(Catch my previous Hosoda film review here: The Boy and The Beast)
This past Thursday, I finally got a chance to watch Mamoru Hosoda’s new film on the big screen. God knows the thing has been hyped just about all year long, and being a sucker for critical praise (especially the fact that the film premiered at Cannes) as a deciding factor in my watching a film or not, I was pretty excited to watch it. Not to mention, I have seen all of Hosoda’s previous films, enjoyed them all immensely, and thereby jump at the chance to watch anything new in his output.
And, once again, Hosoda didn’t disappoint.
Mirai of the Future tells the story of a young boy named Kun whose parents are looking forward to the birth of a new child. At the beginning of the film, Kun is pretty excited about the prospect of having a sibling to play with as well. However, soon after his little sister, Mirai, is brought into the home, Kun realizes that rearing a baby takes a ton of time and energy on the part of his parents. What’s worse is that all this excess bonding time was once spent between he and his parents, and is now reserved almost entirely by his younger sister.
Kun is intensely jealous, and as a result, he begins to retreat into a world of fantasy and imagination wherein his younger sister visits him from the future as a teenage girl. His dog, Yukko, takes on an anthropomorphic personality within Kun’s revelries as ‘The Prince’: a figure who once ruled as the sole loved object of the father and mother of the household. When Kun arrived into the world some years prior, the dog was no longer given as much attention or treated quite the same as in his heyday and now he feels a certain resentment toward Kun and Mirai, despite also serving as their companion and protector. Yukko’s presence in Kun’s imagination is as an analogue of Kun himself who feels much the same way toward his little sister who must protect whilst simultaneously disliking for diverting away his parents attentions. Having a brother in arms like Yukko who has experienced the same loss of importance in the household helps Kun to work out and resolve the minor psychological trauma of suddenly finding himself a secondary magnet for his parents attention.
Mirai’s future self appears as a didactic symbol whose purpose is to endear Kun to his younger sister and to constantly remind him to treat her fairly. Her first appearance is on the day following ‘Girl’s Day’ during which a set of decorative Japanese dolls is set out to bring good luck to the newborn baby girl in the household. However, if the dolls are put away in their ceremonial boxes on the day following Girl’s Day, each additional day will supposedly prolong the date of the girl’s eventual marriage by an entire year. As Kun and Mirai’s father is relatively absent-minded, he forgets to put the dolls away. Mirai of the Future arrives to make sure the dolls are put away by Kun instead.
Throughout the film, Kun’s imaginative episodes grow in scope and vision as he eventually catapults backward in time to visit his relatives. In one of these episodes, he visits his mother as a child and learns what she was like when she was little like him. The two bond and become bosom friends, which helps Kun to understand his mother better and to later eke out more of her free time for himself despite Mirai’s presence.
Kun also meets his great-grandfather, the calm, cool, and collected ex-Air Force engine mechanic who now runs a motorcycle repair shop. From this man, Kun learns to stay focused on the horizon ahead whilst riding a motorcycle or any fort of vehicle, which later aids him in learning to ride a bicycle without help. He also finds out that the man was injured in the war when his ship was torpedoed and smashed to smithereens. As his great-grandfather lie on his back, floating atop the waves, blood streaming from his broken leg, the man decided that he must make an effort to swim the many miles toward shore lest he die right there and then. Without this action, Kun and Mirai would never have been born.
As the imaginative episodes increase in intensity and frequency, the audience becomes less and less certain that they are mere creations of Kun’s overactive mind. Rather, the possibility of real time travel becomes pretty apparent, especially insofar as Kun had no prior knowledge of who his great-grandfather was before he met him in one of his visions. The implication eventually becomes clear that all of these generations, tied together by small choices on the part of earlier generations that made the difference between existence and non-existence for those farther down the line, are connected by something like a genetic memory or a collective unconscious, or a real time loop that allows them to visit one another when necessary.
All in all, Kun learns many important lessons throughout the course of the film and comes to appreciate and love his little sister even though her presence leaves less time for him to spend with his parents. He learns to control his temper when it flares up and to think logically about situations before making decisions, such as his final decision to stop complaining about not having his yellow shorts to wear for a family outing (they are still in the drying machine when the family is set to leave) and instead to don his less favored blue ones in order to swiftly exit the house and thereby spend as much time as possible with his family that day. A minor lesson surely, but this is a film about children. Innocent ones to whom even a minor lesson is new and fresh and vibrant and world-changing in its implications.
Mamoru Hosoda has said that this film appears to be a specific narrative about the life of one family, and more specifically, the life of one little boy within that family. However, Hosoda also expresses his belief that this explanation is a mere canard. That in fact, it is a story about family and childhood in general, with universal implications for all people in all places. I, being an adult with no children and no plans to have any at any future date, find the film compelling. I think that pretty much proves Hosoda’s point.