You know, it’s rare for me to start off a review just by bluntly saying what I thought about a movie, but I think I’m going to make an exception here. Because this movie was just plain delightful and I loved it.
Now, before I start talking about this thing, I probably ought to mention that I really love Mamoru Hosoda films. Like really love them. Wolf Children is legit my favourite movie of all time, Summer Wars isn’t too far behind and those two are among the very few movies that I’ve actually cried at. The Girl who Leaped Through Time and The Boy and the Beast, in spite of having some more noticeable flaws are also exceptional movies that even in their imperfectness are still better than most directors ever reach. Hell, I actually grew up watching the first two Digimon movies that he directed and genuinely still love them to this day, cheesy English dub and all (although the third non-Hosoda directed part was ‘eh.’) So needless to say I had high expectations for this movie.
And yeah, obviously it met them. But even I wasn’t expecting just how… pleasantly enjoyable this movie was.
The movie is about Kun, a four-year toddler whose life is upended by the arrival of his newborn little sister, Mirai, who proceeds to promptly to steal the attention of Kun’s parents, much to his childish fury. However, things change when he meets a version of Mirai from the future who, along with various other family members throughout time, slowly teach him a variety of lessons about life and growing up. While also, again, being really delightful to watch.
Kun is actually probably one of the most realistic depictions of a four-year old that I’ve ever seen, in that, rather than being sickeningly sweet and innocent like young children so often are in fiction, he’s a humongously self-centered brat who throws magnificent screaming tantrums when he doesn’t get his way, even when it makes him look ridiculous in the process. A particular favourite moment of mine comes partway through the movie after he’s thrown a massive tantrum over not being able to wear the right pair of pants he wants on a family trip. A certain family member from the future (who I won’t spoil here) asks him in a profound scene which is more important to him; a chance to forge fun and lasting memories with his family while they still have the chance, or his pants. Kun immediately answers his pants. Not because he’s a sociopath or notably lacking in discipline or empathy, but because he’s a little kid who’s really not old enough to understand that other people matter yet. And indeed a significant part of this movie is dedicated to him slowly realising that.
Of course not to say he’s all just screaming tantrums and unpleasantness though, because that’s every bit as unrealistic as all perfect and goodness. Like every toddler that age, he varies, based on his own childish internal logic. He gets excited about playing with his toys, he likes playing and his childish sulks and temper tantrums are just that. Childish, without much open malice. I’m certainly if you’ve spent any kind of extended time around a toddler around his age, you’ve spotted a lot of similar behaviours and the like and the movie captures them really well.
In particular, I also really like the way he’s animated a lot of the time, like a genuine toddler rather than some moe facsimile. From the way he walks, to how he clambers down stairs, to the way his face turns puffy and red and snot dribbles down his nose when he’s throwing a tantrum. Mamoru Hosoda mentioned that much of this movie was based on his own child’s reaction to getting a sibling for the first time and I really suspect he’s drawing on a lot of his experiences for it. Same goes for baby Mirai, who spends much of her time sleeping or staring in blank-eyed incomprehension at most of the things going on around her.
Now, you may have noted that I haven’t talked about Future Mirai all much yet. Well that’s because, weirdly enough, she’s really not in this movie as much as you’d think. Her biggest appearance is pretty early on, in a genuinely hilarious sequence where she, Kun and the family dog (long story) attempt to try and pack away a doll set without their father noticing (again, long story). After that, she mostly vanishes and instead it’s a variety of different family members who accompany Kun on his other adventures, from a visit to his mother as a young girl of around Kun’s age, to his great-grandfather who helps teach him to ride a bike and so on.
See, the thing about Mirai (the film, not the baby/future sister) is that it’s not really a standard plot, so to say, more a series of smaller adventures brought together into a single whole. There is no single clear goal or premise or whatever, just a relatively normal family adjusting to the arrival of a newborn baby (along with the occasional time travel adventure). And they do really feel like a normal family. The parents feel like normal parents rather than neglectful cartoons and they act in a realistic way to Kun’s tantrums, scolding him when needed, ignoring him when it’s clear he’s just trying to engender sympathy, but helping him if he really needs it, and it’s clear they do still greatly care about him. They even have their own low-key little characters arcs in the background as the dad grows used to being a stay-at-home parent and the mom grows more confident and secure.
And like I said, it’s really just delightful. There’s no major dreadful conflict or drama or tragedy and it doesn’t really need it. The closest thing to a main conflict is Kun’s childish dislike of his new sister and even that is pretty hilarious at times. Yet the film still has strong messages and good character development and excellent visuals and animation in scenarios both mundane and fantastical. It’s also really really funny with a lot of hilarious moments scattered throughout the movies. The aforementioned sequence with Kun, Future Mirai and the family dog trying to work together had me in stitches (as did the dog in general) as did a lot of Kun just acting as a kid does. Admittedly, this lighter atmosphere and conflict means it doesn’t have any moments that really hit me as hard as Wolf Children or Summer Wars, but I don’t think there was a single minute of this film where I wasn’t enjoying myself.
Honestly, the entire film is just light-hearted and delightful and exactly the sort of balm I needed after this shitstorm of a year. Heck, my first thought when the movie was finished was that I wished there was even more of it to enjoy. I wanted to see more of these characters, more of these adventures, explore the wider world of this family and their lives, yet could also accept why they chose to stop why they stop and leave the movie feeling like a complete movie.
And to be perfectly honest, I think that’s the highest compliment you can give to any movie. That it crafted a world and characters so compelling that it just leaves you wanting to see more and more and more of them, even if it’s just things as simple as them living their everyday life. Needless to say, it’s another Mamoru Hosoda that just hits it out of the park for me.
Overall Grade: A+/A