Growing up is tough work for a kid but 4-year-old Kun is in for a doozy as he goes traveling through time and space to learn the important lessons of family...some more harrowing than others. Does Mamoru Hosoda capture the magic of childhood or is this a nightmare?
You can read our full review of Mirai here!
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Well Steve, as I write this I'm about 24 hours settled into a new place that so happens to be populated by my whirlwind of a toddler nephew. I knew what to expect, but I'm still a little scared by the realization that my life for the next several months are guaranteed to just be
Ah yes, I fondly remember the days where the train track to bare floor ratio was never below 1.0. Also lots of stepping on Legos, but we don't have to get into all that right now.
Yeah, that's the thing people remember about their early childhood, but to those raising said children I think the many, many conversations about pants tend to stick out more.
No seriously, I spent several hours this morning trying to get my nephew to put on pants while he ran circles around the kitchen table.
Can't say I'm not sympathetic to his cause. Pants are a scam.
I agree! But sometimes little kids need a few arbitrary rules to follow or else the power goes to their tiny little heads and they cause absolute mayhem. I'm down with his lawlessness in principle, but as an ostensible grownup I get the lovely responsibility of cleaning up after his messes. Kid's gotta learn that we live in a society, you know?
Well, adorable pantsless anecdotes and all, I suppose your precocious toddler expertise puts you in the perfect position to comment on Mamoru Hosoda
's latest film about a precocious toddler!
And I'm gonna be relying on that expertise, because I can't remember the last time I willingly interacted with an actual human child.
is mostly about a toddler coming to terms with a new baby sister and learning about his place in his family's history, but it's also about a father's clueless exhaustion with his kids and I find that begrudgingly relatable.
Mirai has the difficult task of capturing the perspective of a small child set out before it when (obviously) none of the artists involved are themselves small children. It's a tricky balancing act to tell an emotionally compelling story from that perspective without ascribing more maturity to the character than appropriate - and I'm not sure Mirai quite pulls it off. On the other hand, the parents' perspectives here very much feel drawn from real experiences. That aspect of the movie is so strong that I almost feel it drowns out whatever interesting things it does with the child characters?
quite necessarily takes a lot of artistic liberties when it comes to crafting the personal journey of our diminutive protagonist (at least I don't think
most toddlers get spiritual guidance from a talking dog), but the ice burns the mom lobs at the dad are absolutely based on reality.
That's the look of a man who knows what he did. Or in this case, didn't do.
I don't want to just assume that the father character is based on somebody's
personal experiences as a busy father, but if it were it... wouldn't be a good reflection of their parenting skills. The character is a hapless, lovable dumbass, but a good dad he is not. Honestly though, I think the movie's most frustrating complication is that despite centering the kid in all this, the realest and most emphasized perspective is the father's - at the mother's expense. Like I know Hosoda already made a movie about a mom in Wolf Children
but the way the mom is portrayed in that movie is very different from how the dad in this one is. Wolf Children
mom is practically an all-sacrificing madonna. Mirai
dad ends the movie barely competent in basic parenting. "Absent dad learns the ropes" is a valid perspective, but it does feel to me that he gets a pass where a female character would never.
Meanwhile, watching this film reminded me that I really need to watch Wolf Children already. Mirai dad gets points at least for acknowledging that he was in the wrong for leaving his wife to handle the child-rearing when Kun was a baby. That's unfortunately an all-too-common phenomenon, so him having some modicum of reconciliation is good. But it's certainly also true that when you have a movie helmed by a dad, it's not likely to be too harsh on dads. Like, at least it's trying to be empathetic with mothers, even if it could have taken a more direct route in doing so.
It certainly tries! I do like that it acknowledges that the mother wasn't always the perfect homemaker, that she was rambunctious as a kid and terrible at keeping house until getting married. But her development is barely alluded to while the father spends the whole movie learning to do stuff for his children like "pay attention" and "make sure they're fed." Wolf Children mom is out there raising two half-wolf kids alone while Mirai dad struggles to keep an eye on a baby in a basket.
There's a lot of good stuff that Mirai acknowledges
about motherhood, but they do tend to be contained to one scene or line of dialogue. I did very much appreciate the mom speaking about the struggle of her work/life balance, which is especially tough when you're a professional woman in a society that pressures you to dedicate literally everything to your kids.
doesn't really explore that vein any further. And that's a really tough, endemic issue to be fair. But it certainly would have been cool to see more stuff like this.
