“Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring – quite often the hard way.” –Pamela Dugdale
Accustomed to being showered with love and adoration, Kun is a four year old boy who lives in Isogo-ku,Yokohama, spending his days with Yuuko (the family dog) and his train sets. When his parents welcome Mirai into the family, Kun grows jealous of the attention his baby sister is receiving. After one tantrum, Kun runs into the courtyard and finds himself face to face with Yuuko in human form: he learns that Yuuko has been left behind somewhat ever since he was born, and subsequently passes along to his parents that Yuuko should be better treated. Each of the more substantial tantrums that Kun throws activates the tree in the courtyard that sends him to another time. He comes face-to-face with a middle school-aged Mirai, who warns him about mistreating her and enlists his help in putting away dolls the family has set up for Girls’ Day. Kun also is transported back in time to when his mother was around four after refusing to put his toys away and learns that she too was scolded for making a mess of things. After Kun’s father focuses his attention on a crying Mirai at the park while they were originally set to help Kun learn to ride a bike, Kun grows angry and runs off. Here, the tree in the courtyard transports him to his great-grandfather’s workshop. His great-grandfather suggests to him that the key to overcoming fear on any vehicle is to look ahead. Later at the park, Kun manages to learn how to ride a bike on his own. When the family prepares to go for a trip, Kun refuses since his favourite pants are unavailable. He is seemingly left behind, finds himself at a train station and boards a train despite an older boy’s warnings. Arriving at a vast station, he grows fearful and tries to find his parents, but the attendant remarks that without verification to his identity, he is unable to help and sends Kun to a train that sends him to Lonely Land. Seeing the baby Mirai about to board the train, he acknowledges his identity as Mirai’s older brother, having refused to do so until now, and the older Mirai retrieves him. She then takes him on a journey through the family history, and when Kun returns to the present, he decides that the pants suddenly don’t matter so much anymore, cheerfully joining his parents and Mirai for their day trip. Mirai no Mirai (literally “Mirai of the Future”) is a film that released in July 2018 and is notable amongst the 2018 anime films for being the first anime film that is not from Studio Ghibli to receive a nomination as Best Animated Feature at the 91st Academy Awards.
Running for an hour and forty minutes, Mirai no Mirai is a fanciful and vivid tale of discovery, acceptance and understanding. In particular, this is a film that all older siblings will connect to: the arrival of a new sibling in a family and the shift in attention is an occurrence that all older siblings must go through, and the feelings of jealousy, resentment and loneliness are universal regardless of one’s culture. Children’s media, such as Arthur and The Berenstain Bears each have their own portrayals of this topic, presenting the transition and gradual acceptance of a new sibling in families as a journey. In Arthur, D.W. comes to accept Kate as her sister after running away but realising that Kate needs an older sister to show her the things that only sisters get. The Berenstain Bears‘ Sister is shown a family video of her as a baby and learns that every baby is given a great deal of attention, coming to terms with how her new sister, Honey, is an integral part of the Bear Family. Both presentations are very down-to-earth, and Mirai no Mirai stands out in applying these lessons with a twist: the film utilises bold visuals to express the tumultuous thoughts in one’s mind during childhood. Whether its a bustling train station or luxuriant garden, Kun’s lessons seem come from within: his own discoveries act as the lessons that push him towards accepting Mirai and his parents. The generous use of these flights of fancy indicate that children are very complex and capable of finding their own answers; whether it be Arthur, The Berenstain Bears or Mirai no Mirai, no adult explicitly explains why babies draw attention away from the older sibling. Instead, the older sibling, through their experiences and observations, comes to terms with things on their own. It’s a journey that has a bit of mystery to it: children are observant and bright, but may have trouble articulating their thoughts, and so, with its imagery, Mirai no Mirai aims to both show how remarkable families are, as well as make tangible something that we otherwise might take for granted. It is a story of the extraordinary amidst the ordinary, and so, Mirai no Mirai is very enjoyable to watch.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Mirai no Mirai is set in Isogo Ward of Yokohama, the largest individual city in Japan by population (with 3.7 million people). Attesting to the film’s incredible visuals, the ward and Yokohama’s downtown area are faithfully reproduced, to the point where it was a trivial exercise to find this spot using Google Maps. The view zooms in on Kun’s house: because his father is an architect, they live in a rather unusual house on a narrow lot, with a courtyard and lone tree visible. This post will have thirty screenshots, and I note that thirty is not enough of a space to cover off everything.
