The story is set in 1955 in Kokuga, Hofu City, Yamaguchi Prefecture.
One thousand years ago it was the site of the ancient capital, Suo no Kuni, and traces of the Heian Period (year 794-1185) are passed down to us in the form of ruins and historical place names.
The protagonist is Shinko, a third grade elementary school student, who was born and raised in one of the town's venerable families. She is a little girl whose characteristic is a strange curl on her forehead (she calls it her "Mai Mai"), and her love for playing in the fields. On the other hand, her secret joy is to imagine and to daydream about the world of one thousand years ago. Her fantasies travel far into the days of the Heian Period...
One day, a girl called Kiiko transfers from Tokyo and enters Shinko's class. This girl from the big city has difficulty feeling at home in this small town, but gradually her friendship with Shinko deepens.
Before long, the two of them become engulfed in a strange incident of one thousand years earlier...?!
I wonder why none of the fansub groups till now never even bothered to look up to this movie. Its been released in 2009 and has been out for a while now. But it is only this month (July 2011) that a proper fansub group released the english version.
A simple but wonderfully executed story of a countryside girl and her everyday fun adventure. Well people have said it has a typical ghibli atmosphere but its definitely not a copy. The taking of the movie has its own distinct way of keeping you engaged in watching further.
Story [10/10]: Shinko, the main protagonist, who imagines all kinds of people and places based on her grandfather's stories of 1000 years ago, meets Kiiko who has comes from Tokyo and who is attending the same schol as Shinko. Quickly due to her appearance and the coloured pencils Kiiko has all other kids in the class become curious. So does Shinko. She follows Kiiko to her home where she sees all kinds of foregin objects and is quiet fascinated. Their freindship develops. Shinko tells Kiiko about the how the countryside they are living in used to be a capital a thousand years ago (which her grandfather has told her about). Shinko also tells her that she believes there was a princess, about her age only, who lived in this country. She wants to meet her to play with her. This is were the alternate story begins. The princess in the story is lonely and wants someone to play with. From what I understood from the story the princesses feelings somehow reach Shinko. And maybe that is why Shinko to is able to imagine what kind of a girl the princess could have been and where and how she might have been living. From there follow the little games that Shinko, Kiiko and their school friends have. To sum it all the sotry ends with both Shinko and the princess in the alternate stories finding their best friend. The story has a very rich base plot, being set in a countryside and of a historical date. So lots of space for innovation with the characters. And it has been very well executed in the direction.
Art [8/10]: The landscapes are beautifully drawn. They aptly bring out the beauty of the countryside and the overall atmosphere. Though the charatcres could have been a bit better drawn. But overall they definitely have a good impact on the viewer.
Sound [9/10]: Background music is typical of a childrens movie in a good way ofcourse. Voice of Shinko could have been better if it had been a little more girlish and sounding of her actual age. The current voice sounds like that of a tomboyish girl (which Shinko is kind of) which issometimes a bit annoying.
Character [10/10]: Loved the way all the characters have been portrayed. The runny nose boy, other classmates, teacher, Shinko's grandfather, mother- watching everyone makes you believe that they are actually typical countryside people.
Enjoyment [10/10]: Enjoyed the movie thoroughly.
Overall [9/10] I deduce 1 mark only for a bit of disappointing voice for Shinko and the art of the characters themselves. Other than that its a perfect score on the story. Just go and watch *thumbs up*read more
Those of you who have lives and don’t pay attention to all but the most famous of anime directors may not know who Sunao Katabuchi is. Well, I’m sure most anime fans have at least heard of the name: Black Lagoon. Yep, the man responsible for bringing all the kickass in both seasons and the Roberta arc was him, so you’d think he’d have a genuinely successful career in the industry with his talent. Well, he sorta does, but it’s mostly underground.
