Netflix’s romance drama, ‘Maboroshi,’ a Japanese anime film, immerses the viewers in a fantastical town frozen in time. Following an explosion at the local steel factory, the citizens of Mifuse find themselves trapped in their city where time stands still. As such, under factory worker Mr. Sagami’s frantic guidance, the townsfolk are expected to remain the same as well to survive under the cracked skies. Nevertheless, after two teenagers, Masamune Kikuiri and Mutsumi Sagami, cross paths with a feral, regressed child, dubbed Itsumi, they discover the truth about their condition as they learn more about the little girl.
However, with several forces, including the town’s heads, working against them alongside their own hearts, Masamune and Mutsumi’s adventure becomes more difficult than expected. The film charts a thrilling, if perplexing, narrative that begins to take shape as Mifuse’s mysteries come out in the open one by one. Therefore, viewers must have questions about the tale, especially the young star-crossed lovers and Itsumi’s fates in it. SPOILER AHEAD!
Maboroshi Plot Synopsis
At 14, Masamune Kikuiri and his friends witness the distant, yet horrifying, explosion at the Steel Factory near the train tracks. However, as the children rush out of Masamune’s room to the streets to evaluate the damage, they are faced with a cracked sky, as if shattered by the Factory’s explosion. More worrying yet, wolfish streams of smoke emerge from the Factory and seal the sky’s cracks, reverting it to its original state. Thus, Masamune, his friends, and the entire town realize from that day that something intrinsic about Mifuse has changed.
Nonetheless, life reverts back to relatively normal, with the kids attending school and adults doing their duties. For the most part, Masamune and his friends’ days are filled with childish games of inflicting pain upon each other and ogling at girls from their grades. One girl, Mutsumi Sagami, stands out against those girls as she continues to annoy and tease Masamune, driving his hatred toward her. Still, after a clash between Mutsumi and Sonobe, a shy girl in their class, Masamune somehow ends up accompanying the former girl to an outing.
As such, Mutsumi and Masamune sneak into a forbidden level of the Steel Factory, where the former introduces the latter to another girl, similar in physical age but with the mentality of a toddler. Likening the girl’s persona to a wolf, Mutsumi explains that she’s in charge of caring for the child and wants Masamune to help, citing his girlish looks as the deciding factor. The boy, for some inexplicable reason, finds himself agreeing.
Meanwhile, the rest of the town continues to seek guidance from Mr. Sagami, who insists that the factory explosion and the resulting time freeze is an act of God meant to punish Mifuse citizens. Likewise, he christens the Wolfish smoke to the Sacred Smoke, claiming their repairs on the skies are the only thing holding their world together. For the same reason, he encourages people to remain consistent in their personality, desires, and fears, insisting that any change would make it difficult when time starts moving again.
Consequently, everyone, including Mutsumi, Masamune, and their young friends, continues to feel trapped in their town, unable to escape Mifuse and their own adolescence. Still, as Masamune takes on a caretaking role for the mysterious Factory girl, he learns more about Mutsumi, including her relation to Mr. Sagami, her father who disowned her after her mother’s death.
Eventually, Masamune and his friends decide to carry out some hijinks and sneak into the barricaded train tunnels with the intention of graffitiing the walls. However, a failed love confession to Masamune sends an embarrassed Sonobe to run out of the tunnel’s other end. As the girl despairs over Masamune’s rejection and their friends’ ensuing unintentional ridicule, her body begins to develop cracks. As such, Sonobe’s friends watch the Sacred Smoke emerge for her and consume her out of existence.
Therefore, when the kids report the incident, it leads to a mass public commotion. Still, Sagami insists Sonobe’s death is only caused by the vehement change she underwent after her first heartbreak. In turn, Masamune becomes crushed by Sonobe’s predicament, unable to accept the utter feeling of entrapment that comes from remaining in Mifuse in an eternal winter as a 14-year-old forbidden from evolving.
As a result, after an emotionally charged interaction with the Factory girl, whom Masamune names Itsumi, the boy decides to help the girl flee from the factory’s confines. Even though the sentiment and Masamune’s growing amity with Itsumi angers Mutsumi, she helps the pair once they escape to the train tracks, where Sagami tries to stop them. As Itsumi climbs up the train compartment and reaches for the increasing cracks in the sky, Masamune, right behind her, glimpses outside Mifuse’s confines and learns a brutal truth about the town’s existence.
