Writer-director Hosoda Mamoru (The Boy and the Beast, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) was inspired by his own children to create this story, which is half a portrait of a realistic domestic situation, and half fantasy, as Kun's imagination takes over in a time-and-space travelling fantasy. The movie is, as they say in Japan, “super kawai” — very cute — though the use of subtitles rather than dubbing will limit it to children old enough to read. (An English-dubbed version, opening in some American cities, also exists).
Kun (voiced by Moka Kamishiraishi) lives with his busy executive mother (Kumiko Asô) and stay-at-home architect father (Gen Hoshino) in a modern multi-level ranch-style house in suburban Yokohama, with a yard and tree. There's a grandma (Yoshiko Miyazaki) and a pet dog, Yukko, and Kun is very much the centre of attention. Then comes the dough-like and passive little newcomer, Mirai, and Kun hits the sidelines.
Mom returns to work, Dad is trying to work and care for the baby and Kun spends a lot of time alone. At first, he's somewhat intrigued by the novelty of the new family member — pulling her cheeks and ears — but when she continues to be the star of the show, he clonks her with his toy train in annoyance. That instantly throws the house into a turmoil of yelling parents and a barking dog.
Alone in the yard, Kun, in the middle of his rage, unexpectedly meets an old-fashioned prince (Yoshihara Koji) with long hair and a frock coat. The prince flounces about the yard, complaining that before Kun, he was the favoured member of the family, petted, adored, fed the best food. When we see the prince suddenly dash after a ball and retrieves it for Kun, we figure out he's actually Kun's fantasy of his dog, Yukko.
The Prince is just the first of some mysterious visitors, including a school-girl version of Mirai (Kuroki Haru), come back from the future. (The name Mirai also means “future.”) Other visitors include Kun's late war vet grandfather (Koji Yakusho), now appearing as a cool motorcyle-riding young dude from the past. And there’s trouble-causing little girl, who turns out to Kun's own mother.
The style of Mirai changes as the film develops — from the calm painterly domestic scenes to Kun's (imaginary) nightmare to the Tokyo train station — are positively hallucinogenic. Childhood emotions are big, even when the stakes seem small: When Kun is not allowed to wear his yellow pants, he has a major meltdown. Well-observed and gently amusing, Mirai of the Future clocks in under 100 minutes, just about as much super-cute as you need in one dose.
Mirai of the Future. Directed and written by Mamoru Hosoda. Featuring the voices of Moka Kamishiraishi, Haru Kuroki, Gen Hoshino, Kumiko Asô, Mitsuo Yoshihara, Yoshiko Miyazaki, and Koji Yakusho. Opens December 21 at Toronto's Imagine Cinemas/Carlton Cinema and at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.