A four-year-old is the center of his or her universe, and the one at the center of the Japanese anime fable “Mirai” gets a fast and fantastical lesson in opening himself to the problems of others.
The 4-year-old in this scenario is Kun (voiced by Jaden Waldman in the English-language dub), who’s apprehensive about the arrival of his new baby sister. It doesn’t take long after Mom (voiced by Rebecca Hall) and Dad (voiced by John Cho) get home with the baby for Kun to realize that life isn’t the same any more. Dad, an architect, is going to work from home while taking care of the kids, while Mom goes to work in an office. But neither one of them seem to have enough time to play with Kun, not like they did before the arrival of the baby Mirai.
Repeatedly, Kun storms off into their house’s garden patio, angry over some slight or lack of attention. Each time, the garden transforms into someplace else, and Kun encounters someone extraordinary.
On one visit, Kun meets a young vagabond (voiced by Crispin Freeman) who turns out to be the personification of the family dog — who’s just as resentful of Kun because his arrival meant the parents wouldn’t play as much with him.
Other moments bring Kun up close to a teen-age Mirai (voiced by Victoria Grace), his mother as a little girl, and his great-grandfather as a dashing young man (voiced by Daniel Dae Kim). Each time, Kun fills in the information about his parents, his family’s past, and why Mirai’s name — meaning “future” — is so appropriate for her.
Director Mamoru Hosoda (“The Boy and the Beast”) conjures up impressive images — some beautiful, some scary — for Kun’s fantasy world. When Kun throws a temper tantrum and calls Mom a witch, for a brief second she becomes an evil hag. When Kun discovers his dog in human form, he tries on the dog’s tail and instantly becomes half-dog himself.
Through it all, Hosoda tells a rich and warm-hearted story about a middle-class family that is imperfect but loving. “Mirai” shows Hosoda sometimes reveling in the images of the past, but his inventive animation and storytelling show the Japanese animation tradition will carry on into the future.
Opening Friday, November 30, at select theaters, including the Tower Theatre (Salt Lake City). Rated PG for thematic elements including some scary images. Running time: 98 minutes. Dubbed into English.