Maboroshi Ending: Why Is Mifuse Frozen in Time?
Although Mifuse’s timeless demise isn’t evident at first, the town’s predicament becomes more understandable once we learn how the townsfolk have had to cope with the last few years. Despite living a new day in and out, Mifuse citizens have been frozen in time, unable to age and change with time ever since the Steel Factory’s explosion. Therefore, a woman who was pregnant at the time of the explosion has been carrying her baby for years on end with no development.
Likewise, Masamune and his friends have been trapped as 14-year-olds with no sign of growth for years. Consequently, with each passing day, the claustrophobia of being stuck in Mifuse, with its blocked train tunnels and unnavigable waters, begins to eat on its citizens. Sagami, the crazed Factory-worker-turned-leader, insists that the same is a result of God’s divine punishment. Since the Factory feeds on Mount Kanzari’s resources, Sagami argues it’s a sacred place that delivers the townsfolk their divine livelihoods.
Therefore, God has turned the Factory into a Sacred Machine that has kept Mifuse frozen in time and delegates Sacred Smoke to heal the sky’s cracks and hold their world together. Sagami also insists that the town will heal if the people continue to remain pure and true. However, unbeknownst to them, he also has another ace up his sleeve, Itsumi.
In the town frozen in time, Itsumi is a girl who remains unchanged in her psyche but continues to grow physically. Consequently, he keeps her locked in the Factory to hold her as an offering to God. Nevertheless, once the girl escapes with Masamune and reaches for the sky, a different truth becomes unavoidable.
Therefore, no longer able to keep the secret, Tokimune, Masamune’s uncle, who also works at the Factory, unveils the reality to the townspeople. As it would turn out, after the Factory’s explosion, it destroyed Mifuse. Nonetheless, the town and its people became trapped in a phantom reality rather than wiping out of existence. For the same reason, Mifuse citizens exist but only in the same form as they did when the explosion happened. Furthermore, if someone undergoes a grave change, usually brought on by a significant negative emotion, they cease to exist.
Every Mifuse citizen is essentially a ghost trapped in a literal ghost town. Similarly, the cracks in the sky happen whenever their world is on the verge of collapsing, and the Sacred Smoke mends these cracks to conserve Mifuse back in its phantom time capsule. Yet, beyond the cracks, an alternative reality lies where everything is different and capable of change. Nevertheless, since no one from Mifuse exists any longer, they can’t survive in the alternative world. Yet, Itsumi stands as the eternal exception, who thrives when she reaches out into the other world.
Who Is Itsumi? Does She Return To Her Reality?
Once the revelation of Mifuse’s time-frozen predicament arrives, it begs the question of Itsumi’s inexplicable existence. While everyone else remains stuck in time, Itsumi keeps growing, transforming physically from a toddler into a young girl. Although her mental development is halted, it’s a result of her social isolation and forced confinement to the Steel Factory rather than development issues on her part.
Sagami insists that Itsumi must be kept pure inside the Sacred Machine, a.k.a The Steel Factory, and remain unadulterated by outside influences. However, with the truth about Mifuse’s phantom experience, Sagami loses some of his control over the townsfolk. As a result, Itsumi is allowed to leave the Factory and comes to live with Masamune and his family. Likewise, Mutsumi, her designated caretaker, who has been living alone in a run-down house, also accompanies the young girl.
One night, while Masamune shares his roof with the two girls, the sky cracks intensify, reaching down to the surface. During this time, the boy discovers something bizarre about the cracks. Earlier, when Masamune peeked through the cracks from the top of the train compartment, he saw into the world where the Factory’s destruction left the place vapid and rusting. Similarly, this time, Masamune sees into the alternative reality, where individuals— who seem like older versions of himself and Mutsumi— mourn the disappearance of their child.
The sight compels Masamune to reach out to the other reality, but Mutsumi manages to pull him away in the knick of time. As such, Mutsumi is compelled to reveal that the first time she saw Itsumi, when the latter was still a toddler, she was carrying a bag with a tag labeled “Yaki Kikuiri.” Thus, the realization that Itsumi is Mutsumi and Masamune’s child begins to sink in. Still, Mutsumi insists that she’s not the alternate version of herself to keep herself detached from Itsumi. The young girl is scared of admitting that she kept Itsumi hostage at the Steel Factory while knowing of their connection, which drives her to sever it.
