I don’t much like the “Pokemon”/”Sailor Moon” type Anime. I think it’s just loud, seizure-inducing, stupid, childish nonsense most of the time. However, the more subtle Animes can be quite good, surprisingly so to people who expect the excesses of the former.
The IMDb lists the plot of “Mai Mai Miracle” as this: Inspired by her grandfather’s stories, young Shinko embarks on wild flights of fancy about the history of the little town she lives in. But dreams can’t fend off the realities of growing up.
That sounds about right, but “Mai Mai Miracle” is also a story about the springtime friendship of children in 1950’s era Japan. There’s building dams, fighting imaginary monsters with wooden swords, learning about loyalty, friendship and death, growing up, having adventures, and seeing the end of childhood arrive while trying to hold on to innocence. It’s based on the memoirs of Nobuko Takagi, so the story never really strays from the bonds of reality, but it does interpret and remember things in its own way.
At heart, Anime is a stylistic method and one of its trademarks is a profound sense of joy and optimism. Of course, the genre is often about sad things, but it maintains a stoic cheerfulness nonetheless. “Thus is life.” I’m sure it would say if it could.
For example, there’s a scene where the children angrily confront someone who may be responsible for the death of one of their parents, and not one moment plays out like you think it would. It doesn’t have the feel of overdone drama, but of absolute reality. It feels nice to experience that in a film. American films, by comparison can be very… um, not like that at all. Just look at “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory”. It’s a great film, but I hated one of the last lines:
“But Charlie, don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted.” Wonka says.
“What happened?” Charlie asks.
“He lived happily ever after.”
Anime believes that joy isn’t something that springs out of a charmed life. It believes that joy is an attitude that can help you face any challenge or adversity. That it’s something precious found in childhood that you carry with you, something that is often lost to adults, which is why so much of Anime involves children.
“Mai Mai Miracle” uses a clever plot device juxtaposing the children in 1955 with a real princess who lived in their town a thousand years before. It helps illustrate the history and magic of the land without having to use overtly supernatural means, something which has become a bit of a cliché in the genre.
The film is a heartwarming look back at childhood and has the ring of bittersweet truth. It takes you back to a time when the whole world seemed to just be waiting for you to come and experience it, with all the thrill and turmoil it has to offer. Sure, it may be Nobuko Takagi’s own autobiography, but anyone can see themselves painted in the images it evokes. It’s a bit of a low key film, but never an inconsequential one. It has weight and substance that transcends its humble ambition to recapture a small slice of its author’s life onto celluloid.
I watched the whole thing in rapt, enchanted attention despite the fact that it played in a jam packed full house at the Fantasia film festival and I had to sit on the “floor of shame” in the back, occasionally bobbing up my head to read the subtitles. My legs were killing me and one of my feet had gone to sleep, but I barely noticed by the time the credits rolled because I was so profoundly moved by the emotions the film stirred that I couldn’t think about much of anything else, especially not my stupid foot. A film so sweet and genuine that it can take you away like that can never be anything less than magnificent.