What They Say:
The last time Momo saw her father, they had a fight. Now all she has left to remember him by is an incomplete letter penned with the words “Dear Momo,” but nothing more. Moving with her mother to the remote Japanese island of Shio, Momo soon discovers three Yokai living in her attic, a trio of mischievous spirit creatures that only she can see and who create mayhem in the tiny seaside community as she tries desperately to keep them hidden. But these funny monsters have a serious side and may hold the key to helping Momo discover what her father had been trying to tell her.
My favourite type of audio setup tends to be on movies, and this is no exception – having 5.1 releases on both English and Japanese as well as standard 2.0 releases for both languages, with translated and hard of hearing subtitles also available, the audio is superb – no adjustment needed from my original settings (I had to actually lower it down a little in both languages aside from the extras), it flows incredibly well with both background music, insert songs, foley and dialogue with no issues with it being out of sync and working to full effect – I always seem to be pleased by the UK Blu-Ray movie offering now-a-days, a good sign it is becoming more popular that the effort is being put in.
Set in the standard PAL format (anamorphic), done in 16:9 – 1.78:1 on a full screen format, the movie has a much more standard, Ghibli style animation which is far more animated than your traditional anime series in full screen format (this is even mentioned that they wanted more of an artist feel hence why there is little CGI in this movie) – this makes the movie stand out even more though in today’s market, making it similar to a movie I recently reviewed in Fuse, another non-Ghibli movie with that type of feel but still manages to be its own thing (it is one of the few movies that the English feels they needed to keep everything in as it is, including the opening credits – they are left in Japanese writing with only if you turned them on the subtitles of the credits in English). One of the extras goes into details of how the animation styles meshed and you can tell a lot of care was put into it as different scenes all manage to co-exist, from the water chase in the bridge to the simple dancing scene between Momo and the goblins. Fantastic.
There was no packing for this test release.
The menu is very basic – there is a still image almost like being taken for a photo of Momo, Iwa, Mame and Kawa whilst the menu is on a letter like the theme on the bottom right with the options, Play, Scenes, Set Up and Extras. The scene selection is done in ‘chapters’ and it does fine in terms of speed and selection, however a minor problem is that the colour when you move your selection it is only slightly darker than the shade it is in on the non-selected ones, making it a bit more difficult to notice what you have selected. It is noticeable, but anyone with vision problems may struggle (I had to wear my glasses just to make sure I was selecting).
There are a few extras for this release – the first one is a digital art gallery which is set to music from the film which is basically lots of screenshots and pictures from the film.
The main extra is ‘The Making Of A Letter To Momo’ – the first thing that gets mentioned is that it took 7 years to make and the extra actually pretty much goes through all those processes through interviews, screenshots and video. A lot is from the director (Hiroyuki Okiura – most famous for Jin-Roh) and his vision of wanting a movie leaving viewers refreshed and about family, but then also wanted the aspect of fantasy with the goblins being gadded. The setting is talked about (showcasing pictures from the area and stuff used for the movie like the mono-rack) – we get to see some of the artists work (including people who worked on stuff like Akira and Kiki’s Delivery Service in the past) and how the focus was on non-digital art – which took a big chunk of the 7 year timeline (4 years).
We also get some stuff with some of the voice actors – Karen Miyama (Momo) was someone Okiura wanted when she was a child actress but as it took long she grew up (fortunately the voice was perfect for Momo still ^^), wanting a particular person of Ikoko, the singer Yuka, and a popular actor Toshiyuki Nishida for Iwa who jokes they look the same – it is cut to April 2012 to the premier of the film which ends the segment. It is a decent length though for 7 years of work a bit more might have been nice, but it does go through the director’s mindset a lot and also showcases just how much talent was on board to make this movie.
