As we go into the final stretch for the Kickstarter of Katabuchi Sunao’s 「マイマイ新子と千年の魔法」 (Maimai Shinko to sen-nen no mahō/Mai Mai Miracle, Japan, 2009), I thought, why not collect the words of some of those who have already seen the film in one post? Mai Mai Miracle has had so few screenings that for most people the film is a complete unknown, enough perhaps to keep them from supporting this crowdfunding campaign. So, if you are toying with the question of whether to contribute to this Kickstarter, here’s a post to convince you that it’s very, very much worth it:
Genki Jason, of Genkinahito, saw the film (in part thanks to my urging) at a (sold out) Japan Foundation’s Touring Film Programme screening in 2013. He writes:
I was surprised at the force of feeling (I had to wait in the cinema before leaving just to compose myself!)
“The animation was intoxicating in its detail and the camera work was assured.”
“It is thoroughly absorbing. The use of imagination and reality, playing on what the audience knows and what the children believe and shaping a narrative in which the growth of the characters is compelling and their world feels so vital and alive is done here to perfection. The changes in tone from are delivered matter of factly. Things happen just like in real life. Deal with it. This, like all the changes in tone and the switching between imagination and reality is handled with such confidence that I have to admire the film and I think that it carries a great message for kids and is also adult enough to entertain grown-ups.”
“Mai Mai Miracle has many strengths, but chief among them is the characters. This is especially the case for Shinko and Kiiko, but every person in the story, no matter how much or how little screen time they get, feels incredibly human. Some characters get barely touched on, but you can tell that they are going through their own personal adventures and struggles just as Kiiko has in moving to a new town.”
“It’s a pleasant experience that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys the simple wonders of life and youth.”
Theowne of Omohide also delighted in Mai Mai Miracle:
“[L]ike-minded readers … will almost certainly find a hidden gem in this charming little film.”
“What the film also does extremely well is present how the sometimes harsh realities of life are filtered through childhood innocence in a remarkably nostalgic and believable manner. Concepts of familial conflicts, respect, and even death, appear in the movie at various times and are captured perfectly in the curious manner that a child would interpret and respond to such things. The climax in particular is a very satisfying depiction of how a child would deal with a personal tragedy they do not yet fully understand, and I was very impressed by it.”
“The art style is beautifully simple with any flourishes reserved for character expressions rather than flights of fancy.”
I am left with the conflicting feeling of satisfaction for having a discovered a little-known gem along with disappointment that it it not more well-known in the first place.
Words of wisdom from Helen McCarthy, who attended an animation double bill at the Barbican back in 2009, which included both Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo and Katabuchi’s Mai Mai Miracle:
“The evening was an absolute sensation. The whole audience was enthralled, and it felt as if we were really sharing all the thrills, tensions and drama of the big-screen experience. There were moments when it seemed everyone in the cinema was laughing, collective sharp intakes of breath, people moved to tears – the strongest reaction to a film I’ve experienced in that cinema since we last showed Miyazaki’s masterpiece My Neighbour Totoro.”
I’m not talking about Ponyo. It was Mai Mai Miracle that blew the audience away.
“But, odious as comparisons are, if I were to rank these three [Mai Mai Miracle, Ponyo and Arriety] I would put Mai Mai Miracle at number one for its sensitivity, originality, ability to ground magic in reality without reducing it to tinsel, and its sheer sense of fun.”
And Miguel Douglas of Isugoi writes:
“Mai Mai Miracle remains rather audacious in its attempt to situate its characters in a manner that has them address their issues by actually facing reality and questioning their decisions, thoughts, and relationships in a genuine fashion removed from the realm of the magical.”
The look of the film is perhaps its most striking technical aspect, with elaborate character designs and illustrious countryside settings; the visual aestheticism of the film is very pleasing to view. Studio Madhouse does a fantastic job in bringing to life the dexterity and postwar industrial climate of the Japanese rural environment through its subtle visual displays.
“Mai Mai Miracle is an exceptionally well-made and visually stimulating gem of a film.”
Finally, from my own review here at Otherwhere:
“Only one word is really needed to describe Mai Mai Miracle: it’s simply magical.”
“Mai Mai Miracle’s soundscore … has not one note off-beat. It heightens the film’s shifting moods throughout and is used, again, for the characterisation of Shinko and Kiiko, cheerful beats and voices accompanying the former, dispirited, lonely piano chords – at least at first – the latter.”
“Mai Mai Miracle is a wonderfully uplifting film, but do know that although the purity and joy of childhood shine through, there is no naivety, no sugarcoating here. As much as will make you smile, it will equally invoke nostalgia and move you to tears – of sadness. One summer’s day, blissful Shinko and Kiiko race barefoot through the fields, with not one care in the world, but on another death makes its entrance – more than once. There is laughter, there are tears, and there is laughter again, and yet more tears: because in the end, both joy and sadness are life.”
“[T]he film is full of the ordinary – people, moments, gestures – that we can all recognise and find delight in. These depictions of the every-day do not drive the plot, but make the film a much richer experience.”
I will leave you with a final quote from Helen McCarthy, which, I think, says it all:
Mai Mai Miracle, though – there’s a movie to make you dance in the streets.