Furthermore, Mutsumi insists that Itsumi’s actual parents, the alternate version of the duo, are waiting in their reality while their daughter is trapped in Mifuse’s phantom world. Eventually, Masamune finds his father’s journal, discovering insight into Itsumi’s predicament. Shortly after the Factory’s explosion, Masamune’s father, another factory worker, found a young girl in a freight train that came through the tunnels. The girl was unlike any other Mifuse citizen, and Sagami realized she was from the real world.
Nevertheless, instead of allowing her to return to her world via another physics-defying train, Sagami held on to the girl in the Phantom world, insisting she was meant for God. As a result, her existence in Mifuse increased the cracks in the sky, depending on her emotions since she was a living person in a phantom world. Once Masamune understands the same, he realizes he must find a way to return her to her world.
Even though Itsumi had stormed off to Sagami after witnessing an intimate moment between Masamune and Mutsumi, leading her to feel left out, the duo managed to retrieve her from under Sagami’s capture. Afterward, they attempt to drive from Mifuse to reality through the shattered cracks to put Itsumi on a train that will take her back to her parents. Along the way, the duo faces many challenges, including Tokimune, who attempts to shut the cracks, and Hara, their friend.
Since Itsumi’s arrival in town was so intrinsically linked to Mifuse’s phantom state, people like Tokimune and Hara are afraid that her return to reality will end their world as they know it. Yet, Mutsumi and Masamune refuse to give up. In the end, Mutsumi manages to put Itsumi on the train and stays with her to ensure the stubborn girl doesn’t jump through the cracks again.
After spending so much time in Mifuse, Itsumi has fallen in love with the frozen versions of her parents and is reluctant to leave them. For the same reason, she threw a tantrum and ran off to Sagami when she saw the pair get closer without her present. As a result, she doesn’t wish to leave them alone and be left out of their life and relationship. Nonetheless, Mutsumi, finally accepting her maternal relationship with Itsumi, convinces her to find her actual parents, who miss her and leave Masamune’s phantom self to her.
Since they are frozen in time, Masamune and Mutsumi’s love can exist only for each other, but Itsumi’s parents, the couple’s alter egos, care for Itsumi dearly and will be overjoyed to see her. Thus, once Itsumi reluctantly agrees, Mutsumi jumps off the train, leaving the girl to return to her world. Years later, once Itsumi’s psyche has grown into her physical age, she visits Mifuse, the alternate version of it, where the town is empty and vapid after the explosion. At the Factory, Itsumi indulges in the nostalgia of the ghost town, where she got her heart broken for the first time at her parents’ hands.
Do Masamune and Mutsumi End Up Together? Do They Die?
Masamune and Mutsumi’s relationship charts a tumultuous path from the beginning. Although the boy harbors intense feelings for the girl from the start, he believes it to be hatred. Nevertheless, once he starts spending time with Mutsumi, he’s unable to deny the attraction he feels for the girl. Mutsumi, in turn, remains aware of Masamune’s attraction toward her, even before he is, and often toys with his emotions, which makes him hate her more.
Eventually, after Sobone’s unfortunate love confessions, Masamune fails to remain in denial about his emotions. He realizes he loves Mutsumi dearly but can’t do anything about his feelings, which leads to mountainous hurt. Therefore, the revelation of the alternative reality, where he married Mutsumi and had Itsumi, adds a layer of complication to the pair’s relationship.
Still, it isn’t until Mutsumi casually mentions that she’s aware of Masamune’s artistic talent that the boy realizes his true love. Nevertheless, the girl insists he only believes so because he glimpsed into a future neither could ever have. Yet, in the altercation that follows, where the pair end up in close proximity, Mutsumi is unable to hide her heart’s rapid beating, which gives her true feelings away.
Mutsumi is reluctant to fall in love with Masamune since they’re trapped in an eternal winter where they won’t ever grow. However, fear can only hold her back for so long. As such, after the pair manage to save Itsumi by helping her flee from Mifuse, Mutsumi accepts her love for Masamune, allowing herself to change. Although the couple has been dead from the start, their journey in time-frozen Mifuse helps them grow in an unexpected way as they allow themselves to fall in love. Thus, the couple ends the story together, somewhere between life and death.
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