In maboroshi, a 14-year-old Masamune and his friends navigate life in a town frozen in time. The movie is now streaming on Netflix.
Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers
While 14-year-old Masamune Kikuiri and his friends are studying and fooling around, their house loses electricity.
Far away, they see the steel factory of their town, Mifuse, exploding. That night, the lives of the people of Mifuse change forever.
The skies now often have cracks. These cracks are fixed by smoke that comes from the steel factory in the form of what looks like a wolf. People have come to call this smoke Sacred Wolf.
The residents of Mifuse, on the other hand, are eternally trapped in a timeless freeze. The kids won’t be growing up anymore, forcing them to be in school and in the same grade forever.
The elderly individuals who are awaiting death may never die, and the pregnant women may never see their child.
Masamune, his friends, and the residents of Mifuse navigate this strange reality. However, there is still hope that one day everything will go back to normal.
People are asked not to change themselves, as it would be problematic if one day they do go back to their real world.
People in the town don’t feel anything anymore. Masamune and his friends even play games that are supposed to hurt them.
Things change for Masamune when a classmate named Mutsumi Sagami invites him to show him something interesting.
She takes him to the steel factory, where she introduces Masamune to a girl somewhere near their age. She can’t talk properly and acts wild.
Masamune can’t help but notice that she closely resembles Mutsumi. However, Mutsumi denies having any relations with the girl.
Mutsumi’s father, Mr. Mamoru Sagami, who works at the steel factory, has tasked her with taking care of the girl.
According to Sagami, they are facing divine punishment. The steel factory has transformed into a Sacred Machine of the gods. Right now, Mutsumi needs Masamune’s help to take care of the girl.
Masamune names this girl Itsumi. While taking care of Itsumi in secrecy, one day Masamune overhears Mr. Sagami saying that the Sacred Machine has enticed Itsumi here.
Masamune and the town make a new discovery when a girl who is in love with Masamune receives cracks on her body and is erased by the Sacred Wolf.
This girl met her end after confessing feelings for Masamune, learning that Masamune and Mutsumi may have a thing, and claiming that she is done with this life.
The residents are now required to control their emotions too if they want to survive. Masamune is hurt because he thinks this girl died because of him and because he has feelings for Mutsumi.
Masamune is also done with this life. He wants to return to the real world, go to the big city, wander bookstores, and see new movies.
Masamune decides to break Itsumi free because she is trapped more than they are. Her world is restricted to the factory.
While trying to break Itsumi free, Masamune learns that there is a real world beyond the cracks in the sky.
In reality, from what Masamune was able to see, the place was all rusty, suggesting that the explosion possibly killed everyone at the steel factory.
With Masamune finding out about Itsumi, Mr. Sagami finally tells the world that they are living in a fake world; they are all phantoms.
He also claims that the Sacred Machine requires Itsumi, but Masamune’s uncle, Tokimune, who also works at the factory, stops him right there. They have tried confining Itsumi, and the cracks have still appeared.
Hence, it doesn’t matter if the Sacred Wolf keeps sealing the cracks. One day, this world will fade away.
The residents move on, with some meeting their end because of their emotions. One night, at his house, Masamune looks into reality through a crack.
In the real world, Masamune and Mutsumi are married. Mutsumi doesn’t let him enter this reality, but she does reveal that Itsumi is their daughter in this alternate world.
Mutsumi has seen Itsumi’s backpack. The name tag on it reads Saki Kikuiri. However, Mutsumi doesn’t intend to pursue this reality because they are in a separate reality.
Mutsumi and Masamune eventually confront their feelings, leading them to kiss, which is witnessed by Itsumi, who, over time, has learned what love is and has fallen for Masamune.
Itsumi’s heartbreak tears the world of Mifuse apart, creating huge cracks in the sky and causing it to rain for the first time in a long time. The Sacred Wolf goes missing too.
Now, the town is in danger of meeting its end if it crosses over with reality.
Back home, Masamune’s mother hands him his father’s journal. Masamune’s father, Akimune, also worked at the steel factory.
In the journal, he mentions finding a little girl on a freight train. Akimune thinks the train has brought the little girl to this world from reality.
Though the laws of physics can’t be explained in this world, there is a chance that Itsumi can go back home through the train she came on.
Their world is affected by Itsumi’s emotions. Back then, Akimune had figured it out, but Mr. Sagami instead decided to confine her to protect their world.
Akimune also found out that she is his granddaughter after seeing the tag on her backpack, which has her name and her family’s photo.
Sending Itsumi home
Akimune’s journal mentions that in this timeless world, they can change and grow.
Before his own eyes, he saw his son, Masamune, drawing every day and improving. Masamune realizes that he might not be getting anywhere, but his hobby does make him feel alive in this dead world.
Akimune and Sagami’s choices robbed Itsumi of ever having the possibility to change. Akimune wanted to change, but he couldn’t and didn’t.
Akimune died once cracks appeared on his body too, leading the Sacred Wolf to erase him from existence.
However, Akimune’s journal inspires Masamune to send Itsumi home. Itsumi no longer desires to go home. She has attached herself to Masamune and Mutsumi.
Furthermore, the likes of Sagami and even Masamune’s own uncle, Tokimune, become obstacles in Masamune’s path.
Tokimune has a chance with Masamune’s mother in this world, and he wants to preserve it by bringing the Sacred Wolf back to life.
The fate of Itsumi and Mifuse
The town of Mifuse starts seeing bigger cracks, and the real world out there that is celebrating a festival.
Masamune and Mutsumi spot a train on the tracks and plan to get Itsumi on it. Mutsumi hops on the train with Itsumi so that Itsumi will not protest.
However, she convinces Itsumi that Masamune will need her when they fade away together and that there will be people waiting for her in the real world.
With that, Mutsumi jumps off the train and reunites with Masamune, while Itsumi enters the real world through the train.
Though Tokimune had managed to bring the Sacred Wolves back, Masamune, Mutsumi, and their friends succeeded.
What’s striking is that Mutsumi hears a baby crying, which hints that they may have entered the real world of their own.
Years later, a grown-up Itsumi visits the ghost town of Mifuse and wanders the places she has been to.