What They Say:
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 somber 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.
The audio presentation for this feature brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with a newly produced English language dub, both of which are done in the uncompressed PCM format. The feature is one that is certainly about the mood and atmosphere as there isn’t a lot in the way of really expressive moments for the mix to work with, but the subtle areas of the design work well with the sound of the wind, the little pieces of life that sneak into smaller areas, and some well placed dialogue in numerous scenes to make it feel engaging. The score is a very good one that swells as much as it should in the big moments but largely captures the mood and feeling of everything in the right way. The encoding is solid as there are no problems to be had here as it’s a clean and clear encoding throughout.
Originally in theaters in 2009, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Animated by Madhouse, the encoding captures the quality of the animation beautifully as there are so many lush visuals with the backgrounds to take in that it’s exciting to see what comes next. The little details in the nature scenes are great and it’s complemented by how much is put into the set design for the houses, school, and other areas in past and present. There’s a really welcome smoothness to the animation that helps the languid feeling of the story to keep it moving and engaging without coming across as rushed. The end result is a crisply beautiful encoding that really brings to life the quality of what the animation team poured of themselves into it.
While the Kickstarter release had this expansive digipak and box to hold it and the bonus items it came in, this edition is a standard sized Blu-ray case that’s clear and comes with a hinge. The hinge holds the Blu-ray disc while the back panel holds the DVD edition of the film. The front cover gives us a good visual of the two leads in the field that makes clear the design and style of the project. The back cover is what the original distributor does for a number of their projects where the right has the banner stripe down the side with the summary of the premise, some technical information, extras included, and plenty of logos and ratings. The left side has several shots from the film and also includes the little Kickstarter origin piece to it which is neat. The set doesn’t have any inserts included with it but there is a reversible cover here where the other front side features the two leads together on the rope bridge while the back side looks the same as the main one. It’s a good looking release overall.
The menu for this release is kept simple as it has a nice static image that has the lead girls along the left enjoying being out in the field while the background is the beautifully lush green of the field and the soft and appealing blues of the sky. The logo is the same as the cover with all its color, which makes sense in-film, while below it we get a solid navigation strip of blue with white text that has all the standard selections. It works well as both the main menu and the pop-up menu during playback with easy to read text and quick response time.
The extras for this release are minimal but expected with what we get as there’s the original Japanese trailer, a clean version of the ending sequence, and a fun nearly twenty-minute video interview with Michael Sinterniklaas about what went into dubbing the film and the pieces that they pulled together to capture the intent of the original in the English language.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With a Kickstarter release that was done a few years ago, Mai Mai Miracle has now gotten more familiar and traditional distribution in North America for a range of retailers thanks to Nozomi Entertainment. Which is great as it’ll get it into a lot more hands of those who weren’t even aware of the Kickstarter, a project in itself which took several years to be done. The 93-minute theatrical feature from Sunao Katabuchi, who also wrote it, was the right kind of passion project that made its debut in Japan in 2009 with Madhouse producing the animation. After watching the film I’m sure there will be plenty that will say it was worth the wait with just how beautiful the project looks while others may just be a bit frustrated that it simply took so long, no matter how much they enjoyed it.
The premise of the film really isn’t much more than just a slice of life story, albeit one that takes place in 1955 near Mitajiri in Yamaguchi Prefecture. It’s here that we’re introduced to Shinko, a third-grade student who has a good bit of life and energy about her as she lives with her mother and her grandparents while her father is off elsewhere until later in the film. She’s not a full-on dreamer type but she has her flights of fancy and is curious about a lot of things which gets her into trouble. What changes for her is the arrival of Kiiko, a newly transferred student from Tokyo that has come with her father as he’s working in the Residence nearby as a doctor. It’s also a period of transition for them as she’s still mourning the recent death of her mother and that has her in a different place than her new classmates, who are all curious but wary of the new student.
Those opening scenes are certainly interesting in how the film sets the tone and mood while making sure we have a good idea who both of these girls are while also making it clear that the area itself is a character in the film. Shinko doesn’t immediately approach Kiiko in school or even afterward, though the two obviously become close friends and we see their lives over the next few months in various spurts of adventure, education, and bonding. But those early bits in seeing how “other” Kiiko is with her clothes, lipstick, and just the kinds of colored pencils she has separates her so much. Enough so that even while she does become friends with Shinko it never feels like she’s a part of the community in the same way until the very end when it’s Shinko leaving and Kiiko now a full-on member there.
The film is one that works well in exploring all of these things in a quiet kind of way, giving us a view into the lives of these girls and their extended friends and families during a period that’s covered often in live-action but rarely in anime. Which is a shame since they can do so much with it. The dialogue about the differences between the two girls in the worlds they’ve lived in is handled nicely with nods towards freezers and TVs – I still hear my own mother talking about ice deliveries like this – as well as just the differences in how homes are being built at that time compared to those that have been around a lot longer. Placed in the context of being ten years after World War II as well and the way children and adults view everything so differently, it’s an approach that’s handled properly by not being the focus but rather just an undercurrent. And tying it with a look back a thousand years before through an archaeological dig that’s going on in the area and some dreaming flashbacks for Shinko about that time and you get to see some very different aspects to a culture that has withstood a lot of time throughout all those changes.
Mai Mai Miracle is a film that has been a long time coming for general consumers in North America but it’s very welcome to finally be available. Similar to what I said with the Kickstarter release, I definitely like what they’ve done here in terms of production values and how everything came together with the dub for it as that was a big part of the project. It’s simply unfortunate that through a range of things, often out of their control, that it took as many years to happen as it did. Mai Mai Miracle is an endearing and enjoyable little film that does a lot right but it’s also one that doesn’t feel like it was quite worth the wait and that’s probably coloring my view of it just a little bit. Fans of it will definitely enjoy it and will be pleased that it’s getting the wider distribution from Nozomi at long last.
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English 2.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Clean Ending, Japanese Trailer, ADR Director Interview
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: December 3rd, 2019
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.