What They Say:
From Sunao Katabuchi (director of In This Corner of the World, Assistant Director of Kiki’s Delivery Service and director of Black Lagoon) and animation production by Madhouse (One Punch Man, Perfect Blue).
Shinko, is a third grade elementary school student with a magically active imagination. She spends a lot of her time listening to her grandfather’s history lessons, imagining what her town was like 1,000 years earlier.
One day, a sad and sombre girl called Kiiko transfers to Shinko’s school from Tokyo. A strong friendship soon grows between the two girls as Shinko helps Kiiko come out of her shell and deal with her loss – all thanks to their adventures, both imagined and real.
This is a dual release so for this review as a change of pace will be reviewing the DVD variation. The sound quality has options of 2.0 English and Japanese Stereo option, which as always is a little disappointing considering in today’s market even most DVD releases does a 5.1 for their anime releases(especially for films). That said, there were were no complications of the audio throughout the release and whilst I had to adjust the volume with the speakers it wasn’t to the point it was problematic and there were no problems with the video synching in with subtitles so definitely acceptable as a DVD release.
Similar with the audio, the video is set in 16:9 – 1.78:1 aspect ratio via NTSC transfer to PAL format – with DVD releases nowadays the effect is in the shadow of it’s more powerful Blu-Ray cousin but no such issues with this great transfer to DVD – whilst the animation is a tribute to older style and Ghibli-esque productions, it is still beautiful with no delay, slowdown or it becoming grainy or blurry via pausing – the moments switching between reality and imagination are never forgive the pun, blurred as they intermix fantastically and comes through as a great and cared for production.
There was no packaging for this test release.
The menu is very standard, it has a nice image of Shinko and Kiiko almost like a selfie pose with Shinko with an arm around Kiiko looking up as Kiiko looks shy in a field with the title of the film on the right drawn in crayon as a reference to Kiiko’s first day in school – a blue box is on the bottom right with the selectable options of Play, Chapters, Set Up and Extras. All easily selectable from each menu (chapters as per film rather than series go for scene selection, whilst languages in Eng/Jap with choice of subtitles either full, English songs & signs or off in either language) and able to return but no pop-up like a Blu-Ray, the selections don’t delay though and go through near instant so perfectly workable.
The extras are the original trailer and the clean ending, but the one big extra is an interview with ADR Director Michael Sinterniklaas – this is especially interested because this is the one time there is a connection between the UK base and the US one as the distributor of Mai Mai Miracle did a Kickstarter back in 2014 to get it released and obviously they did it and he mentioned how they made it possible (unsure if it has a US release yet) – before going into some good questions, how the ancient times are different with European and Asian times compared to American – casting real children for the real precious moments and how they are found (worked in Care Bears so some kids were from that, some actual children of other VAs) – Japanese/American girl as Shinko – having to work with kids in the booth, how the time period affected the production, not making it too period (past vs 50s vs future) – trying to teach the kids how to act drunk and how it was so complex considering what was being talked about (Kikko’s mother’s death), comparisons to Spirited Away – it is only 15 minutes but there’s a lot in it and compared to some commentaries and such it does tell a lot in that short amount of time.
Like a lot of releases, I had little knowledge of Mai Mai Miracle before seeing it so as always do a bit of research. This one however had a bit more to it, namely this got a Kickstarter project from the UK based company Anime Limited to release it over here. It succeeded back in 2014 and we get the dual-format release this year. The movie itself was originally released in 2009, and won quite a few awards not just in Japan, but other nominations in Europe – made more interesting as it wasn’t a movie made by the usual darlings of awards, Studio Ghibli. So is it deserving of the effort and hype?
The film begins set in 1955, ten years after the 2nd world war and Japan is now in it’s opening age, set in Mitajiri, our main protagonist is a 9 year old girl named Shinko, a rather…imaginative young girl. Influenced greatly by her grandfather, she pretends that her ‘mai-mai’ (her cowlick) on her head gives her the ability to imagine the world a thousand years ago looked, which gives the movie chance to show off several different designs – from then present to later more tech based to the full past to crayon drawings. One of these switches in style is in reference to a new family moving in from Tokyo – well, when I saw family it is a father and daughter, as unfortunately the daughter’s mother has recently passed one which begins and ends the character’s development. Her name is Kiiko and her design of clothes, her technology, and her shy nature makes her nervous on her first day of school, but Shinko who can make friends with anyone, is particularly interested in her and wants to bring her out in the open, to add to her imagination.
The two are polar opposites (Shinko loves dogs, Kiiko is afraid of them – Kiiko’s house has televisions and refrigerators, Shinko relies on ice and walks barefoot to school), but they slowly become friends as an exchange where they accidentally eat alcoholic chocolates seems funny, but reveals Kiiko’s mother’s death as Shinko’s little sister Mitsuko innocently asks – it is the catalyst of Riiko’s to go into this fantasy world as well as the concept of death and how she deals with it (along with others) is a big point as the movie continues.
