If one were to say Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai is a film about family they wouldn’t be wrong, but at the same time would be doing this tapestry of ancestral lines a disservice. Too many 2018 films are about “family,” but Hosoda’s Mirai feels like the first film to truly attempt to understand what it means to be a family in 2018. At first glance, Hosoda’s family—consisting of mom, dad, son, daughter and family dog—forms the perfect conjugal family, but the dynamics of this family we see are totally unconventional. Dad has acquired the role of stay-at-home-parent, while mom—no longer on maternity leave—inherits the role as breadwinner. Struggling to understand his own place in the family is the 4-year-old son, Kun, with the arrival of his newborn sister, Mirai.
The 4-year-old Kun is initially excited to see his new sister until, that is, he actually does. To the 4-year-old Kun, Mirai is a sniveling, crying and bleating, a snot-nosed brat who gets more affection from his parents than he does. In a crying fit, Kun retreats to the garden where he, most unexpectedly, discovers figures from his past, present and future—including his “older” little sister Mirai from the future.
Mirai marks not only a return to form for Mamoru Hosoda but anime’s return to a more lyrically driven dimension made popular by Hayao Miyazaki and masterpieces My Neighbour Totoro. Like Miyazaki’s film, Mirai is placed at the eye level view of a child (a 4-year-old in the case) barely old enough to register the adult world let alone the world outside his home. Thus, the world of 4-year-old Kun seems to manifest entirely within the confines of the family’s household.
The house itself is a unique postmodern creation the father—an architect—has designed around a tree. The tree itself, placed in the centre of the household garden, becomes that recurring constant when linking past, present and future, it is present even as the film retreats into moments of heightened imagination and fantasy. More than just a botanical decoration to postmodern constructs, it comes to embody the living, breathing, organism that is Kun’s family tree, a presence of a living and growing entity around which families, memories and legacies are built and preserved.
Where in his previous films story played only secondary roles to overarching filial themes, Mamoru Hosoda seems to have eschewed narrative in Mirai altogether. It seems, however, Hosoda’s canvas is made richer because of it. The seamless whole Hosoda creates between elements of past, present and future—through Kun’s misadventures in the garden—appears at first to be aimless and meandering story-wise, but Hosoda’s final image relays something strangely powerful.
Just as it was in Hosoda’s deeply moving The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Mirai suggests that the link between past, present and future is unbreakable. Mirai, however, goes a step further by suggesting the strongest link between disparate frames of time is the family itself. The four-year-old Kun’s misadventures across time help the boy grow more aware of the world-within-worlds that family’s carry with them. He comes to see that his parents—shaped by a remarkable series of tragedies, heartbreaks, and traumas—are doorways into a past he can only imagine. This is just as he himself begins to understand that he and his sister Mirai (a name literally translated into ‘future’ in Japanese) both open doors to a future their parents can only imagine.