Whatever the movie's implicit gender biases though, let's not forget:
Oh no has he been glaring at me this whole time?
Me, looking alternately between my computer screen and the three-year-old trying to steal my juice right now: yeah, that about checks out
You're right, and I'm sorry, Kun. The ACTUAL bulk of the film isn't about hapless dads or headache prone moms, but about a toddler grappling with the fact that he's not the baby anymore, so now he has to grow up and learn to live with his little sister. Now, I seem to recall a decent number of Rugrats episodes about this very thing, but there's no reason Hosoda isn't also allowed to have some fun with it.
At least from the outside, Kun's reaction seems about accurate. "Cool, a little sister!" lasts for about five minutes before the jealousy kicks in.
Before we devolve completely into older brother slander, I just wanna say that, speaking as the oldest of three brothers myself, some of us were actually perfect angels who definitely never played with their younger siblings' faces like they were made of silly putty.
As the youngest of three siblings, I just have to assume that nobody did that with me. You better not be lying to me Steve!!
Anyway, this transition isn't easy for Kun, but thankfully there's a magic tree in their backyard that unites him with other family members across the threads of time to teach Kun valuable lessons about the meaning and importance of family and haha just kidding it turns him into a talking dog.
To be fair his dog is a talking human.
Can you say it's really a Mamoru Hosoda film if it's not at least a little bit furry?
It also has to be a little Digimon
, as a treat.
Anyway, the film is very loosely structured around these fantasy segments—sometimes funny, sometimes sweet, sometimes poignant, and sometimes scary—which all help expand Kun's perspective outside the bounds of a little 4-year-old stinker. It's a very weird way to construct a movie, but I'll be damned if some of these segments didn't get me good.
I dunno, I'm pretty sure mine is too busy watching Paw Patrol to pay much attention to the Railway to Hell. Maybe I can expose him to the nightmare when he's a little older!
It's great stuff, and it genuinely makes me sad that Hosoda doesn't work in his horror mode more often. Family films are fine and all, but I wanna see more of the edgy Hosoda.
Same! Though I wonder if the Hell Train segment might land better if Kun were closer to five or six years old rather than four. Iirc kids don't usually become aware of their own mortality until at least that age anyway. I just don't 100% buy that Kun gets much out of his magical time adventures at age 4.
True, but I don't believe most 4-year-olds are going on time travel adventures to begin with, so I doubt there's enough evidence out there to draw a definitive conclusion from the literature. I can't imagine it's very easy to write a convincing toddler protagonist in a way that's going to be compelling for a whole movie, so I can't really blame Hosoda for taking some liberties.
Absolutely fair! It's definitely a challenge to get into the head of a 4-year-old several decades after the fact, even harder to turn their "McDonald's! McDonald's!" yelling into something that makes emotional sense to an audience of not-toddlers. I don't think there's a perfect way to do this.
Yeah it makes for a messy film for sure, but I respect it for taking up the challenge. And there are individual moments in the film that work wonderfully, like Kun's great-grandpa reaching across time to teach him how to ride a bike.
Even though that is, if you'll excuse me, some Fate
-ass logic about how riding works.
I also think he might've had a slightly easier time learning to ride on pavement rather than grass. Sure you run the risk of scrapes but imo it's worth.
A semi-competent dad probably also would've helped, but we already got into all that.
Pretty oof that the family dog and a ghost are better at parenting than that dude, but I guess he's trying.
Even teen M
irai provides better, more actionable advice!
Just saying dude, better step it up.
I respect what Hosoda's trying to do with Mirai, but it has some trouble balancing its cast's perspectives. Though as far as looking after toddlers goes I think I slightly prefer the drool-free version on screen to the decidedly slimier one irl.
Can't say it's my favorite Hosoda venture, but there are glimpses of greatness that I hope inform bigger and better (and scarier, please) films in the future. And no disrespect to your surely adorable nephew, but I think Mirai provided me with my annual quotient of crying children, so I think I'm good there too.
No offense taken! As much as I love the squirt I do acknowledge he can be very, very annoying. But on the other hand, kids can be cute, so it's impossible to say whether they're good or bad.
Well thankfully I think we can agree on one good boy.