The Bittersweet Impermanence of Life: Mai Mai Miracle review and discussion

We meet and then we part. We live and then we die. On the surface, Mai Mai miracle felt like someone holding on to sweet nostalgic memory. But in fact, the anime was more about dealing with the impermanence of things in life. Memento Mori in children’s movie…I’m impressed! (this article contains spoilers)

The primer: Mai Mai Miracle set in the year 1955. It captured the lives of a group of children in a small district in rather short span of time. Shinko was a strong-willed girl and she had many imaginary friends. Kiiko recently moved into town and through her, the viewers got a chance to explore the beautiful countryside of Japan in the 50s. The first half of the movie was mostly about daily lives of  the girls and her friends while the later part dealt with more serious events that would changed many lives forever.

Embracing the darker aspect of life

The major theme in Mai Mai miracle is how children learn about impermanence in life. All the characters in Mai Mai Miracle experienced events that caused change to their lives, reminding them that nothing lasted forever. The events were either about life-death or meeting-parting of someone dear to them. Shinko’s grandfather and the policeman died. The god fish also died. Kiiko moved into the village in the beginning and Shinko had to move out in the end. The children’s teacher got married and quit the school. The new teacher was just having a baby. All these events disrupted the lives of everyone involved and they struggled to cope with the changes.

I didn’t mean to make it sound so depressing but it really was. Beneath its cuddly and colorful looks, Mai Mai Miracle dealt with lots of dark, brooding matters. The anime was not afraid to embrace the darker aspect of life. I was really impressed by how realistic Mai Mai Miracle turned out. What kind of children’s story ended with three characters leaving in separate ways and three dead bodies (including the gold fish)?

The death of gold fish; a reference to Kill Bill?

When I saw the scene in which the children found out that their gold fish died, I could not help thinking of the gold fish scene in Kill Bill. This was just my random observation. You know that Kill Bill is one of my favorite movies. Did you remember that scene when Bill told The Bride how her daughter (B.B.) learned about the concept of death? She put her gold fish (Emilio) out of its bowl and watched as the fish was flapping on the floor. B.B. learned what death was when Emilio stopped flapping. Maybe children, in general, learned about death when their gold fish died as well? Maybe that’s not the case now because I am quite sure than modern parents will quickly buy new gold fish to replace the dead one.

Concerning the lonely princess.

Scenes from prehistoric Japan was shown in parallel to the present day events in this anime. It was actually Shinko’s imagination of the stories her grandfather told her about what this town was like hundreds of years ago. I thought that was a clever way to emphasize on the anime’s theme about ‘change’. Nevertheless, I was on the fence about the cut scenes in the second half of the film. During the show, we saw Shinko and later Kiiko impersonating the princess who used to live in the village. The princess was lonely and she managed to find friends among common people in the end. In my opinion, I thought the princess’ sequence felt out of place and was a distraction to other concluding subplots. As I have stated, Mai Mai Miracle was mainly about the unpredictability of life. It might be likely that the filmmakers tried to use this lonely princess sequence to conclude Kiiko’s subplot by having her impersonating the princess and finally fitting into her new environment.

What is the miracle?

The miracle is the short time that we spend with the ones we love. We live in chaotic sea of change. Most things don’t stay long. So every minute of happiness is invaluable. Mai Mai Miracle opened with the characters meeting and living together. Then the anime ended with departure of these same characters. Shinko moved to the city and I didn’t know if she would meet Kiiko again. But for Shinko, she would never meet her grandfather again. So yeah, life itself was a miracle.

General impression of Mai Mai Miracle

Obviously, I have spent most of this article analyzing the anime rather than criticize it. There was really nothing bad to say about Mai Mai Miracle. The anime was visually pleasing and despite its cute appearance, was very poignant and serious. It might have encountered a few glitches along the way because it tried to cover several stories at once. The lack of true main character (but not the lack of main theme, of course) was probably the only thing that prevent it from getting an A rating.

Rating: B+

Title: Mai Mai Miracle
Genre: drama
Released date: November 21, 2009
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: Sunao Katabuchi
Animated by: Madhouse

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5 responses to “The Bittersweet Impermanence of Life: Mai Mai Miracle review and discussion

  1. I seen this while back and was thoroughly impressed with the title. I was still trying to wrap my mind around the whole subplot idea, but after reading a critics analysis it made a bit of sense. Have you seen the studio ghibil flim Only Yesterday? It is sort of similar and deals with the same concept of the Mono no aware or mujo (same as Impermanence) factor.

    • Yes, I have recently re-watched Only Yesterday a few months back (you can also look up on the archive) and the setting was very similar to Mai Mai Miracle. Still, there were several major differences between the two. One of which was that Only Yesterday focus more on resolution of internal conflict rather than interpersonal events in Mai Mai Miracle.
      Thanks for the comment :)

      • I watched it three weeks ago and actually started a post similar to this one. Yeah, they are similar to a degree, but widely different, especially with how the essences of mujo is exemplified (I.E: In the film you see automobiles and some western products becoming used expressing the passage of time, etc). However, I do agree with you on the interpersonal events versus inner conflict aspect of the two. I’ll be sure to check out your post Only Yesterday as well.

        And no problem, been a joy reading it ^^

  2. Hey I rather enjoyed this movie, not for it’s themes but its whimsical art direction. Great review but my question to you… How impermanent is life exactly if you have a great story to tell?

    • Thanks for reading!
      I am not entirely sure I understand your question but here’s my answer.
      I think if a person has a great story to tell (like doing something big or create world-saving inventions), his name would remain long after he’s gone. But the impermanence of life would still apply because he is still mortal; he might suffer, he might get sick and he would still die.

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