Mirai, the latest offering from acclaimed filmmaker Mamoru Hosoda (and newly nominated for a Golden Globe), makes use of past and future timelines to tell a story that’s simply about family. Hosoda’s magic is in taking the fantastic and grounding it in reality, which is perhaps why his movies are so often touching and meaningful. Mirai is no exception, as young Kun (his baby sister is the title character) goes through a imaginative journey that helps him learn what it means to be a big brother.
The early going in the film is straightforward—scenes, one after another, show the evolution of a family, ending with the young Kun, who as the action begins is awaiting the birth of his little sister. Mirai comes home, and as you might imagine, isn’t the ball of fun Kun perhaps expected. He has trouble adjusting to his sister and to the other big change in his life, with his dad now working from home and his mother returning to the workplace. Kun becomes so angry at one point that he strikes at his sister with a toy train.
Kun, of course, is just a toddler and unable to embrace the change, unable to understand his sister and his parents or even his own feelings. Frustrated after one of his increasingly common episodes, Kun rolls into the yard and finds a scruffy young man there who claims to be the “prince”—it soon becomes clear that the prince (a wonderfully cast Crispin Freeman), whose tail Kun steals, is actually a human version of the family dog.
With that scene, Mirai jumps into the fantastic, as other family members make their way into Kun’s life, most prominent being an older Mirai (Mirai means “future,” with the Japanese title of the film being Mirai no Mirai). The two bond, but Kun continues to struggle with loving her and adjusting to the new order of the household. He’s unable to escape bitterness, unable to escape ungrace.
I won’t ruin the climax of the film (though I will say it’s wonderful and leads into a final montage that reminded me of the opening minutes of Up in its emotional gravity), but as Kun struggles with brotherhood, he learns not only from his future sister and his present pet, but from his family in the past. He sees his mom as a little girl and begins to understand the struggle of parent and child, and also meets his a great-grandfather he has heard about, but whom he finally gets to know.
Kun’s key to loving in the now is hidden in the past. He learns that he’s not alone—his family was all young once, too; they all had struggles and challenges and triumphs of their own.
What’s amazing about Mirai is that while we see it through the eyes of a toddler (and very accurately, too), the movie ultimately speaks to us. I know that I struggle sometimes with bitterness, that I can’t get out of my own head and heart and through my pride and insecurities to consider what other people are going through; I’d rather see them in the worst possible light than just simply as broken people, like myself, who have worries and concerns just as I do. When someone hurts me, maybe it’s not on purpose—or maybe it is, but do I not do the same?
Kun’s family history and folklore of the family’s past (there are strong indications that this is all in his imagination, generated from things he’s heard and visuals he’s seen), teaches him the same idea of which I could also use reminding—we all struggle and we all need grace. And understanding that, keeping that in our hearts, could push us away from the toddler tantrums we sometimes throw and towards a better alternative—become our brother’s (or sister’s) keeper.