Mai Mai Miracle
|Mai Mai Miracle|
|Directed by||Sunao Katabuchi|
|Written by||Sunao Katabuchi|
|Story by||Maimai Shinko
by Nobuko Takagi
|Music by||Shusei Murai
Minako "mooki" Obata
|Edited by||Kashiko Kimura|
|Running time||93 minutes|
|Box office||US$75,529 (South Korea)|
Mai Mai Miracle (マイマイ新子と千年の魔法 Maimai Shinko to Sen-nen no Mahō?, lit. Mai Mai Shinko and the Millennium-Old Magic) is a Japanese animated film based on Nobuko Takagi's novelization of her autobiography, Maimai Shinko. It was produced by the animation studio Madhouse, distributed by Shochiku, and directed by Sunao Katabuchi.
The film debuted at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland on August 15, 2009. It was released in Japan on November 21, and ultimately had a rare seven-month run at the cinemas.
It's the spring of 1955, and the place is the area of Mitajiri (in the countryside around then small-town Hōfu) in Yamaguchi Prefecture, southwestern Japan. A nine-year-old girl named Shinko Aoki imagines she has a way of connecting to the world around her, a thousand years before. Then, an upper-class girl called Nagiko Kiyohara lived in this same land, at a time when the area was known as the province of Suō and its capital Kokuga. Shinko invites Kiiko Shimazu, a new student who has recently transferred to her school, to her magical time-travel, i.e. her vivid imaginings of the past. Despite the girls' quite different characters – Shinko is an outgoing, exuberant tomboy, while the shy and initially very reserved Kiiko still mourns her deceased mother – they get along surprisingly well and end up learning from each other's differences.
The family of Aoki farms the land. Like many of their neighbours in southern Japan around the mid-20th century, they cultivate durum wheat in spring, followed by a rice harvest in late summer/autumn. Shinko's and Kiiko's differences include Shinko living in a house without stairs, and like most of her classmates she goes to school barefoot. At Kiiko's house there's a well-kept little garden, and her father is a doctor at the new factory in the area. Kiiko has seen television a couple of times, and at the house there's a gas-powered refrigerator, alien things to country-kid Shinko. What Shinko does have is an unruly cowlick (which she calls "mai mai") in her forehead, which she believes makes her able to imagine things from the past. For that Kiiko is a bit jealous of Shinko.
- Shinko Aoki (voiced by Mayuko Fukuda)
- A 3rd grade girl with a strong will, imaginative and often unafraid of standing out through odd behaviour.
- Kiiko Shimazu (voiced by Nako Mizusawa)
- Reserved 3rd grade girl and new classmate to Shinko. She has moved to the area with her father (from Tokyo) and in the film starts out mourning the loss of her mother.
- Koutarou Aoki (Shinko's grandfather) (voiced by Keiichi Noda)
- A major inspiration for Shinko with his stories about life in the past.
- Nagako Aoki (voiced by Manami Honjou)
- The mother of Shinko, often clueless about what to do with Shinko's often unpredictable behaviour.
- Mitsuko Aoki (voiced by Tamaki Matsumoto)
- Little sister of Shinko, she is at times suffering from her big sister's restless handling of things. She has character herself, though, and likes cats.
- Tosuke Aoki (voiced by Eiji Takemoto)
- Father of Shinko, working at University of Yamaguchi.
In Lille, France in November 2007 Katabuchi showed extracts of the film without naming it. The film was announced by Madhouse at the 2008 Tokyo International Anime Fair as a new project of director Sunao Katabuchi. While Katabuchi had served as a scriptwriter Hayao Miyazaki's Sherlock Hound, as an assistant director on Kiki's Delivery Service, and had directed his own film Princess Arete in 2001 at Studio 4°C, this was his first feature film since joining Madhouse. To create the film, he assembled his crew from Madhouse's staff animators and artists, as well as associates from Studio 4°C. Shigeto Tsuji, previously an assistant animation supervisor on Metropolis, designed the characters, while Kazutaka Ozaki and Studio 4°C artist Chie Uratani served as animation directors. Both had previously worked on Princess Arete with Katabuchi. Shinichi Uehara, a veteran background painter at Madhouse, acted as art director.
Shochiku promoted the film online, aiming at international as well as domestic fans. A short English-subtitled trailer was posted on the studio's website in June. Additionally, Avex Network also promoted the film through their YouTube channel. A 31-second trailer was released on August 28, followed by a 100-second trailer on September 16.
The film debuted at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland on August 15, 2009. It was released in Japan on November 21, and ultimately had a rare seven-month run at the cinemas. Following 2010, though, it ended up in the category of films receiving a box office receipt of less than 300 million ¥.