- Kun and Mirai are the only named human characters in Mirai no Mirai: their parents are only known as “mom” and “dad”, reminiscent of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. Watterson explains that their names aren’t needed because from Calvin’s point of view, his parents are mom and dad. Similarly, in Mirai no Mirai, Kun’s parents are only referred to as such because the film is told from his perspective. Kun is a play on the honourific for boys, and is equivalent to The Berenstain Bears‘ Brother Bear, who was known as Small Bear before Sister was born. One wonders how names work in Bear Country, and curiously enough, everyone else has standard names.
- Kun’s mother is an executive of an unnamed company: the couple leads a busy life that only becomes more hectic as they raise two children, and this chaos is conveyed to viewers right from the start. I’m sure that parents will immediately connect with this; Mirai no Mirai‘s portrayal of a baby and four-year-old child as being tricky to look after has its basis in reality. I’m told that when I was four, my curiosity made me a bloody nightmare to deal with. Up until I was seven, I was constantly in trouble for going out of bounds and doing who-knows-what. My second year primary instructor wondered if I could channel this towards reading, and instead of exploring the world physically, I took to counting on books to sate this curiosity. The “me” of the present day is a consequence of this.
- Kun experiences a mixture of curiosity at the new baby and also jealousy that attention has now left him. On several instances, he causes Mirai to cry, landing him in hot water. This is one of the hazards about having two children very closely together. While some rivalry might exist if there’s a three to four year gap, the older child is generally more independent and therefore is less prone to jealousy. In the case of Mirai no Mirai, it would appear that Kun’s jealousy is more consistent with a two year gap; his age is presumably chosen so that we have a protagonist with more independence and a larger vocabulary, as well as the attendant personality. It’s not particularly implausible, and Kun is described as being somewhat spoiled.
- Whenever Kun gets into trouble, the tree in their courtyard begins glowing, and he is taken into an alternate world. Initially, I was not sure of who the scruffy-looking man was, but when he introduces himself as a former prince, the only individual that came to mind was Yuuko, who would’ve been previously the only individual Kun’s mother and father would have looked after. Flights of fancy in Mirai no Mirai, such as Kun becoming a dog after stealing Yuuko’s tail, give the film a more fantastical feeling that elicits a sense of magic in how children might approach the world.
- Now that I’ve made the Calvin and Hobbes comparison, it does feel like the case that Kun’s mother and father are parallels of Calvin’s mother and father in terms of appearance. Both Calvin and Kun’s father have black hair and glasses, while Calvin and Kun’s mother both have brown hair. The similarities end here: Calvin’s mother is a stay-at-home parent, while Calvin’s father is a patent attorney. I’ve long been a fan of Calvin and Hobbes, and having gotten one of the special collections for a birthday years ago, I gained a unique insight into how Bill Watterson created his comics.
- Mirai is voiced by Haru Kuroki, and as a baby, Kaede Hondo provides her voice. While I’ve not seen Kuroki’s other works, Hondo has also been Comic Girls‘ Koyume Koizuka and Kohaku Tsukishiro of The World in Colours. Despite the film being named for Mirai, Kun’s development forms the bulk of the story, and I am left wishing that Mirai had a more substantial role. However, it seems that rather than being a direct source of guidance for Kun, Mirai acts more to nudge him along and help him make his own discoveries.
- At dinner with Kun’s grandparents, his parents discuss how their great-grandparents met. It’s a nostalgic story: the great-grandfather was a mechanic who was injured during the Second World War and convinced the great-grandmother to a foot race; she stipulates that if he can best her, then he may have her hand in marriage. Moments like these show that in every family, there is a great deal of history in the past, of triumphs and trials.
