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Blending the Past, Present and Future through Mirai’s Music

As a part of the North American theatrical release of Studio Chizu’s Mirai, the film was followed by an interview with its director, one of my favorite filmmakers, Mamoru Hosoda. In this short, ten-minute interview, my perspective on the movie changed completely. Hosoda spoke about the impetus for the film, as well as its messages and themes. The theme that impacted me the most was his desire to have the movie connect the past, present, and future.

This single thread brings the entirety of Mirai together; the story flips throughout time, showing the influence one person can have on a family, no matter when they lived; its animation was a beautiful mix of hand-drawn scenes with CGI elements, another combination that speaks to Hosoda’s vision (he talks about the death of hand-drawn animation due to expenses. It’s heartbreaking). To me, the themes of Mirai are also inherent in its beautiful soundtrack.

There are many songs I could discuss that embrace the past/present/future theme (Mirai’s 2018 main theme is performed by Tatsuro Yamashita, a famous Japanese pop singer who got his start in 1976) but, for now, I will break down my favorite piece that plays at the climax of the film, Of Angels. This beautifully haunting piece grabbed me the instant I heard it. Its relevance was magnified by Hosoda’s post-film interview. Of Angels by Masakatsu Takagi takes techniques from the past and present and use them to make the listener look to the future.

This beautifully haunting and reflective piece appears when the past, present, and future meet. Mirai saves her younger brother Ku from the train station and takes him on a short but impactful journey to visit locales from the past, the moments that started the story of their family. The past, represented by the piano, is the base of the composition; it is the main melodic source that keeps the song grounded. Alongside it is a single auto-tuned line that accompanies the piano and dances above the melodic base. These two voices mesh together and create an extremely pensive and poignant composition.

The combination of past and present are obvious in Of Angel’s instrumentation, the traditional piano and the modern auto-tuned synth. The synth, in essence, is a modern-day piano. Without the piano, there would be no synth; without the past, there would be no present. The two voices also draw on each other in the same way. The synth’s melodic line would make no sense without the piano; the main melody would feel empty without the addition of the drifting synth. I also love the way the synth rises above the piano; the work of the past lets the present reach higher and do great things. I could make similar comparisons for days, but I think you get the idea. This song mirrors Hosoda’s intentions for the film so perfectly, it’s hard not to fangirl over it.

If Of Angels’ musical elements reflect the past and present, then the combination of them bring us to the future. Of Angels, although quite serious, is also an extremely hopeful piece. To me, it holds of sense of longing in its main motif. The song is constantly rising and falling, slowly building to something it cannot reach. I think the “beyond” that the piece is wanting to go is the future. Of Angels, in a way, is heartbreaking– the past and present can be filled with tragedy and hardship– but it is also hopeful, striving for the better future it knows will come. Ending the main conflict of the story with Of Angels was an inspired choice. With this piece, Mirai succeeds in its emotional finale.

Mirai portrays the theme Hosoda states in his interview: “Every family has an epic tale. Just the existence of a family, no matter how small, is the result of an amazing story.” All of Mirai’s small episodic moments and minute details, including its soundtrack, reflect the building of a family through time and connection. At first, I did not like Mirai. I could not see beyond its naïve and spoiled “main character.” But there is no single main character in Mirai, the family itself is the communal protagonist, sharing in victories and defeats over generations of lives. I look forward to watching the film again with a more open-minded approach and hearing how, with this new perspective, Of Angels shines even more brightly.


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