A story all of us can understand whether we’ve personally been in that situation or not is that of feeling pushed aside by our parents for another sibling or for their work. Such is the case of Kun in the 2018 Japanese anime film Mirai. As a young boy, Kun realizes his baby sister, Mirai (which aptly means “future”), is getting all of his parents’ attention now. When she’s not, his father and mother are also busy with work and household chores. So, he ends up going to the oak tree in the middle of their home, and that’s where he gets transported to different locations or landscapes where future Mirai is (future future?), or even the dog, Yukko, in human form (who is also feeling pushed aside, as it were), his mother as a child, and his great-grandpa as a young man.
All of those experiences, like the breathtaking horse and motorcycle rides with his grandpa (which later help him to find the confidence to teach himself to ride a bicycle), serve to teach him a lesson in appreciating his sister and not being so hard on his parents, who also trying to navigate life with insecurities, “Are we good parents? Are we good spouses?” By the end of the film, they also learn to stop being so hard on themselves and content with not being perfect.
The visual transitions are seamless. Like at the beginning when the father is sweeping the rugs — also aided by the peculiar architecture of the house where it’s layered — and how the camera moves from each layer of the house and he’s moving along with each switch, or how when Kun is talking to baby Mirai about all that he’s going to show her and the background transitions from the inside of the home to a beautiful field. Seamless transitions.
One of my favorite reoccurring visual elements is the use of water, whether it’s the beginning of the film with Kun’s steam on the glass as he waits for his mother to return home, or to show the tears of Kun or Mirai when they’re upset, or to show the parents’ sweat and exasperation at being overworked in every conceivable way, or the water on the sliding glass door pane. Or how when Kun sees Mirai from the future the second time, the garden turns into an underwater garden with scores of fish and a stunning ripple of water. Whatever form it takes, the water visual motif features prominently throughout the film.
Another reoccurring image is the wide shot of the city they live in. Like a beautiful painting, which is a way of describing the animation in general: watercolor paintings. That watercolor painting style gives the animation such life and texture.
But also, the film is just funny: the hapless dad trying to figure out how to do household chores and take care of two kids, one of whom is a baby, and then the shenanigans of Mirai’s older self, the dog as a human, and Kun trying to repackage the doll set (if they don’t, for every day they are left out, Mirai loses a year to marry someone) under his nose.
The end almost turns quasi-horror when Kun tries to run away this time, which is another aspect nearly every kid can relate to. I was at work recently, and my boss, who is decades older than me, told a story about running away from home after getting mad at his parents. I have a story. And I’m sure kids of today will have a story. It’s something we all do to varying degrees growing up. So, Kun ends up at a train station, which is rather ironic since he loves trains, but the trains become his enemy. The horror is in being lost in a vast train station, and the bullet train being shaped like a dragon.
Kun is lost both literally within this sort of poetic, dreamlike and horrifying way, and metaphorically, as to his place within the family. But he finds his footing in the end, and part of that is with the help of future Mirai and learning the bigger lesson of how even the smallest details add up to a throughline from the past, to the present, and to the future. And thus, he keeps on the dang blue pants! Ha.
This is a quiet (and loud, but quiet) and patient film. The film takes its time getting to where it wants to get by the end (with the horror tonal turn, but also highlighting that throughline), and really enjoys its time in the architectural wonder of the house and within the vantage point of a child. That juxtaposition of quiet and loud is sort of how to describe the film: both intimate and grandiose, mundane and wondrous. In other words, the day-to-day existence of a house with flawed human beings at all age levels (and Yukko!) trying to navigate it. And I think because of that, some of the characters (besides Yukko!) aren’t actually that likable? It’s messy and messiness isn’t that likable? I’m talking of the three main characters, that is. All the characters Kun meets on his garden adventures are likable.
Overall, I thought this was one of the most gorgeous animated films I’ve ever seen, with such deep texture and detail, along with technical shots, like those transitions at the beginning and the tunnel-like poetry of moving through space and time at the end, that help bring a familiar story to life in a new way.