Mirai takes the audience on a journey into the world of Kun, his household, his parents, and his ancestors. The past and future converge on Kun when his entire world is disrupted by the birth of his baby sister, the titular Mirai. His adjustment at no longer being the sole target of his parent’s affection leads him to come face to face with his future, and his family’s past.
The film takes place in the young family’s home which is divided up into two sections; the living section and then a playroom separated by a courtyard. The courtyard acts as a transitional area, a place which signifies a change is taking place. When Kun gets upset he runs into the courtyard to escape the situation or person who is upsetting him. As the film progresses the times when Kun retreats to the courtyard triggers journeys into the past or future of his family. In his first journey into this world he is confronted by the family dog who has no sympathy for Kun’s concerns over losing his parents attention. Bitter, the dog just lays out his own experience of being shoved to the side when Kun was born. These anxieties are laid bare when Kun’s grandparents visit and are obsessed with the newborn Mirai, but nearly completely ignore him.
This is how the structure of the film plays out. An event occurs in modern time which triggers a fantastic event, which manifests in various ways. The middle school aged Mirai shows up to make sure her father fulfills a ritual for daughters that she was sure he would neglect. Kun’s own struggles with learning how to ride a bicycle prompt a journey into the past to meet his great-grandfather, a skilled mechanic, who takes the young boy on a motorcycle ride through post-war rural Japan.
The film shows family history not as separated by the changing of times or each new generation as being a new beginning. The history of a family is an unbroken line. People don’t completely change from who they were as children, despite how much they wish they could. People can see traits of their own in their ancestors or see their own failings erased by the success of their children. The triumphs and pains of each generations before are carried forward and rectified or repeated.
Mamoru Hosoda shows us this unbroken chain and what it means to our relationship with the past and future in a scene at the end of the film. The humorous and light tone of the film is interrupted briefly in order to summarize the themes that Hosoda has set up throughout. The film shows the audience the destruction of a Japanese battleship and the death of the sailors onboard. Kun and the middle school aged Mirai fly past as their great-grandfather lays floating among the wreckage, among the countless dead, seemingly ready to give up. But he catches himself from sinking and turns and starts swimming at full speed. Mirai points out that this moment, this single moment where a man refused to die when other men who were surrendering to the water, was the start of his entire family. If this one person didn’t make that single decision then his children, his grandchildren, and finally his great-grandchildren; who are now witnessing this scene, would not exist.
The birth of baby Mirai isn’t the only major disturbance to the young family. Kun’s mother decides to go back to work while Kun’s father takes a freelance job that enables him to stay home with the children. Of course Kun and his father have a hard time adjusting to this new lifestyle. Kun has to deal with a world where he is no longer the singular point of attention in his parents lives. The Father (which is the actual name of the character, only the children in the film have actual names) has to adjust to his work not being the singular focus of his day. The mode mixing that The Father has to do in order to complete his household duties and work on his freelance architecture is quickly evident to be far too overwhelming. The insecurities and fears of all the characters are worn bare, Hosoda doesn’t beat around the bush with the message he is trying to convey with this mix up of responsibilities. When discussing The Father’s new duties early in the film The Mother just blatantly tells him that she knows he has no interest in babies. A declaration that would be harsh in any culture but even more so in a Japanese household with a wife being so blatant and direct in the disappointment she feels in her partner.
I can’t help but think that Mirai has an alternative motive in showing this “modern” Japanese family. One that is shattering traditional roles. One that is dealing with problems head on instead of skirting around them. One that lives in a house that is anything but traditional. But the film lays all of these things as matter of fact. The movie isn’t about how this family has non-traditional family roles. The film is about a young, modern family trying to make things work under their unique circumstances without worrying about traditional roles, without worrying about how their parents or society expects them to live their lives, and without being overly meek and polite. Mamoru Hosoda gives us a family that I have never seen in anime and it’s an image of a modern Japanese family that I hope will continue to be represented in media going forward.
Mirai succeeds in this respect: That is shows the importance of understanding history. The importance of not burdening our children with our own fears. To have the strength to change the way we live so the ones we love can follow their dreams. Mirai is more powerful as a feeling, a display of a wonderful sentiment; than it is as a traditional narrative film. It’s certainly something worth experiencing, if for no other reason than to see how a fantastic director attempts to convey a singular idea though the medium of animation. A person may try to change their past. Maybe able to alter the way we live our lives and challenge traditional roles and values. But the chain of events that has lead to all of us living on this planet is an unbroken line of singular decisions that lead to one person existing and perhaps others not. Mirai shows this chain to the audience, clearly shows how important this chain is, and links the chain to the future that has yet to happen.