Film review: Mirai is an enchanting portrait of modern family life

Mother (voiced by Kumiko Aso), father (Gen Hoshino) and baby Kun (Moka Kamishiraishi) in Mirai
Damon Smith

A FOUR-year-old boy learns touching lessons about sharing his parents' love with a newly arrived baby sister in Japanese writer-director Mamoru Hosoda's poignant animated drama.

Mirai is an enchanting portrait of modern family life rooted in universal truths about the jealousy which bubbles beneath the surface of almost every sibling bond.

I (regretfully) recognised some of the lead character's frustrations and simmering resentment from my own formative years with a boisterous younger brother, who advocated being seen and heard from an early age.

Hosoda navigates choppy emotional waters with a deft touch, unearthing compassion and flecks of gentle humour in characters' confusion and distress.

His script introduces fantastical flourishes to shepherd the inquisitive infant protagonist on a journey of self-realisation, enriched with gorgeous hand-drawn animation.

The four-year-old's first encounter with falling snowflakes is beguiling but Mirai withholds its piece de resistance until the final act when the boy is rendered speechless by the bustle and bright lights of Tokyo train station.

Kun (voiced by Moka Kamishiraishi) happily plays with a toy train set in the modernist home designed by his architect father (Gen Hoshino), which the boy shares with the family's yapping pet dog, Yukko.

Grandmother (Yoshiko Miyazaki) looks after the tyke while his mother (Kumiko Aso) gives birth to a daughter, who is eventually named Mirai.

"Be nice to her, OK?" mother instructs Kun. "You have to protect her."

Brotherly love warps as Mirai monopolises the parents' attention and the boy lashes out by hitting his baby sister with a model bullet train.

Tempers fray and a distraught Kun runs into the garden where he is greeted by a dishevelled nobleman (Mitsuo Yoshihara), who tells the little boy that he was "the prince of this house before you were born."

We realise this is an anthropomorphic manifestation of Yukko.

On subsequent visits to the garden, Kun encounters a teenage future incarnation of Mirai (Haru Kuroki) and a younger version of his recently deceased grandfather (Koji Yakusho).

These visitations help Kun to appreciate his little sister and the role he will play in nurturing her.

Inspired by the film-maker's experiences with his children, Mirai glimpses a confusing world through Kun's eyes with tenderness and warmth.

The narrative is slight, but the film doesn't outstay its welcome or surrender any of its delicate charm.

MIRAI (PG, 98 mins) Animation/Drama/Fantasy/Romance. Featuring the voices of Moka Kamishiraishi, Haru Kuroki, Gen Hoshino, Kumiko Aso, Mitsuo Yoshihara, Yoshiko Miyazaki, Koji Yakusho. Director: Mamoru Hosoda

RATING: 7/10

Released: November 2 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

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