Besides this, the films has had various international festival screenings, including France's Val-de-Marne/Paris (February 2010), Brussels, Belgium (February 2010), Edinburgh, UK (June 2010), San Francisco, USA (2010), Montréal, Canada (July 2010), and (during the summer of 2011) Melbourne, Australia.
The film has been released on DVD in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Germany (where it is called Das Mädchen mit dem Zauberhaar) and France. In France, Mai Mai Miracle enjoyed a release on Blu-ray Disc. So far, the only official release on home media containing English subtitles is the Region 3 DVD release in Hong Kong.
Themes and critical response
The story revolves around a 3rd grade schoolgirl, living with her parents and little sister in the countryside of 1950s Japan. Thus Mai Mai Miracle has things in common with Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro, enhanced by the animation of Madhouse (having collaborated on many Studio Ghibli productions). Alexandre Fontaine Rousseau of the French-language online magazine Panorama-cinéma said, "Both films chronicle childhood adventures and the "magic" that resides in this naïve outlook. In the former film, nature becomes fantastic; in this film it is the story that resides beneath the surface that has a life of its own as it is so aptly represented using animation." San Francisco International Animation Festival programmer Sean Uyehara said (interviewed by Elisabeth Bartlett of Fest21.com) mentioned this film in the light of Miyazaki's oft used focus upon pre-adolescence, "that moment when kids are figuring out their personality, how they fit in socially, feelings of empathy, how to deal with anger and disappointment...They are starting to understand how they affect others and others affect them." Uyehara also pointed out one difference between Miyazaki's work (where "usually the spiritual or dream world is as real as the actual world") and that of Katabuchi (where there is more distinction between the two and "it's more about imagination than it is about mysticism").
Elisabeth Bartlett mentioned one reason Uyehara loved this movie was, the themes being explored in the film mirrored the things his own 7-year-old kid was experiencing. The realism in portraying the dynamics of childhood imagination was also noticed by Ronnie Scheib, who further on in his review for Variety pointed out that Katabuchi, "exploits deftly time facial expressions, judiciously chosen minutiae and complex cross-cutting to grant emotional depth and tonal resonance to a deceptively simple story of girlhood friendship."
The Variety review appreciated on the director's complex cross-cutting technique, when presenting two worlds a thousand years apart. In the film, the princess of the Heian era, "a girl their age whose face they cannot yet visualize, remains isolated in her parallel universe as Katabuchi inventively leaps timeframes." This ancient world at first only spring forward in the mind of Shinko, who believes her mai mai (the cowlick in the middle of her forehead) is the reason for her unusual ability. Both the Variety review and independent film reviewer Chris Knipp elaborated upon the fact that this "children's story" has a darker side, that is cleverly mixed in to bring a realistic perspective. "Shadowing this enchanted cross-temporal childhood ether is a half-glimpsed adult world," where the dark and complex parts of adult life opens up new discoveries for the kids in the form of "tragedy but also accommodation." And the children realise that "good and evil are not so comfortingly distinct." With this added perspective, Katabuchi's storytelling skills enable him "to layer an aura of postwar disillusionment without disturbing the pic's well-sustained innocent tone."
Shinko's opening up to the realities of life comes both as a shock and a disappointment, but it also causes her to "realize that her magic may not be real." Through the depth of this story-telling, neither "Mai Mai Miracle nor the screenplay talks down to anybody, even though the playfulness and the ability to laugh are never lost." Chris Knipp thought the most appealing and fascinating about the film was "the way it oscillates between the real and the imaginary, the upbeat and the sad, while maintaining the deceptively simple surface of childhood." On the large scale, Katabuchi's film depicts Japan of the '50s, "caught between an imperial past of rigid class distinction and its Western-influenced, caste-loose future," and it presents "two sides of an ambivalent East/West fusion, conveyed with surprising clarity." And on the personal level, we find that nothing is cast in stone forever, as real-life events affect the main characters right up to the end. Those events seem "both surprising and inevitable". In the end, we as viewers learn that life goes on, just as in the real world, which in the case of this film happens to be the booming economy of Japan, ten years after a world war and a thousand years after the Heian era.
Awards and nominations
The film was nominated for the 4th Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Animated Feature Film.
Mai Mai Miracle won the 2010 Audience Award for the Best Animated Feature for adults at Anima, the Brussels Animation Film Festival (February 2010 in Belgium). It also won the BETV Award for Best Animated Feature at the same festival.
It also won the Best Animated Feature Film award in the Jury Prize categories at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montréal, Canada (July 2010).
The film won the Excellence Prize for Feature Length Animation at the 2010 Japan Media Arts Festival (the 14th festival edition).
- The Pillow Book
- Heian Period
- Mono no aware
- Post-occupation Japan
- Japan, Our Homeland, From up on Poppy Hill, and Only Yesterday (other slice-of-life post-war anime)
- Video on YouTube
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- Official website (Japanese)
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- Mai Mai Miracle at the Internet Movie Database