‘Maboroshi’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: What Is Itsumi’s Real Identity? 


Celebrated anime artist Mari Okada’s latest work, Maboroshi, or Alice and Therese’s Illusory Factory, is an allegorical tale told through rich animation style and visual splendor. The plot, which has Masamune Kikuiri, a boy of fourteen, trapped in an unexplained time freeze, along with the rest of his town of Mifuse, is actually one about adolescent love and the difficult acceptance of romantic failure. After watching Maboroshi for two straight times, I am convinced that one needs to have a certain faith or belief in the anime genre in order to enjoy the film, which might otherwise seem slightly pretentious. However, for fans of anime and especially those enjoying subjects of adolescence, Maboroshi is surely an absolute treat.

Spoiler Alert

Plot Summary: What is the anime film about?

Maboroshi begins on a very normal night at the house of protagonist Masamune Kikuiri, a fourteen-year-old boy. Masamune and his friends from school were having their usual session of doing homework together, amidst fun and banter, until a series of loud noises interrupted them. As the entire town loses electricity immediately, the boys see tremendous explosions and fire break out at the steel factory in the distance. The town of Mifuse, where the film takes place, has only the steel factory to show as its pride and heritage, and the horrible accident at the place now threatens to destroy all of it, along with endangering the lives of the townsfolk. But Masamune, his friends, and the entire town survive, with hardly any physical effect on them. However, there is a mysterious catch to their whole survival, since Mifuse is now stuck in a mysterious and supernatural time freeze.

The explosion leads to all entry and exit points in the town, such as the railway tunnels and the seaports, being blocked forever. This ensures that the residents of the place can never leave the place or their fate, which is unnaturally stagnant, for no time passes in Mifuse following the accident. This means that nobody grows up or dies, and yet society keeps on existing in its usual state, living just like in the times before the accident. Therefore, Masamune and all his friends in school have to regularly fill out self-monitoring forms in order to ensure that there is no change in their emotions and feelings. Any such change threatens the existence of the town as cracks open up in the sky, and strange smoke from the factory in the shape of wolves rushes out to mend the cracks. Amidst such an unchanging world, Masamune keeps living a drab life, until he gets to know a young girl living in their town in secret.

How does Masamune meet with Itsumi?

The boring existence of Masamune’s life is evident from the very opening minutes of Maboroshi, as the boy completely understands the stillness of time in Mifuse. Masamune has been fated to always be a fourteen-year-old boy, with no ability to follow his dreams of becoming an artist, for he will never grow up. Even though he enjoys drawing and sketching, any pleasure in these hobbies gets sucked out when he thinks of the eerie permanence of his situation. The protagonist and his friends go around town, indulging in activities that would physically hurt them in order to feel pain for a long time, but none of it penetrates their strange situation. As expressed in a voiceover, the winter, which has been permanently stuck in Mifuse, does not make the boys feel cold any more. In more sense than one, Masamune and some of his friends have matured more than their age, simply because their bodies have been stuck at the same age while their mental development seems to have carried on. 

Having romantic feelings is still a very characteristic part of this young adolescent age, and Masamune also has a tremendous crush on one of his classmates, the reserved and slightly mysterious Mutsumi Sagami. However, the permanence of their lives and the absence of the possibility of any change to their fortunes make Masamune feel almost dead, and therefore, he does not pursue his interest in the girl, even though he is often caught up by her thoughts. Mutsumi, though, seems to be trying to catch the protagonist’s attention from her perch-like position on the top of the school’s tower. Although Masamune initially does not pay attention to the girl, an exhilarating moment of self-exposure by Mutsumi is enough to make the boy run up the tower. It becomes evident that the girl has other intentions behind this act, as she wants to take Masamune to the abandoned fifth blast furnace in the old factory in Mifuse.

Although some parts of the factory are still in use, as workers still visit the place, even though the factory apparently runs itself, the fifth blast furnace is completely abandoned and empty. The reason for this is made clear in a little while, when a young girl jumps out at Masamune and excitedly welcomes him to the place. But her behavior is unlike any human’s, and she is almost like a feral wolf cub, running around sniffing the protagonist excitedly. Mutsumi makes it clear that the girl, who is later named Itsumi, has been kept locked in the fifth blast furnace, even though she does not reveal the reason behind this. Mutsumi had been given the responsibility of taking care of Itsumi by her slightly deranged father, Mamoru Sagami, who is an important employee of the steel factory. But the girl was now in search of someone else who would also be able to come down to the abandoned furnace and care for the young girl. Thus, she chose Masamune to do it simply because she herself is romantically interested in the boy and wants to make him a part of her secret. In this manner, Masamune learns of the existence of young Itsumi, which soon changes his fate, along with that of the entire town.

What is Itsumi’s real identity?

