Films that take the struggles of even teenagers seriously are exceedingly rare, requiring an empathetic, memory-based insight that does not seem to come naturally to too many filmmakers, so one that earnestly considers the inner life and emotions of a four year old is not to be taken lightly. Mirai captures the joy and inexpressible frustrations of early childhood, making for a superb family animation that should capture the hearts and minds of the very youngest viewer and thoroughly entertain and move their parents.
Kun (Moka Kamishiraishi) is a doted-on only child whose world is turned upside down by the arrival of his baby sister Mirai. His parents’ attention suddenly shifts away from him, and he can’t help but respond with bewildered resentment. His mum and dad are too tired to understand Kun’s feelings (a point that eventually gets overplayed, few parents are as oblivious to their child’s emotions as these two), so he lashes out. This bad behaviour earns Kun a Christmas Carol-esque visit from spirits of the past (his mum as a child), present (the human form of his disgruntled dog, ignored since Kun’s own birth), and future (Mirai as a teenager) – all to teach him how to be a big brother.
It’s an excitingly unpredictable conceit, throwing enough curve balls in its first two acts to keep anime sceptics (i.e. me) on side before it really cuts loose for a storming third act. An absolutely exquisite journey to the past to meet Kun’s great-grandfather does away with a lot of the overblown stylings of what’s come before (giant, cat-like mouths and literal streams of tears) for a more Your Name-esque beauty. The backdrops are simply wonderful and incredibly absorbing as Kun and his ancestor race through them by horse and motorbike. A later visit to a surreal train station is even better.
Capturing that Spirited Away balance of fascinating, whimsical, and genuinely creepy, it’s an unforgettable setting for a series of brilliant, unnerving set-pieces that culminate in a visit to Kun’s family tree, which bears more than a little resemblance to the mind-bending tesseract in Interstellar. It’s a finale that wraps Mirai up perfectly and captures the fantastic mystery of the world that is so present in childhood in a way that only an animation can.