Despite the popularity of his foray into action, he’s mainly a Ghibli-esque storyteller with the majority of his resume being family friendly stuff that contain very familiar plot points to those who’ve watched Castle in the Sky or Future Boy Conan. And by the majority of his resume, I mean his three other anime (one series and two movies) that no one even knows exists, because he’s not actually associated with Ghibli bar assistant work on Kiki’s Delivery Service, and it’s not like their are many other options in terms of anime studios with Disney-levels of success willing to throw the amount of money and resources needed to properly get his name out there. Even though he’s now under contract by Mappa to make a movie adaptation of the historical manga, In This Corner of the World, the combination of a not-very-popular manga and Mappa not being able to appeal to the mainstream crowd in terms of blu-ray sales makes it hard to secure funds for the project and I’m not even all that sure it’ll come out in 2016 like MAL says it will. I really hope it does though, because it looks like a solid historical drama.
Anyways, this review is centered on Mai Mai Miracle, his lesser known 2009 film with Madhouse that can basically be summarized as his own version of Ghibli’s more slice-of-life-y affairs like My Neighbor Totoro and Only Yesterday. And by his own version, I mean a slice-of-life anime centered on the countryside with an increased focus on realism and, ironically, an increased amount of diabetes.
The story is centered on Shinko, an elementary-school girl with a cowlick on her head that she calls “Mai Mai” – hence the title of the film – who likes to daydream about what her town was like in the past, reminiscent of the dream sequence from Whisper of the Heart if it was channeling Air: The Motion Picture. One day, a Tokyo girl named Kiiko moves into the countryside and immediately stands out due to wearing what’s basically the equivalent of royal clothing in the middle of Somalia, resulting in the fish-out-of-water nervousness you’d expect from such a situation. But that doesn’t stop Shinko from befriending her, and from then on, we follow the two as they hang out with the other kids, deal with personal problems, and even share the same daydream – although trust me when I say it doesn’t really lead to anything of significance.
It’s pretty damn easy to see why Mai Mai Miracle never drew a big audience considering that it itself draws most of its appeal from showcasing countryside life as well as the tribulations of youth passed through a giant “it’s for kids” filter. Hell, apart from Madhouse’s production values, I’m not really big into the movie myself. The story leans a wee too hard on nostalgia and the calmer parts of youth in general to the point that it’s like an Eternal Sonata-level JRPG: it can be fun to actually experience the thing, but watching someone else do it is about as interesting as watching grass grow. And it doesn’t help that not all the plot points come together very well to begin with. Aside from being friends, the plot point regarding a girl’s dead fish could not be any less related to the plot point involving one of the boys’ role models dying.
At its heart, Mai Mai Miracle is about reality clashing with youth, but because it’s a kids’ movie, it can’t go all the way with it. There’s a particular scene in the finale where Shinko and one of her male friends go to a red-light district for reasons I won’t spoil other than it involves the death of a minor character. And whilst it’s aesthetically rough on the surface from the prostitutes to the yakuza, said scene ends with the crooks they encounter sympathizing with the kids and allowing them to go free. Not that I’d want anything worse to occur from said confrontation because I don’t like seeing people that young getting put through the ringer and another one of the movie’s main points is that reality isn’t all bad anyways, but it’s a very good example of how Mai Mai Miracle doesn’t have the bite I prefer when it comes to these types of stories. Even American Graffiti had more of an edge in regards to its take on reality versus youth – and whilst it was good for its time, American Graffiti is kind of plain by today’s standards.
But of course, if you’re watching this for the visuals, you’re in for a treat. I wasn’t kidding when I said Madhouse’s production values interest me, because Mai Mai Miracle really does a good job at nailing the calm atmosphere it’s going for with its imaginative dream sequences and lush cinematography, even if said atmosphere isn’t too my taste. This is a beautiful-looking movie with an appropriately soothing soundtrack that complements it pretty damn well. They even throw in a kiddy version of The Carpenters’ “Sing a Song” into the mix, which got a smile out of me. I may come off as a sap for saying this, but I really like that song. It’s cute in all the right ways.