- Taking care of the housework when one is accustomed to working with a keyboard is definitely a bit of a change: Kun and Mirai’s father is shown to struggle initially, leaving him quite unable to have any time left for Kun. Closeups of his work are shown, and he runs a MacBook Pro: most anime have a pear rather than an apple to indicate an Apple computer. From my end, I treat housework as almost a break of sorts: my mind wanders while I vacuum, iron or cook to some extent.
- After Kun puts crackers on a sleeping Mirai’s face out of boredom, he is whisked away into a tropical conservatory, coming face-to-face with an older Mirai. She’s come from the future with the aim of getting their father to put the dolls away, citing that each day they’re not properly stowed is another year her marriage will be delayed. There are a great many superstitions in East Asian cultures: attesting to this is that each year, my parents explain to me a superstition about Chinese New Year that I did not know previously.
- Mirai and Yuuko manage to get everything put away without their father noticing, and Kun helps by providing a distraction. Later, when their mother returns, Kun remarks that he’d helped out, befuddling their father, who’s unsure as to how everything managed to work out. The events of Mirai no Mirai are quite implausible, but they provide a very solid visual representation of how children might see the world. I am inclined to believe that these highly vivid sequences are a highly stylised metaphor.
- Mirai resembles Mitsuha of Your Name to some extent. Originally, my expectations entering Mirai no Mirai was that Mirai’s older self would have a much more substantial role in the film than what I eventually experienced. However, from a thematic perspective, this makes sense: the future Mirai is more of a guide who helps Kun make his own discoveries. In this way, Mirai no Mirai strongly suggests that self-discovery is a major part of growing up, and that some things can’t be taught.
- Visuals in Mirai no Mirai are impressive: while perhaps not quite as grand as those seen in Maquia, artwork and animation are still of a superb quality. From large-scale settings to something as simple as pancakes decked out in blueberries and strawberries, everything in Mirai no Mirai is impressive to look at. It suddenly strikes me that we’re now in February, and it’s been the coldest few days of the year so far: temperatures yesterday bottomed out at -29°C, with a windchill of -40°C. Winter has set in now, and ahead of this on Friday, a friend and I got together at one of the best barbecue places in town to catch up. Amidst conversation, I enjoyed a hearty plate of prime rib beef bones (smokey and flavourful, especially with their in-house sauce), plus a side of yam fries, fried green tomatoes and cornbread; this is something I’ve not had since the summer Your Name came out, and a good plate of smoked ribs is precisely what one needs to stay warm in the true Canadian winter.
- I again fall back on anecdotal evidence for what I was like as a child when it came to cleaning my room. I know that this is a chore for some children, but as far as I can tell, I was always (and still are) a stickler for organisation. My younger brother found it hilarious when I dumped our toys wholesale from their containers, but we’d always clean up afterwards: I think that it was a fear for getting an earful that motivated this, but this eventually became a habit: it’s much easier to find the stuff one’s looking for if everything is nice and tidy (齐整, jyutping cai4 zing2, as I’m fond of saying).
- Kun’s tantrum over cleaning sends him on a journey into the past, where he runs into his mother as a little girl. At this point in time, she’s fond of cats and remarks that she’d get one; she’s writing a letter and placing it into her mother’s (Kun’s grandmother) shoes, feeling that it could help her wish come across. As it’s raining, the two take off for his mother’s place, where Kun learns that his mother was once as free-spirited as he was. They proceed to make a bloody mess of things.
- Kun’s mother sends him on his way after her mother returns, and she’s made to endure a tongue lashing. Kun later realises that his mother was once similar to him and realises she’s probably going through a great deal at present. I’ve heard that one’s shortcomings as children will manifest again in their children, which means that in the future, I should probably grit my teeth and find a way to best manage the curiosity in any child of mine.
- Because Kun’s father is preoccupied in looking after Mirai, Kun grows angry that no one is giving him the attention to ride a bike. I’ve never been much of a physical individual as a child and did not learn how to ride a bike until I was twelve: after my brother expressed a desire to learn, I figured that I probably should, as well. On the second day of his lesson, I joined my parents and within a half hour, figured it out. After that, I took to biking around the neighbourhood during the summer, and found a profound joy in coming home exhausted after a good bike ride.
