We first told you about A Letter to Momo almost a month ago when it opened in New York City. Beginning today August 29th Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, and Washington DC will be screening the film at local cinemas, with additional cities coming in the following weeks.
Luckily for those of you who have not made up your mind about seeing the film, I was given the opportunity to watch the film, so if you haven’t made plans for the weekend, I’ve just made them for you.
A Letter to Momo opens with Momo and her mother Ikuko moving from Tokyo to the small island of Shio after the death of her father Kazuo. Unfortunately for Momo, since the death of Kazuo, she has been carrying a heavy weight of guilt from the last words she ever said to him: “You’re selfish, and you’re a liar. I don’t care if you come back.”
What makes this even harder for Momo is the unfinished letter she found in her father’s desk addressed to her. The only words on the page, “Dear Momo”. Unable to deal with her guilt, and the unwritten words in the letter, Momo roams Shio in a constant state of depression. That is until she begins to see the yokai living in the attic whom have been sent from “up above” on a job of a delicate nature, which they cannot tell Momo about whatsoever. But when the yokai begin to wreak havoc in the village, their true purpose comes to light.
From the very beginning you understand that this film is going to be heavy thematically, but let me assure you this does not get in the way of the yokai’s fun. The film is sprinkled with lovely humorous moments of awkwardness from both the yokai spirits and teenaged Momo, as well as wonderful moments of self discovery.
The animation style lends wonderfully to the idea of combining the human world and the spirit yokai creatures. For the most part, the designs are simple and clean. But when it comes to the character designs, they carry something more human in their lines. The older man who is Ikuko’s uncle, has the lean muscles and chest of a field worker, and the local delivery man has the weather beaten face of a motorcycle driver when he smiles too widely. Not to mention the scenery incorporates wonderfully subtle human textures to contrast the watercolor spirit scenery. All of this lends to the feeling that two worlds are merging together to create the world in front of our eyes.
Overall, the film was a delight. At 2 hours long, it may be a bit too long, particularly if not accustomed to the slower pacing of the Japanese style of storytelling, but it makes for a completely satisfying story. Though the themes seem a bit dark and heavy, I assure you they are dealt with the utmost care, making the film suitable for the whole family. A word of caution: If you see the trailer and can’t help but compare this film to Studio Ghibli, you’re going to walk out disappointed. While I do recommend this film, judging it based on such a comparison is not fair to director Hiroyuki Okiura who is still a very young filmmaker but well on his way to becoming a legend himself.