Maboroshi 2024 Movie Review
Masamune Kikuiri (Max Mittleman) is a 14-year-old student who, while hanging out with a group of friends, witnesses an explosion at a steel factory one fateful night. The sky becomes cracked, with smoke-like “dragons” rising out of the mill to seemingly patch said cracks. Eventually, every exit is sealed off from the town. That means no one is allowed in or out at any time.
At first, Masamune and his friends are hopeful that things will eventually go back to normal. Unfortunately, that bright-eyed hope eventually fades into a tired resignation, forcing most to accept that nothing will ever change, nor will anyone be leaving the town. Bizarrely, no one ages or changes in any way anymore, either. Perhaps the weirdest of all is the fact that there are no answers, there is no comfort to bury oneself in, and no apparent way out to escape this new development.
One day, however, all of this changes when Masamune and friend Mutsumi Sagami (Jeannie Tirado) happen upon a young girl who seems to be aging in a town where no one has the ability to change any longer. It’s obvious she might have some answers in terms of what’s going on, leaving Masamune and Mutsumi to figure out her link to the mysterious event that befell their town.
maboroshi isn’t just an animated fantasy about a town that ceases to change or age. It’s also a study on life before and after the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps indirectly (or perhaps not on purpose), but even a few years out as businesses refuse to go back to their original practices and the world struggles with recalling the past few years, it feels like a very similar allegory.
Beyond that very obvious comparison, this fantasy is a bit more mature and more difficult to digest immediately than some of its contemporaries. It doesn’t immediately come out and explain itself nor exactly what’s going on, and doesn’t hold your hand. For that alone it should be praised given the difficulty so many filmmakers have with keeping things mysterious when they should be for at least a little while when debuting new movies.
It’s gorgeous, it forces you to take inventory of what’s happening in every scene, and does so with biting realism and wit, with writing that actually sounds like real teenagers instead of the trite conversations between people in anime films of late. It goes to great lengths to build up an exciting payoff and conclusion that’s also quite bittersweet, and is well worth the watch with all that in mind.