- Running off and finding solace in the tree once more, Kun encounters his great-grandfather. His advice is to focus on something in the distance, citing that horse, bike or plane, the principles are the same. This scene is exceptionally well done, fluidly showing a post-war Yokohama as his great-grandfather knew it. Kun notices that he walks with a limp here, and the latter shrugs it off, saying that it’s something he’s come to accept. Later, it is shown that after an Allied bombing during the Second World War, his will to live drove him to swim for safety.
- To me, biking came somewhat intuitively: I’m not sure I can explain how I learned it, except that after half an hour, I was zipping up and down the neighbourhood. I subsequently got too excited and zoomed down a hill, crashing the bike and landing in some bushes. Kun recalls his great-grandfather’s suggestion, and soon after, manages to figure out the basics. The other children are impressed and invites him to ride along with them.
- In this moment, Mirai no Mirai‘s theme is abundantly clear: that learning is a very natural process and sometimes can occur without us even realising it. In spite of this, it’s something to be celebrated, and much as how Kun has learned to ride a bike, Kun’s father has acclimatised to taking care of Mirai, who no longer cries when he holds her. I’m told that as a baby, I largely could get along with anyone who held me, whereas my brother could only be held by my parents. The opposite seems true these days: my brother is more outgoing than I am and is more adept at taking the initiative in conversation with people, whereas I am inclined to listen more than I talk.
- While I cannot speak for all children, I can say that I probably had a few moments like these at Kun’s age. Looking back, it’s pretty foolish, but at the time, I imagine that choice of favourite clothing did make all the difference in the world. Kun’s latest antics indicate that he acts up for attention’s sake, and my parents note that children are rather cleverer than they look: they are fond of sharing the classic story of seeing a little girl throwing a tantrum at a mall, right in the middle of a major area. The parents of that particular child were undeterred and said, “it’s cool, we’re heading off”. Realising that her show had no effect, she packed it in and ran off to join her parents, who’d diffused a situation without raising their voices, embarrassing and inconveniencing no-one.
- The vast scale of the train station is impressive, bringing to mind the interior of fantastical locations like Platform 9 ¾ in Harry Potter. The golden tones convey a sense of warmth, a world far removed from the extreme colds of today. The weather is expected to persist into the Chinese New Year: tonight was Chinese New Year’s Eve, and I celebrated with the family. We had crispy pork, char siu, roast duck, pork leg, beef tripe, white-cut chicken abalone, pan-seared shrimps, and fat choy with winter mushroom and lettuce, closed off with a refreshing lotus root soup. Each of the items is phonetically similar to something fortuitous and chosen so that when eaten, good fortune follows.
- Despite the older boy’s warning, Kun gets on the train and is initially awed by the sights. However, when he realises that he is lost, he seeks out an attendant. Without more identifying information (unlike database entries, people don’t exactly have primary keys or UIDs that they memorise off the top of their heads), the attendant is unable to help him and sends him down to what is more or less Hel. I recall that when I was much younger, I got lost at a mall and went to one of the people at the information desk to ask them to make an announcement for my parents to come to the information desk. To this day, my parents are still whiskey tango foxtrot about that particular incident.
- Kun barely escapes the force pulling him into the dæmon train set to take him to Hel, and when he notices Mirai about to be pulled in, he pushes her out of the way, as well. Wishing none of this had happened, and openly declaring that he’s her older brother, Mirai vanishes before his eyes, reappearing in middle-school aged form. With the powers of flight, Mirai takes him out on a flight out into the city above, rescuing him from a terrifying fate.
- It turns out that the tree in his family’s yard represents a record of his family’s history: the animators have gone to great lengths to create the family history in a manner reminiscent of the Tree of Life: here, I refer to the biological sciences construct that describes the evolutionary distance between all organisms. Its complexity is deliberate to suggest at the nature of family histories, and while such things might be seen as above Kun’s comprehension, I again stress the wonders in the mind of a child, and a tree is not an unintuitive way of describing family history.
