REVIEW / DRAMA ANIMATION
98 minutes/Opens Aug 30/3.5 stars
The story: Four-year-old Kun (Moka Kamishiraishi) is jealous when his baby sister Mirai arrives and monopolises their parents' attention. Then he meets a grown-up schoolgirl Mirai (Haru Kuroki), who calls him "big brother" and asks him not to bully her. Kun also meets a mysterious former prince, his mother as a child and his grandfather as a young man. He learns about the past and gets a glimpse of the future.
Japan's Mamoru Hosoda is the director, and sometimes writer, of several lauded anime hits. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) features a time-travelling schoolgirl; Wolf Children (2012) is about a mother raising her two half-human half-wolf children; and The Boy And The Beast (2015) dwells on the relationship between a powerful beast and his human disciple.
At first, Mirai seems to be a departure from his previous fare as it is very much rooted in everyday life.
Kun's mother goes back to work after having Mirai and his architect father tries to balance working from home with taking care of the household.
Hosoda has an eye for realistic details, from the sombre expression on baby Mirai's face to the way Kun sleeps (there's a reason why yoga has a Child's Pose).
Thematically though, the film-maker is back on familiar ground as he explores what it means to be family.
The point of view is a fresh one and the gentle family drama is a non-condescending and non-cutesy examination of a toddler's emotional life.
The fantasy element so prevalent in his past works is not completely absent; after all, the Japanese title is Mirai No Mirai, which means Mirai Of The Future. Keeping away the ceremonial dolls properly and promptly after Hinamatsuri, or Girls' Day, becomes an entire adventure that involves Kun, future Mirai and the mysterious prince.
But the fantasy has been given a twist, one that is perfectly tailored for the young protagonist here.
Is what we are seeing merely imaginative play on Kun's part? Or is there more to his flights of fancy since he is unlikely to know of his mother's and grandfather's pasts in such detail?
The question is not definitively answered but what matters is that Hosoda delves into the sometimes chaotic world of a four-year-old with care and respect.