Genre: Animation, Drama, Comedy
Cast: Voice actors you will not have heard of
Synopsis: After her father dies, a young girl and her mother move to a remote island in southern Japan. While there she meets and eventually befriends three spirits.
The London film festival is a couple of weeks away and I decided to venture into bankruptcy by buying tickets for a few films. One film I will be seeing is a Japanese anime called Giovanni’s Island, which is a war drama and produced by the same company that did A Letter to Momo. I thought I should watch that film first to get a taste of what the company makes, and A Letter to Momo came highly recommended from my brother.
I was happy to find that the film, for the most part, is a slow-burning and thoughtful drama about a young girl coping with the death of her father. Before he died, she said some nasty words to him and he left her part of a letter. The only words in the letter were: “Dear Momo.” Momo and her mother then relocate to a rural Japanese island to start their life over but Momo has a hard time fitting in and she can’t stop thinking about what her father tried to write. Things get more complicated when she meets three troublesome spirits.
I think the thing I liked most about this movie was that it looked and felt very Japanese. In some anime films, including some Studio Ghibli films, the directors and animators take inspiration from the works of European writers, animation, and architecture. As a result, the films sometimes lose their Japanese-ness. A Letter to Momo is different. For starters, the film is set in a rural Japanese community in an area of the country that isn’t often shown in films. The whole thing screams Japan: the environment, the houses, even the sound. I’m told that the only thing you can hear in Japan in the summer is the sound of cicadas. Even the spirits are based on traditional Japanese folklore and artwork…you know the kind, right? The really beautiful ornate pictures on the scrolls.
My point is, if you want to see a movie that captures a slice of Japanese life that you have not seen before then A Letter to Momo is a good option. Plus, it skilfully avoids the other aspects of Japanese life that are perhaps not so attractive, like tentacle porn or teenagers with weird fetishes.
If I were to level one criticism at this film it would be that it does not have a strong finish. I won’t spoil the ending but will simply reveal that it’s too saccharine. It’s a bit of a disappointment considering that the film does a great job of building a coherent, sophisticated, and emotional drama. It’s hard to make a drama that engages a parson’s sense of empathy but to make a cartoon that does that is a damn sight harder. That’s why it’s such a shame about this film’s ending. It was so well until it got about 90 per cent of the way through. I’ve seen worse endings for sure but it still could have been handled better.
- A very sophisticated drama with the right amount of comedy injected at all the right places.
- Beautifully animated.
- Shows a part of Japan that western audiences may not be familiar with. I’d love for my commute to be on a boat!
- I want the house that’s in this movie.
- Disappointing ending.
- They’re going to kill the baby boars!!??
Despite my criticism of the ending, I still think that A Letter to Momo is worth your time. It manages to marry drama with wit, which is not an easy thing for any film to do. If you’re looking for an unusual and unique animated film then this could definitely be up your street.