enjoyment of the film.
The side cast is also remarkably thin. One of my favourites was actually Kun’s great great grandfather, who’s in the film for a small portion of it and probably leaves the most lasting impression but the rest of the side characters feel rather vaguely defined. Now, I saw the film in the English language dub – don’t have a go at me all you ‘subtitles only people’ – I didn’t have the opportunity to see this film in Liverpool in its original Japanese with subtitles: they are only playing the English language dub. Like the other Hosoda productions, the film’s been licenced by Funimation, which is affiliated with all the Anime over here. And, as usual, Funimation brings in a lot of its usual voice cast, including the previously mentioned Crispin Freeman, who’ll be the most stand out actor for the people who regularly watch dubbed Anime since he has one of those very distinctive voices that he never changes between roles. The fact that he’s putting on his voice, usually reserved for very serious tones, adds to the sense of comedy since he plays the human spirit version of the family dog. But the thing that I found most surprising was the inclusion of celebrity voices this time round, which is normally reserved for a Ghibli production. The father in the production is played by John Cho, who I talked about in the previously reviewed ‘Searching’ but if you don’t remember that, he’s Harrold from ‘Harrold and Kumar’ and he currently plays Sulu in the ‘Star Trek’ films, and the mother is played by Rebecca Hall, who you might recognise from films like ‘The Town’ and she was also in the film ‘The BFG’. The casting is actually one of the more interesting ones since they don’t add as much as you’d expect. In fact, Cho’s performance is very underplayed, though Rebecca Hall does an excellent job in her role. In fact, Cho’s casting is one of the few times I can actually think that an Asian-American actor has been hired for the English language version of an Anime. There you go, figure. Kind of ironic when you think about it.
If you’re stuck with the dub version, you’re not getting a collection of bad performances. In fact, they do do a very good job with the material they’re given. The lip syncing doesn’t match up entirely, which is rather strange given that it’s a Funimation localisation and they’re normally very good at that and if you regularly watch dubs by Funimation you will recognise a few of the voices in here. I’m probably making it sound like ‘Mirai’ is a film I didn’t like but I wouldn’t say I didn’t like it. It was a good movie: it certainly has its good points but this is one of the most underwhelming films from this studio so far. It’s definitely Hosoda’s weakest film since the ‘Digimon’ movie but I wouldn’t hold that against him since that film had the problem of studio interference when Studio Fox licenced it (more on that in my book – #shameless plug). ‘Mirai’ is a nice relaxing watch. It has a good family feel and a good family message and I kind of like the fact Hosoda tried to make a decent down to earth film, which he hasn’t done for quite some time and he does a decent job of it here. It’s just I don’t think Hosoda is as good at doing that as his rather more narratively driven plots and the film feels like a serious downgrade after ‘The Boy and the Beast’, which was a film I seriously enjoyed.
I would urge you to give ‘Mirai’ a go but I would say if you haven’t seen Hosoda’s films, this might be the one to start on cause if you see this after you’ve seen all of those other films you might not get as much enjoyment out of it like I did. Once again, I wanna stress that this film is not a disaster. Far from it. Parts of it are genuinely good and the last third is probably the best part of the film but whereas the other Hosoda films had finales that felt like they were earnt, this one felt like it was just there. Overall, a mixed bag I’d say.
“Deep joy”, he says sarcastically. I’m reviewing ‘The Grinch’.
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