Animated wonder Mirai keeps its finger firmly on the pulse of childhood

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      Featuring the voice of Moka Kamishiraishi. In Japanese, with English subtitles. Rated PG

      An unusually introspective anime, veteran toonsmith Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai homes in on one urban family quietly enduring fairly standard growing pains, starting with a grouchy working mom (voiced by Kumiko Asô) and a stay-at-home architect dad (Gen Hoshino) about to expand their little brood.

      Those pains are not very quiet for four-year-old Kun (Moka Kamishiraishi), utterly freaked out by the arrival of baby sister Mirai. In Japanese, that means “future”, and this is underlined by a magical version of the more grown-up Mirai, voiced by Haru Kuroki, also central to Hosoda’s widely travelled Wolf Children. The apparition begins to infiltrate Kun’s consciousness to show him where his life is headed—if, you know, he doesn’t kill the little brat first.

      When the train-obsessed Kun ventures from their tiny but incredibly well-designed house, he makes sporadic journeys through time, in both directions, from surprising intimations of trauma left over from the Second World War to an overwhelming stop at a massive Tokyo train station—with lost children exiled to a frightening place called Lonely Land.

      The two-hour film, so gentle for its first quarter, is unexpectedly revealing of aspects of daily life Japanese entertainments don’t typically broach, including postpartum depression and gender-role expectations. The tale never loses its rare and deeply forgiving intimacy, and Hosoda keeps his finger firmly on the pulse of childhood, refusing to let sentimentality obscure scary truths about growing up.

      By the way, there’s also an expertly dubbed version, with John Cho and Rebecca Hall providing the parents’ voices, allowing western viewers to focus on the spectacularly varied visuals. This version, which just received a Golden Globe nomination for best animated feature, alternates with the original here, so check listings to find the one you want. You can’t go wrong either way.