If the imaginative worlds of master anime storyteller Hiyao Miyazaki are surprisingly magical, then the creative imagination of Mamoru Hosoda is aesthetically enchanting. From the mind-bending creativity of the acclaimed creator of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) and gamified intrigue of Summer Wars (2009) comes an adorable tale of sibling rivalry and family drama played out in Mirai.

Mirai tells the story of a four-year old named Kun who, during his wonder years, has enjoyed the center of attention until he gets a baby sister named Mirai, whose name translates into “future.” From there, the story detours into a Dickens A Christmas Carol-like tale where magical elements materialize, time journeys are undertaken, and life lessons are learned.

The story starts with young Kun indulging in his daily antics until his mom brings home a baby girl. When the spotlight shifts to his little sister Mirai, jealousy erupts, with Kun yowling in a tantrum of titanic proportions amidst Mirai’s frantic cries. Upset at his parents for showering their attention on her instead of him, he defiantly runs off into the backyard, and there he finds a so-called “prince” of the house where he lives, which turns out to be his pet dog in human form. Later on, he meets a young girl who is actually Mirai as a teenager. This turn of events enables him to learn from and interact more closely with various members of his family.

The subplots launch like springboards for each magical journey as Kun meets members of his family at different stages of their lives. Magical surprises weave in and out of the story during his emotional outbursts, the fantastical elements kick in, and he witnesses alternate versions of his great grandfather and mother. With each encounter, Kun gains insight into the pivotal decisions that led them to their present-day selves, demonstrating how decisions of the past connect with the circumstances of the present, while shaping their identities in the process. Imbuing Kun with a vibrant curiosity, Hosoda skillfully captures the integrity and youthful persona of a toddler with heartfelt compassion and delight.

The cinematic animation of Mirai is a distinguishing hallmark of this film. The story revolves around Kun (Mirai being somewhat of a misleading misnomer), the camera focusing on his point of view. Close-up shots highlight his charming, wide-eyed facial expressions, animating exuberant emotions that range from joy and sadness to anger and fear. This film captures the passion of one of anime’s youngest characters, dramatizing a most intimate experience through the lens of a child. Furthermore, the set design features a captivating spectacle as the camera pans between the kitchen, play area, and backyard. This quasi-realistic feel combined with adorable characters inhabiting a world where magic sneaks in at unexpected moments engenders a compelling story that entertains and mesmerizes.

As an auteur, Hosoda commands full artistic control over the spectrum of emotions portrayed by his characters, conjuring forth a story that depicts life through the nostalgic worlds of childhood filled with magical wonder and curiosity. At the heart of Mirai lies a story of conflicting family dynamics, where emotional tensions run high, secrets are revealed, and insightful truths illuminated. This feature film delivers a mixture of comedy and drama peppered with magic, fueled by a child’s adventurous persona. Fantastical elements integrate naturally into the plot, appealing to viewers both young and old, thus making this a fine addition to any library collection.

Mirai: Magical Journeys through Time
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment/GKIDS, 2019
directed by Mamoru Hosoda
98 minutes, Number of Discs: 1, Single disc/DVD
Company Age Rating: PG

  • Jerry

    | He/Him Information Strategist, San Francisco Public Library

    Reviewer

    By day, Jerry Dear, APALA member and Information Strategist at the San Francisco Public Library tackles research questions in the Periodicals department. He also teaches in the Library Information Technology department at City College of San Francisco. By night, he serves the Asian American community and ventures into the vibrant literary arts and graphic novel scene. In whatever time remains, he indulges in comics, anime, manga, and Asian American literature and film.

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