For those of you who like slice-of-life/light-hearted anime, Mai Mai Miracle should definitely be right up your alley, as I can’t seem to find many faults in the product for lovers of the genre. But then again, I wouldn’t know how to separate your Arias from your Dog Days, so what do I know? Nevertheless, whilst some of the plot points could have been handled better, it has a genuinely heartwarming and relevant story that’s good for its target audience, it’s well-made, and the characters are likable enough as well – acting close to real kids during the time period this movie takes place in. Doesn’t appeal to me personally, but then again, I’m the asshole who thinks Azumanga Daioh became boring eight episodes in. At best!read more
There is an excerpt from The Picture of Dorian Gray by the renowned author, Oscar Wilde, that I am incredibly fond of. The quote reads:
"No, you don't feel it now. Some day, when you are old and wrinkled and ugly, when thought has seared your forehead with its lines, and passion branded your lips with its hideous fires, you will feel it, you will feel it terribly. Now, wherever you go, you charm the world. Will it always be so?... You have a wonderfully beautiful face, Mr. Gray. Don't frown. You have. And beauty is a form of genius-- is higher, indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation. It is of the great facts of the world, like sunlight, or spring-time, or the reflection in dark waters of that silver shell we call the moon. It cannot be questioned. It has its divine right of sovereignty. It makes princes of those who have it. You smile? Ah! when you have lost it you won't smile.... People say sometimes that beauty is only superficial. That may be so, but at least it is not so superficial as thought is. To me, beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.... Yes, Mr. Gray, the gods have been good to you. But what the gods give they quickly take away. You have only a few years in which to live really, perfectly, and fully. When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs left for you, or have to content yourself with those mean triumphs that the memory of your past will make more bitter than defeats. Every month as it wanes brings you nearer to something dreadful. Time is jealous of you, and wars against your lilies and your roses. You will become sallow, and hollow-cheeked, and dull-eyed. You will suffer horribly.... Ah! realize your youth while you have it. Don't squander the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, trying to improve the hopeless failure, or giving away your life to the ignorant, the common, and the vulgar. These are the sickly aims, the false ideals, of our age. Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.... A new Hedonism-- that is what our century wants. You might be its visible symbol. With your personality there is nothing you could not do. The world belongs to you for a season.... The moment I met you I saw that you were quite unconscious of what you really are, of what you really might be. There was so much in you that charmed me that I felt I must tell you something about yourself. I thought how tragic it would be if you were wasted. For there is such a little time that your youth will last--such a little time. The common hill-flowers wither, but they blossom again. The laburnum will be as yellow next June as it is now. In a month there will be purple stars on the clematis, and year after year the green night of its leaves will hold its purple stars. But we never get back our youth. The pulse of joy that beats in us at twenty becomes sluggish. Our limbs fail, our senses rot. We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were too much afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to. Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!"
The film MAI MAI MIRACLE seems to embody this quote, as it celebrates youth and advocates relishing it while it is there and we are in our primes. At the beginning of the film, we meet Shinko Aoiki, a young, nine year old girl with an extravagant imagination in this gorgeous animated atmosphere that Katabuchi has created, with clean and popping colors. The sky and a train and the title even, when it is shown, all looks like something from a storybook, and in fact, reminded me much of the illustrations from the book The Polar Express. Shinko lives through the tales that her grandfather has told her of the land's past that they live on, as she states that the right angels of the stream are the way they are because a city capital used to rest there thousands of years before, where a princess named Nagiko used to live. As she imagines things, they appear on screen as she sees them in her mind, with a cartoony wagon and constructing of houses, all looking as if they were colored by a five year old in the most humble of way in an elementary school art project... quite beautifully and elegantly. This film's environment is, in many degrees, summed up as 'playful.' She sits amongst a vast ocean with deep, never-ending blues.
