‘Letter to Momo’ a new anime masterpiece 

click to enlarge A preteen dealing with grief and goblins is the protagonist of “A Letter to Momo,” an impressive film by writer-director Hiroyuki Okiura.
  • A preteen dealing with grief and goblins is the protagonist of “A Letter to Momo,” an impressive film by writer-director Hiroyuki Okiura.
As anime master Hayao Miyazaki, director of the Oscar-winning “Spirited Away” and other wonderful movies, announced that 2013’s “The Wind Rises” would be his last film, the question remains: Who will succeed him as the leading artist in the unique form?

With “A Letter to Momo,” Hiroyuki Okiura – who directed “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade” and was an animator on Katsuhiro Ohtomo’s “Akira” and Mamoru Oshii’s “Ghost in the Shell” – has moved to the forefront of the race.

“Momo” – winner of the grand prize at the New York International Children’s Film Festival – is suspenseful, charming and moving, and appealing to adults as well as youngsters.

With hand-drawn, pastel animation, it takes viewers to a beautiful, remote island - Shio Shima, of the Inland Sea. It’s the place where a Tokyo preteen, Momo, and her mother go after Momo’s father dies at sea.

Completed in 2012, “Momo” – as it reflects on sudden deaths and major dislocations – has a deep, if unstated, resonance with Japan’s 2011 tsunami tragedy.

With a busy mother who shields her grief from her daughter, the shy Momo deals with her situation alone, not making friends and staying distant from the elderly relatives who share their home with her.

She begins to see spirits haunting the house, three hyperactive, somewhat disturbing, goblins. Mischievous, funny monsters, without Disney charm, they are demanding, troublesome and ugly.

Yet they slowly bring potential solace to Momo, and the promise of solving a mystery named in the film’s title. Momo, who had a fight with her father before he left on the fatal science expedition, never had the chance to resolve the issue. She finds a letter from her father that simply reads: “Dear Momo.”

Can her conflict be resolved, with help from the spirits, and without a mawkish, Hollywood ending?

The answer is yes, thanks to an amazing chase featuring a legion of morphing ghosts in a frenzied flight created by two superb filmmakers, art director Hiroshi Ohno and cinematographer Kôji Tanaka. It took seven years to make this movie; it looks as though this final scene took could have taken half of that time.

The film is being shown locally at Landmark Theatres in two versions, with a dubbed English language voice cast, and in Japanese with English subtitles.

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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