Seems I always have to take a pee during Hosoda Mamoru’s bad movies. The first “bad” Hosoda flick I saw was Summer Wars, which resulted in me ducking out in the middle to take a leak. With Mirai no Mirai, I held out until the end credits to run to the bathroom, but I was actually really itching to go as the film entered its last 45 minutes. As far as Hosoda goes, I adore Toki wo Kakeru Shojo. Ohkami Kodomo Ame to Yuki pulled at my heartstrings, and Bakemono no Ko was pretty good. Until Mirai no Mirai, Summer Wars was Hosoda’s low point for me.
To be fair, the film starts out alright. I mean, it opens with a killer City Pop number by Yamashita Tatsuro and a perfectly 3D rendered, beautifully painted overhead city shot of suburban Yokohama. Then there’s the cool designer-house, and charming family antics. But halfway through, the film falls apart.
Mirai no Mirai centers around 4-year-old Kun-chan, and his newly-born sister, Mirai. Despite being doted on by his parents since birth, once Mirai comes into the picture, Kun grows angry over the fact that his parents’ world starts to center entirely on the newest member of the family, rather than him. As he deals with the birth of his new sister–through being an insufferable brat–the family garden transforms into a magical, ever-changing space, where he first meets a personified version of the family dog, and then his younger sister, Mirai, all-grown-up. After these initial meetings, he proceeds to meet various other members of his family, both alive and dead, at key points in their lives, and history. Through these meetings, Kun is imparted with life lessons about what it means to grow up and be less of an annoying, piece-of-shit kid.
I really like Hosoda, so it goes without saying that I had high hopes for this film. With Mirai no Mirai, there was a great chance to tell a poignant, tight story about siblings, if the film opted to zero-in on Kun and his relationship with the titular Mirai. But alas, Kun has to visit his whole family and learn about why 4-year-old him should straighten the fuck up.You know, like all 4-year-olds have to do. I’m 30, and I need to straighten the fuck up–Kun is fine.
Where Mirai no Mirai fails is its focus on the very primordial parts of human life. We are all asshole kids, and we can’t help it. The manner in which this film spotlights this part of human life, and tries to imbue foresight and life lessons is super useless. It’s as if Mirai no Mirai was made either for small children who have enough cognizant ability to take in these life lessons, or 30-year-old viewers like myself who really regret all the dumb things they did when they were 4-years old. Problem is, neither of these audiences exist.
I almost want to say that Mirai no Mirai would work better if it focused on Kun in the teenage years of his life, as that’s a time in our lives that really defines us as adults. That said, who needs another anime movie about teenagers? In this sense, I can see why Hosoda wanted to perhaps do something different and focus on a main character like Kun… but, for reasons stated above, it doesn’t sustain an entire film. Another way to approach the film would be to follow Kun throughout his life, with him meeting various members of his family at key moments in his life through cosmic circumstances, helping him when he’s stuck at one of life’s many difficult crossroads.
At the moment, focusing on such a narrow and primeval part of the human experience–a time that most people are so separated from when they can finally start understanding messages like these–seems like a waste of keen human insight that can be used to underpin a potentially stronger story. Furthermore, I think we all share an inherent sadness in not being able to prevent ourselves from being assholes when we are small children. We live with this sadness as we grow up, and it encourages us to improve ourselves. To be fair, while when we’re teenagers, we have the cognizant ability to change our behavior, but we’re so overcome with puberty-driven emotions to actually do anything good for ourselves. This is why we like stories focusing on teenagers, because it gives us a chance to look at how we could have done things differently. When you’re a goddamn 4-year-old, you don’t know shit, and your experiences are formative. Teenage experiences are formative as well, as are all life experiences, but as you get older, bad decisions can also screw you over for life. A 4-year-old doesn’t live with that sort of pressure, which is why it seems weird for the film to course-correct Kun at such a young age.
Rewinding to the start of this review, let’s go back to talking about how the film really falls apart at the half-way point, because I really liked the first half. As an older sibling who felt like they were being ignored when The Second One came along, the first half of the film hit me hard. All the scenes of Kun being angry at Mirai for robbing him of his parents’ attention rang true as someone who experienced the same thing growing up. But, this is before all the magical family members start showing up. In fact, if the film was simply a real, human story about an annoying 4-year-old boy and his parents struggling to look after him, I probably would not have felt my bladder urging me to hit the restroom as bad.
Of course, if the film did opt to focus firmly on the family side of things without the magical aspect, it would really have to change the characterization of the dad, because he really pissed me off. Every society in the world is fucked up in its own way, but living in Japan, I really hate how men are so non-committal to their families. I grew up in a family where my father was at home every night, and made dinner for the whole family. I was hoping that the film would promote a progressive image of the Japanese family to compliment its sexy, modern look and atmosphere. Hell, when I saw the dad at the stove near the beginning of the film I was ecstatic: “Yeah! Dad’s in the kitchen supporting the family!” But unfortunately he lets stuff overcook, fumbles around, and makes an Ass of himself.
Mirai is their second kid, and as the film goes on, we learn that the dad didn’t do jack shit when Kun was born, which is why Mom is kinda pissed, and wants him to be more on top of things with their second kid. Of all the things I was hoping for the film to do right, I wanted it to kick Japanese society in the balls and spotlight a dad who is actually devoted to raising the kids. But no–when mom goes on a business trip, dad ends up stuck on his computer doing work, completely oblivious to what his kids are up to. After quitting office life, my dad set up home office, too, Mirai no Mirai–but he wasn’t fucking oblivious to what his children were doing around him. Japanese men, up your fucking game, dudes. And Mirai no Mirai, stop promoting this really shitty (…but real) image of the Japanese family. At the very least the Mom was working hard and crossing oceans for her job–I’ll count that as a progressive win for Japanese film.
But for how much the film makes a bunch of crappy and misguided moves, it looks fucking good–it’s probably the best-looking Hosoda film. The film is very good at establishing atmosphere through colors and lighting: For example, when Kun meets his great-grandfather post-WWII, there is one scene where the screen is overtaken by beautiful, dusky light as day transitions into evening. Also, as I mentioned in the intro, the film makes expert use of 3D CG, seamlessly blending it with 2D drawings. The house the film is set in is also pretty funky–the only good thing about that dad is that he is an architect.
While I provided a number of alternate story scenarios for Mirai no Mirai, it does work somewhat well simply as a series of vignettes. In fact, if the film was just vignettes, and opted not to have the cringe-worthy climax, I probably would have liked it better. However, as it is, Mirai no Mirai stands as the weakest entry in Hosoda’s portfolio. I recognize and appreciate what it’s trying to do, but it really just misses the mark catastrophically.