Anime Review: Mai Mai Miracle (Lights, Camera, Action!)

By Drew Hurley 17.06.2017

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Mai Mai Miracle (UK Rating: PG)

Anime Limited has already brought some truly outstanding anime series and movies to the UK that would have been unlikely to have seen a Western release - from its initial Kickstarter campaigns to the now regular slate of breathtaking titles. Titles like Patema Inverted, Your Name, A Silent Voice… and now it's time to see if the latest import can stand alongside these impressive titles. This adaptation of Nobuko Takagi's novelised autobiography tells a touching tale of childhood in '50s rural Japan - and also a glimpse at a time a thousand years before that. Mai Mai Miracle is out 19th June.

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Knowing that this is a novelisation of an autobiography makes the cinematography and storytelling make a lot more sense. There isn't really an overarching plot that develops over the course of the film; instead, this feels like a glimpse into someone's childhood. It is filled with heart-warming scenes and charming moments, made up from the experiences of a generation of Japanese children in rural Japan in the 1950s. A pair of girls is the stars of this story; the first, Shinko, is a happy and boisterous girl that lives in a little rural corner of Japan called Mitajiri with her grandparents. Shinko has a unique feature, her "Mai Mai," or cow's-lick for those in the West, which grants her magical powers to let her see one thousand years into the past… or she has a particularly vivid imagination. The second is a new girl joining Shinko's school, a girl named Kiiko who has lived in Tokyo all her life until now, having been uplifted from her life and transported out to the sticks when her father moved for work. While Shinko is the typical country girl who loves playing in the mud with all her friends, Kiiko is quite the proper young lady with a tragic history.

This pair of heroines becomes fast friends and soon the twosome becomes three, four, five and more as a group of childhood friends is born. Much of the movie is dedicated to the kids embarking on the type of adventures that only youngsters their age can have; playing pretend with their friends, exploring fields and building dams, and so on. The movie perfectly captures the feeling of this childhood time. For those in the audience who experienced childhood in the '90s or before, this is a heavy hit of nostalgia. Even though it is set in the '50s, and there are lots of moments that clearly date the period, things like the introduction of cinema and the radio in the background or the ice being delivered for the refrigerator, there are many moments of childhood joy that kids of the '70s, '80s, and '90s will all fondly identify with.


 
While these moments are filled with a warmth and feeling, there is a lack of a real narrative that hurts the film. The scenes exploring a young girl 1,000 years ago feel completely out of place and it feels like the movie would have been better without them, just as a coming of age tale. Especially if it spent a little more time on some other important characters, the adults especially.

There is both the original Japanese dub and a new English dub that has been produced by veteran of the industry, Michael Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas has worked in the industry for ages, as a voice actor, producer, ADR director and more, and is beyond knowledgeable, doing a fantastic job here on translating the story for Western audiences. One of his best decisions was the casting of children; while it probably made his job an awful lot harder, it gives an even more faithful and authentic quality to the production. Sinterklaas also has a brief interview as a special feature on the disc.

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

The director of Mai Mai Miracle is Sunao Katabuchi, a man who worked with the living legend that is Miyazaki. Katabuchi-San was Assistant Director on Spirited Away, but despite this significant experience, his first major production feels like a pale imitation. The story feels scattered, and while it is highlighted with some rich and beautiful moments, it's not enough to elevate this to stand alongside the breakout titles All the Anime has previously brought over.

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