To say that Maboroshi does not really adhere to the limits of reality would be an understatement, and the film intentionally keeps it that way till the very end. At first, Itsumi’s real identity seems to be that of a sister of Mutsumi’s, as Masamune is really surprised by the similarity in appearance between the two women. Mutsumi denies being related to the girl, for her own family has disowned her also, and her father does not keep in touch with her either. The world of Mifuse is seen to have occasional rifts or tears all around, and it is revealed that scenes of the reality, which exists on the other sides of the tears, can be seen from this world. In one such rift, Masamune sees his own grown-up self and realizes the true identity of Itsumi.

Itsumi seems to be the daughter of the grown-up Masamune in the original reality, as the protagonist had grown up to marry Mutsumi and have a child with her, revealing why the two women look similar. This child is Itsumi, and in the original timeline, the young girl seems to have separated from her parents during the festivities in the town when she climbed onto a nearby train without her parents noticing. The events of the night are also presented later on, as the girl was left behind by Masumune and Mutsumi only to teach her a lesson about not touching items at a store. But this led to extreme heartbreak, for the child moved away from the place inattentively, and the parents were left looking for her. As the train then crossed over the two realities, it ended up traveling to Mifuse, along with young Itsumi inside its carriage. The girl was found by the steel factory authorities, specifically by the protagonist’s father, Akimune Kikiuri, who immediately wanted to help her out by returning her to her original reality. Akimune had seen a label on Istumi’s bag and had identified her as his granddaughter, who existed in the reality that had actually moved on to the future. However, the deranged employee, Mamoru Sagami, refused to let the girl return to her reality and instead started a religious cult with her.

Not only is Itsumi a guest from the future in this supernatural town of Mifuse, but her emotions and feelings are also very directly connected to the existence of the place. Itsumi is the only exceptional figure in the town, with regard to the fact that she is the only person aging naturally. While the others have been fixed to their age since the accident took place, Itsumi arrives as a child and keeps growing older with the passage of time. It can be guessed that her emotions and feelings did not really affect the world earlier, but at present, they do start to have a devastating effect on the world. As is the rule at Mifuse, any change in feelings leads to the sky falling apart. So, when Itsumi sees Masumune and Mutsumi, basically the younger selves of her parents, romantically kissing, the girl grows extremely sad and experiences despair in love. This is because Itsumi has started to develop romantic feelings for Masumune herself, and coming across this scene makes her realize that there is no way for her to get the boy.

When Masumune realizes that the train in which Itsumi arrived at this world was from another reality, and so it can be used to travel back to the original reality, the boy decides to help Itsumi out. He is convinced that the girl needs to be returned to her own reality, and he sets out on an elaborate plan to achieve this plan.

What happens to the people of Mifuse?

Sometime in the duration of Maboroshi, it is confirmed that the people of Mifuse are actually not alive, and they are phantoms, or spirits. On the night of the horrible accident at the steel factory, the original residents of Mifuse town seem to have died from the impact, and the world that we are made to witness throughout the film is the spirit world mirroring reality. It is because of this that the residents do not grow in age, and time does not pass at the place. However, most of the residents are also committed to keeping the town and themselves in an unchanged state so that their world does not fall apart. Every time anyone goes through any extreme emotional feelings or has the desire to change themselves, they start to fall apart, quite literally, and the smoke from the factory comes and consumes them.

Mamoru Sagami worships this smoke, which probably signifies the effect of the Industrial Revolution on human beings, wanting them to be as mechanical and uniform as possible. Mamoru makes a cult out of this worship of his, and when the little Itsumi arrives at this reality, he starts to preach that the girl would be their savior and so she should be kept hostage at the fifth blast furnace. Therefore, when Masumune makes the plan of getting Itsumi on the train carriage and having his grandfather drive the train out to the original reality, Mamoru employs all his might to stop this from happening. But the teenager and Mutsumi, who currently helps him out, remain resolute and are able to put Itsumi on the carriage. Masumune is unable to board the train, though, and so Mutsumi also jumps out of it, choosing to remain with her beloved, despite the possibility of the world as they know it ending.

Itsumi leaving the spirit world and returning to her original reality would destroy the entire spirit world, and the train she is on is the only way to escape this fate, but Mutsumi still chooses her love over a desolate survival. Therefore, she unites with Masumune, and as Itsumi leaves the world on the train and returns to her reality, the town of Mifuse, or, the version we have been watching, ceases to exist. Maboroshi no longer shows the townsfolk, signifying that they no longer exist.

Maboroshi‘s ending shows a young adult Itsumi, some years after the incident of her getting lost and magically traveling over to a different reality. The woman arrives at Mifuse, the town of her reality, and travels to the abandoned steel plant, remembering how she had experienced her first heartbreak with Masumune at this very place. This signifies that Itsumi has memories of all the incidents, and so they were not just figments of her imagination but very real events that took place.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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