We then come across Kiiko Shimazu, and she arrives from Tokyo, on a dull train, immersed in dull colors, in a dull environment, where the imagination seems to be long far off. We see a stark contrast from before between the two worlds. Kiiko is a new girl from Tokyo, and this isn't modern day, bright and booming Tokyo, but post WWII business Tokyo, and she begins to attend the same school as Shinko. The colors with a box full of colored pencils, and the other students crowd around in awe, cherishing the sight of them, and all of the different shades and variety that is so foreign to them. The colors stand out when stained onto boring cream paper against a boring brown wooden desk, weathered. After class, Kiiko and Shinko walk home together, leaving school into the sanctuary of nature, and we get this vibe as we return to the sky embodying a blue that only a perfect sky could, and green grass that could not be greener on any other day or in any other film, it seems. I used to claim that PONYO was the most aesthetically pleasing animated films on some days, and others, I would give credit to a Makoto Shinkai film, but now, with every release, and with this plethora of new young talents, the definite claim is becoming less and less easy to make. While walking home, Kiiko takes Shinko into her home, and Kiiko is scared of the dog they pass, but Shinko embraces it with open arms. You see, to Kiiko, nature is foreign, as she has belonged to the chains of the business world her entire, short upbringing. Kiiko has a home very technologically up-to-date, complete with an electric refrigerator, stairs, and she has even seen a TV a couple of times. This world, to Shinko, is fascinating, but it is quickly forgotten about. These pleasures as ultimate pleasures are a lie, and we dismiss them as the two girls walk to Shinko's home, not surrounded by other homes and architecture, but open with fields and land. The entire film thus far, Kiiko's had a depression hanging on her eyes, and we are unsure why. Is it because she left her friends in Tokyo? Well, Skinko breaks out some chocolates that her, her younger sister, and Kiiko all eat, and it turns out that they are filled with whiskey, and we get Kiiko's first smile, and she reveals that her mother died. Drunk, and smiling, this was the directors careful approach to spill this morbid secret in a way that is not too dark. After this, the two girls sit on a swing overlooking a stream, and Shinko tells Kiiko that she has a "mai mai," or a twist in the front of her hair, and when she closes her eyes, it moves, and her imagination runs wild. There is so much more fun, we see in this imagination, where an excess of technology doesn't serve as a distraction, especially in the most young and youthful years of these girls' lives.
We next get multiple scenes of the two girls playing, and now, Kiiko happy and smiling. They build dams, and this brought me back, as my friends and I would build dams, although it was in my suburban neighborhood in the ditch behind my house, we would build them while I was growing up. We flashback to Nagiko-chan, and she is dismissed from playing or having friends. She seems to constantly play by herself... games for two and all. She later reveals that she feels others discourage her from having any friends.
Back to the kids, they do things that I would do a kid, again. They sneak into an American movie. They then, in a picture-perfect scene, play around a stream. The water is blue and clean, with the soil below it visible, and green, tall grass surrounding them, enclosing them into a secret club of sorts. On the water, a boy sails his toy boat, as a beautiful, tomato-red fish swims below it. Kids of all different ages are all here, unaware in their variety of maturity, because, well, in this, they are all still children. It is not like today where a five year old is the age for THE RUGRATS MOVIE, and eight is appropriate for STAR WARS, and then, upon reaching thirteen, the child gets to see, let's say, CASINO ROYALE. They are all kids and there is one uniform title for them all. It is like their age can simply be described as "child."
The kids go into a cave next, seeking some scary fun, like Scout, Jem, and Dill do in the film TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD when they stalk the "spooky" house. They see big, frightening eyes, which only turn out to be those of a cat. Shinko's younger sister comes out with the cat after the other kids have all run off, scared. They temporarily lose her, and this gives us a small thrill, and a very mild sense of rising action, and it is quickly gone after they find her shortly after. The film is mild in this in a wonderful way, as the film is innocent and playful, and in this way, in many respects, similar to THE MANY ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH.