We get some trailers – a theatrical one with narrations, somewhere characters, actors, who were involved are showcased and their previous works, and some TV spots with some live shots, and finally some animation test clips which are silent anime clips, showcasing the test shots (without shadows added to help the animators out) which is something new for extras. Overall, a decent selection for the viewer. (If you get the special edition, you also get a special art booklet)
A Letter To Momo is one of those movies that seemed to slip under the radar in terms of the anime theatrical movies did yet is quite the hit amongst fans. It is one I’m going in blind but the rare combination of a mostly hand drawn animation and the family story suggests something I will like. And for most of it, it is a superb experience…with just one minor issue…
The movie starts with an excellent animated sequence with a ship reinforcing the extra where the director wanted the movie to almost be like a painting, we see our main character Momo, a young girl clutching a letter…with something unusual happening just above her with 3 apparent water droplets which land on her – nothing odd at first, but then they appear to actually move somewhere. Obviously this is a focus otherwise, the camera wouldn’t be focusing on them but for the time being we ignore them and focus on our other main character Ikuko, Momo’s mother. Through progressing storytelling the two are heading to the Seto Island Sea due to Momo’s father and Ikuko’s husband recently passing away. Momo is very quiet and shy and seems very affected by this throughout, but Ikuko seems like to be trying to forget everything and start anew. This is not the case as we discover throughout the movie but for now, the main thing we notice is a letter Momo is holding which was from her father, with just the words ‘Dear Momo’…
Staying with Ikuko’s parents, the new area is very different to Tokyo and not in a positive sense for Momo. Bored for the most part whilst her mom is working/training, and the locals, whilst friendly like the delivery man Koichi, and the young boy about Momo’s age in Yota, never seem to click with Momo – so we see her go into the attic, opens a rare picture book about goblins and spirits (yokai)…where the three droplets return and we see the shadows of some new beings which Momo feels/senses and immediately gets scared…
With the yokai released Momo notices the phenomena via sounds, shadows and even seeing them (one of them licks her leg at one point) but of course, she is the only one who can see or hear them – Yota and Ikuko don’t and wonder if something is wrong with her. Yota and his sister Umi try to bring her into their friends which involves a jump off a bridge into the water below, but Momo doesn’t brave it, so she sulks on a bunch…and then sees the three kappa.
The three kappa or goblins, are Iwa, the leader of the bunch who is the tallest, Kawa who is the most kappa-like and is prone to gassy emissions, and Mame, the slow quiet one who seems to have the memory span of 5 seconds. They seem like troublemakers – only caring about the next meal and come up with a story on why they are watching Momo, but as the film goes through it is clear there is something more to them, though it does take a while to get to that point…
So for a small part of the movie, the goblins now make Momo’s life a combination of annoying and maybe a little fun? Her boredom and upset is slowly dying (combined with talking with her grandfather in how to deal with the goblins – taking her pass and threatening to destroy it always seems to work) – the droplets were the goblins (and if they touch a human they can see them – explains why only Momo can see them though some of their actions can be felt – Koichi seems to be a frequent victim of this – and the fact most of the parent’s crops are taken by the goblins as well, something Momo calls them out on frequently) but whilst the comedy is added from them, it does detract at times from the story, which fortunately they bring back through little things. The best example is Ikuko – who early is established did have asthma, and also we see her clearly crying over a picture of her husband but turns around and bottles it up for Momo, though the way the two interact is awkward due to Momo seeing the goblins and Ikuko not. Also combining is the cute little friendship between Towa and Momo as he clearly is trying to help her and his little sister Umi also seems to be able to see Mame at least, Momo still has issues despite improving, both the goblins help and fault.
This is where the mood whiplash kind of occurs. One moment is a rather good chase scene between the goblins/Momo and some wild boars as the goblins stole their babies to eat them – it appears to be a pointless scene outside of the great animation, but it leads to Momo appreciating the area more during the chase and seeing the beautiful view out there. However, the goblins also cause problems for them as they check on Ikuko as well (and when you learn the reason for them checking on the two by the end, the goblins get a lot more credit) – sometimes the goblins can be fun and helpful, like making Momo brave her fear of the water (though that was via pushing her into the water) but at other times, you wonder their purpose as especially in the bad moments, they come off as bad comic relief.
However, it is during one of their moments that the real drama of the story hits – whilst previous antics have caused her issues (one is when Iwa accidentally sends the forbidden letter to their ‘boss’ via a fun dance sequence – but Momo thinking she lost it made her miss a visit to Towa and Umi who she was getting to be friends with) it is when Kawa borrowing a mirror which belonged to her mother which was a present from her father. Throughout the film, it gets revealed that the last thing Momo said to her father was something rejecting him because he couldn’t get the day off work for an anniversary which Momo was gonna surprise them with a trip to a Vienna Boys choir which is what the parents saw on their first date. She deeply regrets this and is seemingly annoyed and upset that her mother apparently has forgotten about him. So when she spots the mirror, she tries to get it off Kawa, but accidentally breaks it. Ikuko hears it and finds Momo in the attic, with the broken mirror and various fruits and vegetables that the goblins stole, which leads her of course, to think Momo caused the mischief. Naturally, Momo is very upset and tries to explain everything but of course Ikuko doesn’t believe her. This leads to some false words, Ikuko slapping her daughter and Momo thinking she doesn’t care about her dad – she runs away…and now every little thing comes together.
