“Mirai”: Is It Just a Film About Family, or Is It an Autobiography?

When a new film from Mamoru Hosoda is released, the news usually receives the same amount of attention that a Studio Ghibli film or Makoto Shinkai film receives. Given Hosoda’s track record, I would say that attention is generally warranted, but Mirai has me reconsidering that slightly.

Family has always been a theme present in Hosoda’s films, and that has perhaps never been more apparent than it is in Mirai, to a point that makes me wonder: is Mirai just another film from Hosoda about family, or is it secretly an autobiography?

The Plot

Mirai, overly simplified, is a film about a growing family and the challenges of raising a child, especially a second one. Four-year-old Kun must come to terms with becoming an older brother, after the arrival of a baby sister results in him receiving less attention than before. One could argue part of this problem is made worse by his father’s inattentiveness as a new stay-at-home dad who would rather focus on his job as an architect.

However, this does make for an interesting setting for the film. Unlike Hosoda’s other films, Mirai takes place almost entirely at home, with much less travel to locations than his other films. As Mirai is intended to tell the story from the perspective of a four-year-old child, this move is an intentional one, as is the layout of the home. The house in Mirai is very much a modern Japanese home designed by an architect, with small changes in floor height creating separate spaces: at the top, the bedrooms, followed by the family room, the kitchen and dining area, the garden, and Kun’s playroom. It very much shows that Hosoda enlisted the assistance of an architect to design the spaces in Mirai. As Kun has a limited perception of his environment, it was critical to design a carefully detailed space.

Puns & Family Influences

Mirai contains several subtle details, the film’s name actually being one of them. Unfortunately, I would argue you need to have at least some knowledge of both Japan and Japanese to catch and appreciate them all.

When his parents first ask him what should they name his sister, Kun suggests Nozomi. As we first see Kun in a room full of trains and wearing a shirt with the front of a train on it (the Ginza line, I think), I think I was the first in the theater to guess where Kun was getting names from. Thankfully, the film takes care of explaining the joke as he makes his second suggestion; Nozomi is one of Japan’s bullet trains, as is his second suggestion, Tsubame.

Ultimately, Kun’s parents decide to name his new baby sister Mirai, or the Japanese word for “future”.  In Japanese, the film’s title is Mirai no Mirai, which officially translates as Mirai From The Future. But, the name choice is no accident – Mirai is the name of Hosoda’s own daughter, whose birth played a role in inspiring the film. The idea of Kun seeing his sister in the future came from Hosoda’s son, who told Hosoda he saw his sister in the future in a dream.

Comparisons to Previous Works

Our first encounter with Mirai in the future takes place when Kun’s mother returns to work and reminds Kun’s father to put the dolls away from Hinamatsuri, or Girls’ Day. Japan is not a country without its own unique superstitions, one of them being a daughter’s marriage will be delayed one year for each day the dolls remain out late. Mirai appears from the future for the first time to beg Kun for help in putting the dolls away when Kun steps in the garden and is transported to a large greenhouse with a bit of help from CGI.

When I reviewed Hosoda’s previous film, The Boy and the Beast, I noted its use of CGI was sometimes distracting. Thankfully, this isn’t a problem in Mirai; the CGI blends in much better with the traditional – although digitally assisted – animation. The CGI in Mirai compliments the film’s environments, similar to the world of Oz in Summer Wars.

Like BeastMirai’s music is composed by Masakatsu Takagi, who also did the music for Wolf Children. I considered the music for Beast and Wolf Children to be OK – not great, but not horrible either. I would say both suffered from a lack of consistency in the quality of each track, with some tracks having too many jumps and fragments between instruments resulting in something closer to sonic mud than a score – not something I would expect from a film with a decent budget. Thankfully, Mirai‘s score doesn’t have this issue, and I would actually consider buying it. The opening and closing credits feature music by Tatsuro Yamashita and can already be found on Apple Music. I’ve had the album on repeat for the last week.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, Mirai may not be a Hosoda film everyone will enjoy. While all of his past films did share family as a theme, Mirai focuses almost exclusively on it, resulting in a film that is fairly different from his past works. I was actually surprised how weak the turnout for the film was on opening night when the dub screened. I’m hoping the sub sees a better one, but I would not be terribly surprised if it did not.

If you’re looking for a Hosoda film that delivers worlds of wonder and fantasy, Mirai may not deliver as much as expected, and it may be worth waiting for the film to come out on disk or streaming instead.

However, if you are looking for a Hosoda film that offers perhaps our best look in to his personal life yet, Mirai is absolutely one to see, especially considering it is a film he would not have been able to make just a few years ago.

I do not believe Funimation was involved in the dub of Mirai, unlike Hosoda’s past films, but the dub was very well done, and I would strongly recommend seeing either the dub or sub version of the film if you can.

Final Verdict: Seeing Mirai in theaters won’t be for everyone, but I would recommend doing so if you have the oppertunity before it finishes its disappointedly short run in theaters this week. Mirai is a lighthearted film with beautiful art, an excellent score, and a story told from a perspective rarely seen in other films, earning it a 9 out of 10.

Images courtesy GKIDS.

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