- It turns out that Kun’s great-grandmother threw the race because she reciprocated the great-grandfather’s feelings. Mirai comments on how everything that has happened now was the result of numerous small decisions coming together, and how it is important to make sure one always does their best to make these decisions so that a better path to the future is paved. During this travel, it is shown that Kun’s father was physically weak and took a while to master the bike, while his mother developed a dislike for cats after a cat killed one of the birds. Many things happen in our lives that shape who we are, and Kun comes to understand that he does have a choice here.
- A part of growing up is taking increasing ownership and responsibility for one’s decisions and actions. As we push through our daily lives, we often forget just how far we’ve come from our days as children, and films like Mirai no Mirai, which return us to the side of childhood not characterised by rose-tinted memories, are reminders that as children, we each have our own triumphs and failures that help us learn and understand others better. I’m probably not the first blogger to say so, and I certainly won’t be the last – I have numerous flaws, as well.
- One thing I never captured in this talk were the numerous “funny faces” various characters exhibit, whether it be from anger, stress or joy. I’ve opted to stick to more conventional moments and leave readers with experiencing the hilarity of beholding such moments for themselves. Here, an older Mirai and Kun share a short conversation, giving insight into how Kun is as a teen: he’s more reserved and distant, but given Mirai’s interactions with him, he’s also probably been a reliable older brother, as well. This is what motivates the page quote – older siblings can grow accustomed to protect and look after their younger siblings, making them quite observant and mindful of those around them.
- The greatest strength in Mirai no Mirai is that it is able to capture the imagination of children and drive a story from the perspective of a four-year-old without losing the viewer’s interest. After his return from the latest journey, the most profound change in Kun is observed: he fully accepts Mirai as his younger sister and begins playing with her as an older brother would. This is the conflict that Mirai no Mirai resolves, and now that Kun is genuinely happy to have Mirai as his sister, the film can come to an end. One of my peers found it to be an abrupt ending, but now that I’ve crossed the finish line, I can see why Mirai no Mirai may end like this: life isn’t characterised by hard stops, but rather, a series of milestones. Mirai no Mirai shows a few notable milestones in Kun’s life that shape who he is, and accepting Mirai is a pivotal point in his life – the film is showing how he comes to reach this stage.
- The reader who’s gone through this entire post will have learned quite a bit about myself, perhaps more than they would’ve liked or expected – this speaks to the strength of Mirai no Mirai, as it was able to evoke these memories and recollections that I might otherwise not consider in discussions about other series. With seven months between its theatrical screenings and home release, there was a bit of a wait for this movie, and I feel that the wait was worth it: it’s a solid movie that’s earned an A grade. February is a solid month for movies: I will be writing about Penguin Highway in the near future, and Non Non Biyori Vacation is coming out towards the end of the month, so I intend on writing about this in March. Finally, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown released on PC last Thursday, and it is a solid game worthy of all the praise it’s gotten: I naturally will be sharing my experiences here, as well.
Mirai no Mirai is a visceral representation of the sorts of emotion that older siblings go through with the arrival of a younger sibling. As an older sibling myself, I only have the vaguest recollection of what things would have been like: if my parents’ recollections were anything to go by, I was fairly mild (read “not anywhere as vociferous as Kun”), and I certainly cannot remember what the turning point was. What I do know is that the sort of friendship in some siblings can be very strong, and as such, stories like Mirai no Mirai are particularly moving to watch. Mirai no Mirai also deals with Kun’s father initially struggling to do housework and look after the children; his attempts at cooking and cleaning are fraught with accidents, and he’s unable to hold Mirai without her crying. As time wears on, he figures things out and becomes more proficient over time. Mirai no Mirai‘s portrayal of a husband and wife continuing to learn gives the movie additional depth and is another reminder that parenthood is a time of adjustment and discoveries for the parents, as well. It was rewarding to see Kun’s father going from bumbling through household tasks to having more competence: by the film’s end, he’s holding Mirai without any trouble. Themes of family and learning permeate Mirai no Mirai, and in conjunction with the movie’s solid visual component, it’s easy to see why the film has earned a nomination for an Oscar. Even if the film does not win (I expect that Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse will win the Best Animated Feature category), Mirai no Mirai remains an excellent film that offers a refreshing take on families as seen from the perspective of a four-year-old, and for this, I have no trouble recommending this film to readers.