First, the emergence of her asthma which was brought up is in full force as Ikuko panics whilst searching for her daughter, in a storm which had been foreshadowed. Yota unintentionally upsets Momo when talking about parents, and it leads to Ikuko suffering an attack – Momo is devastated and then the big reveal about the goblins – they were sent by HER FATHER. Even little things like Ikuko’s interaction with Koichi suddenly make sense – Koichi clearly was in love with Ikuko but held no grudge and decides to try and get a doctor from outside the area (the storm blocking off the only doctor in the village – this also was brought up briefly in the movie) and despite various rules the goblins have, they use a loophole or two to come and protect Momo from the storm (via various other spirit friends that Mame has, again – this initially was used for comic relief when Mame was going to write a new letter…then remembered he couldn’t read or write – but the fact they were shown gives them leeway for this finale) which leaves to them saving Ikuko, even giving the letter back from her dad (and later one with response when Ikuko obviously now believes Momo). It is a touching family moment and bonding especially with the final scene of Momo finally jumping into the water with her new friends.
This movie made me cry. It is a superb tale of family bonding with the hint of the supernatural and all of the benefits/problems that come with it. Momo is one of the most realistic children I’ve seen in recent movies – she is pre-teens, is clearly upset with everything recent both from her father’s death and the moving from an environment she was more comfortable with. Unfamiliar place, reserved, this also explains why people may think she is seeing things and causing trouble (though clearly not) – she has some nice talks with her grandfather who seems to be the only person who may believe her, giving her advice both for dealing with it and just in general as well. The scenes with Ikuko and Momo are a mother/daughter struggling to reconnect after recent issues, but it is the fear of both of them losing the other which brings them together. Ikuko is actually a good character – she clearly is still upset but bottles it up for her daughter making it seem like nothing is wrong whilst trying to provide for them. It does cause conflict because of this because of partly the goblins and her not believing Momo, but also for Momo not realising what her mom has gone through and the fact she truly is upset over the recent situation. Things like trying to make friends with the kids her age is something which develops, and Yota is a nice enough character that helps her out (even during the final storm) but it is really all about the family.
This is where the goblins are both hit and miss for me – it feels like at one point, they are quite annoying (except for maybe Mame who is quite lovable due to his slow nature) and cause way too much trouble for Momo which leads to all sorts of problems including the big one which causes the asthma attack. On the other hand, if they hadn’t been there, a lot of the recovery and bonding and Momo appreciating the new life may not have happened. The reveal that it was her father who sent them down to keep an eye of them is a big one, which can make you forgive them for a lot of their antics, some of them were genuinely funny (the dance sequence for example) – others not so much (the whole wild boar chase whilst great to watch, suffered little purpose other than to showcase the gorgeous scenery of the area and make Momo appreciate more) and some you do get annoyed by – that said, the purpose of them is needed because eventually without them, the whole conflict would never be outed and also whilst they were the cause of the problem, they eventually helped out to save Momo and Ikuko (via one of the funnier moments, working out a loophole to get out of the rules that shackle them) so whilst I found them more on the annoying side, the movie definitely needed them.
I guess the fact their father sent them down was eventually obvious, and may have felt a bit tacked on, but the story is called Letter Of Momo, which was the catalyst for everything, and it turned out incredibly charming. All the characters that are named have their moment (Koichi seems to be the human comic relief due to his blundering, but his part in saving Ikuko cannot be undermined) and it doesn’t feel like the story is dragging. It gradually tells it and it becomes a tale of a family needing to reconcile as both parties are at fault (Momo for assuming the worst about her mother, Ikoku for not believe her daughter and bottling up her feelings) with stunning animation and the mystery of the supernatural. And whilst at times that does detract from the story being told, it is still necessary and everything comes full circle that you have to watch it a second time to get all the hints that it well, hinted at. Because of this, the movie is a wonderful experience, making it the second non-Ghibli movie I’ve reviewed this year and absolutely loved.
A Letter To Momo is pretty much a love letter if you forgive the pun, to classic animation and storytelling. The scenery is gorgeous and the story is traditional – almost Disney-esque – with a family trying to move on after a tragic incident. The element of surprise is there with the goblins, which whilst can be annoying are pretty necessary for the story and conclusion to unfold, and if you don’t mind them, then the story is incredibly moving, the characters memorable, the change of atmosphere tremendous (Momo and Ikuko are both incredibly real like characters overall) and the way the story gets to its finale is fantastic. Just take the goblins comedy to one side and just enjoy the animation, you’ll enjoy the splendour far more.
Digital Art Gallery, The Making Of A Letter To Momo, Trailers,Animation Test Clips
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: May 2nd, 2016
Running Time: 120 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.