Director Hiroyuki Okiura presses pause on the grind of time to take us on a journey to the Japanese island of Shio in his latest animated venture, “A Letter to Momo.”What unravels is a interwoven tale of divine intervention, collective responsibility and the reconciliation of past and present.
The film begins on a somber note. After the death of her father, young Momo (Karen Miyahara) leaves Tokyo with her mother, Ikuko (Yuka), to live with Momo’s grandparents on the secluded island of Shio. On the way to the island, what initially appear to be three water droplets fall onto Momo’s head— that is, until they follow her to her grandparents’ home. And climb into the attic. And seep into one of Momo’s grandfather’s many Edo-era picture books, which allows them to assume their true physical forms as gods-turned-goblins. Cue: Iwa, Kawa and Mame, three gods sent from the “Above” to keep watch over Momo and her mother.
Momo— still reeling from her father’s sudden death— doesn’t know that the goblins terrorizing her home are meant to be her protectors. What’s more terrifying is that she’s the only one in her family who is able to see them. But as all mismatched roommates must eventually do, Momo and the goblins learn to adapt to each other’s presence. As their relationship changes, so does the relationship between the Momo’s past and present.
By juxtaposing flashbacks and real-time events, Okiura weaves an intricate tale of the ambiguous time during which the was-then has yet to be reconciled with the is-now. Though Okiura’s filmic style is direct— a “broken” clock figures as one of the film’s primary visual symbols— “A Letter to Momo” comes across as thoughtful and sincere in its reflection; and though the film is fantastical, the subject matter Okiura tackles is not so far removed from the challenges we face in our own lives.
Indeed, “A Letter to Momo” reminds us that we can overcome the obstacles of the past only after we’ve come to terms with the continuous passage of tim— but not without the help of a few friends, goblins or otherwise, along the way.
“A Letter to Momo”hit theaters on Sept. 5.
Contact Madeleine Han at mhan95 “at” stanford.edu.