From here, the film takes a deeper dip, and a goldfish that the community of children loved has died. Also, a young boy, friends with the children, his father hanged himself from pressure from the Yakuza. Shinko denounces her imaginative ways and apologizes via a letter that she ever put them into Kiiko's head. She forces herself to grow up, and the color fades from her world and nighttime is the scene that caresses her role in the film. She and the boy make off to Tokyo to enact revenge. Kiiko on the other hand assumes the role of Nagiko, waking up in her shoes. In this role, she teaches the world around her, full of kids starving and dying, of fun and how to play with puppets and with bright elementary-like colors, like the ones we saw at the beginning of the film. Back to Shinko, we see another contrast from her past world, as she now walks to corrupt streets of the city, surrounded by drunks and lowlives. After meeting the Yakuza, they run off and escape back to their former lives, their sanctuary. Earlier in the film, Skinko told Kiiko, as they swung, that life was all around them, and it always is. As they meet again, and sit again, at night, we see lightening bugs, and hear crickets. This is what I think she means as she says it again, but even when the winter comes and if these creatures are gone, life will always be around them, as Shinko tells Kiiko of all of the imaginary creatures she has made up around them, laughing in a playful and cute way. Her dad shows up for the first time, as he has been away from work, and he is jolly and smiling, leading up to a happy ending, correcting the mild dip. She tells Kiiko that "he is nice, everybody's nice." That was my favorite line... "everybody's nice." We know it is untrue, but while viewing this film for me, and all of the time for a child, it is true, and I can believe it, temporary dismissing all of the corruptness and burden of the world, for a good hour and a half, as it seems that is what this film's aim is, and it accomplishes it very well. It ends on a very positive, optimistic, and happy note, as Sing a Song plays, sang by a children's chorus, as the picture onscreen returns to the bright colors that were brightest at the beginning of the film.read more
Mai Mai is one of those great lesser known animated films from japan. As the work of Sunao Katabuchi, former assistant director of Miyazaki on Kikki’s Delivery Service, the influence shows.
The story centers around Shinko, an elementary school girl on a rural town who likes to daydream about what her town was 1000 years ago, while imaginarily establishing a friendship with a girl from the royalty of classical japan, both of them longing for friendship. One day a shy new student, Kiiko, is transferred from Tokyo to Shinko’s class, soon becoming friends and eventually sharing Shinko’s dream.
The film nails perfectly all the points of a good slice of life: the beauty of everyday things, childhood, friendship, and dreams. All of this with the background of a rural town in post-war Japan, there is a great appreciation of the countryside, complemented by the gorgeous art. Though not a very deep film, this is not a kid’s movie, as it also deals with somewhat more mature themes like death, unrequited love, separation and growing up.
The music is hit and miss, the orchestral pieces are great, there’s also a great piano track which sadly plays only twice, I believe, but there’s some (humming?) tracks that plays consistently during the whole movie which I really didn’t like, sounded pretty crappy and brought down some scenes.
As mentioned above, the art is really beautiful and has a touch of its own. The sceneries are colored beautifully; the characters are all really well drawn and very distinct between each other. There are a few observations, though: the blushing of people sometimes seemed like they were dirty instead of blushing. Also there was a few times where it seemed like the lip-synching (if you can call it that) was a bit off, and other where someone was crying but the weird angle showed didn’t really reflect this.
The voice acting is great, thankfully in these kinds of movies you get voices that aren’t the generic and derivative voices that you get in most anime shows. One thing that bothered me a bit is that Shinko’s voice sometimes comes off a bit too old for her age.
All in all, it’s a really relaxing and pretty film to enjoy, it doesn’t have the level of polish of Ghibli films but it comes close. The story is nothing especial but it takes a step back to the characters and creates situation to develop them. Highly recommended. read more