Kiiko slowly becomes more outgoing and goes along with Shinko’s other friends, building a dam, putting a fish in there which they name after their friendly teacher Hizuru (whose character actually has some importance as we see her burning some letters which we later discover is to do with an ex-boyfriend, almost forcing her into an arranged marriage), go to watch a film, etc. Kiiko even admits she is getting into Shinko’s world…but wishes that the one person from that world (her catalyst 1000 years character named Nagiko) also gets a friend. Whilst this fantasy becomes less prominent it is something which returns at the end, as Shinko slowly becomes aware of the difference between fantasy and reality…
First, they nearly lose Shinko’s sister during one of their adventures – which in turn is rescued by the police officer, the father of one of their friends Tasuyoshi (again, seemingly a side character who gets major importance in a bit). Then their favourite teacher Hizuru is leaving soon due to marriage, so then they dedicate the marriage to the fish they have as a pet in the dam also named Hizuru…but then the next day after they decorate the dam, they find out the fish has died due to the perfume Kikko put in and the fish accidentally knocks it over. This in turn depresses Kikko, so Shinko and Tasuyoshi say they’ve found the Hizuru fish in the stream and intends to bring it to her…
….and then that night, we learn that the policeman, Tasuyoshi’s father, has committed suicide due to being in debt with the Yakuza.
Talk about a reality ensues movie.
So with the separation of the gang, Shinko realises all the fantasy sadly isn’t real and now try to get reality by rather stupidly separating to find the bar where Tasuyoshi’s father was and find the woman believed to be the cause of his suicide, whilst Kikko wallows about everything happens in link with her mother’s death. This in turn leads to Kikko somehow seeing the past as a contrast to the other two’s confrontation…and surprisingly when they do confront the bar (who initially seem to about to do bad stuff to the kids), the woman does actually feel remorse and do help the kids, which in turn gives Kikko’s visions of the Nagiko girl making friends when her servants are in trouble…
It leads in turn to Shinko and Kiiko go out to see if Hizuru is alive, they find a fish on the stream very similar, sweet moments under the stars, but reality again hits but in a pleasant way as Shinko’s dad arrives after been established being away from work – which the epilogue has us see Miss Hizuru leave, and eventually Shinko also leaves to be closer to her dad with Kikko waving goodbye, seemingly a bridge between fantasy and reality but in happiness.
From the description of the film, the fantasy vs. reality aspect is really just a few moments of the imagination of Shinko and later Kikko intermixed with the ensuing reality of things happening in the now. The one weakness I had with the film is just how quickly everything happens when the reality aspect comes – from the fish dying, to the suicide, to the kids trying to confront the ‘villains’ as it were – granted in a 100 minute movie putting everything in is tough as it is, it never felt like overplayed or totally rushed, just so much to take all at once, along with the heavy heart that Kikko was feeling with her thinking she was the cause of the fish dying (nicely, none of the other kids blame her which I thought was going to be the case with the new kid story it was being). This however allows Kikko to understand how she has changed and that it isn’t a ‘mai-mai’ which allows Shinko to see the past, it’s her own imagination, allowing Kikko to break out of her stupor thanks to those friends to hers.
The child friendship and imagination with the problems that reality can cause is a great story telling, as Kiiko being the new girl has these anxieties, not helped at the start by a few rowdy children and this is where Shinko excels as a lead because she is the happy go lucky kid that has a great imagination and also wants to be friends with anyone and that is what she does, and brings her into her imaginative world, which gets a great payoff at the end, but Shinko also has to learn the harsh true of reality when her favourite teacher leaves, the concept of death, the near loss of her sister, getting into danger…even her father returning and later leaving her friends – whilst the movie isn’t long enough to get into that, all these things change the concept of Shinko’s character into quite a developed protagonist.
So yes, this movie was worth the effort bringing it over and very happy to recommend it. The animation, imagination and story work really well, and whilst basic in plot, it is full in terms of heart.
Mai Mai Miracle was a miracle in getting it over to the UK and the effort is not unrewarded. It is a great movie that only really suffers from too much happening in the reality in the time allowed. However that is minor as it still fits well as a movie, and the imagination vs. reality storyline combined with the times of the 1950s in Japan and the early contrasts between Kikko and Shinko later develop into a great friendship with both sad and sweet moments as the 1000 year past selves get their happy ending with their imagination. Definitely worth it.
Japanese Trailer, Dubbing Mai Mai Miracle: an interview with Michael Sinterniklass
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: June 19th, 2017
MSRP: £24.99 (DVD/Blu-Ray hybrid)
Running Time: 95 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.