Four-year-old Kun has no idea when it comes to space-time continuums. He just resents it when his little sister thinks she can boss him and act all mature. However, it is not the new-born freshly arrived from the hospital who gets these ideas. It is her future time-traveling self. She might actually help her little older brother grow up a little, but she will get help from family members past and present in Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai, which opens this Friday in New York and also has several special nation-wide Fathom Events screenings over the next two weeks.
Kun had always been the center of his universe and probably the most important supporting character, in his opinion, was the family dog, Yukko. However, everything changed when he suddenly had to share his parents’ time and affection with Mirai (whose name means “future”). He promised to be a good big brother to her, but his jealousy often got the best of him. However, it will actually be a lapse of memory on the part of their stay-at-home dad that prompts teen-something Mirai’s first visit. It has to do with a ceremonial display that must be taken down by a certain time, or Mirai’s marriage could be delayed by years, at least according to the superstition.
The Mirai from the future finds Kun is even brattier then she realized, but she is pretty resourceful when it comes to negotiating with four-year-olds. Eventually, Kun also takes advantage of the time-traveling power of their back yard, visiting his strict mother when she was just an equally naughty little girl. However, he really starts to getting a bigger picture of the world when he visits his late great-grandfather when he was a dashing post-war engineer and motorcycle daredevil.
One of the charms of Mirai is that it feels no obligation to explain the time traveling. It just expects us to accept it, much like Kun, Mirai, and Yukko do. Each encounter Kun has with family members from different time periods is absolutely charming and many times emotionally resonant. However, Hosoda risks alienating viewers from his central character by so thoroughly and relentlessly establishing his spoiled sense of entitlement. Frankly, a lot of anime fans who will eventually buy this film on DVD will probably regularly fast-forward through the first twenty minutes or so. Still, you sort of have to respect Hosoda for being so up front and honest in his characterization.
Regardless, if you stick with Mirai, it definitely becomes magical during the second and third acts. Hosoda is one of the great master animators working today and Mirai shows him in full command of his powers. Time and again, he turns Kun’s very grounded and realistic environment into something mysterious and fantastical. His characters are also quite sweet and endearing, especially teen Mirai, cocky but big-hearted great-grandpa, and their nebbish father.