Japanese animation - a true art form
I recently went to see a full-length feature anime titled ももへの手紙 (“Momo he no Tegami” or “A Letter to Momo”). For those of you who don’t know the story (I’ll try not to spoil everything), it is about a young girl who loses her father and finds this incomplete letter he had written to her. Momo and her mother move to a new town, where Momo also make three, very strange, unlikely, new “friends.”
Initially, the commercials were what got me interested in going to see the film. The film just looked intriguing, funny, and semi-strange ... what more could you want out of a movie?
Honestly, I was a bit apprehensive going to see this film because I knew there would be no English subtitles. So if the film were boring, it would be an 1,800 yen ticket to dullsville. I honestly tried to lower my expectations and just tried to think of it as a learning experience. I even went to the theater with a pencil and paper to write down words I didn’t know. Surely the study element would give me something to focus on whether the film was good or not. At 6:05, I went to my assigned Movix seat and the lights dimmed at 6:10. For this particular film, even all of the previews were for Japanese movies, which really wasn’t helping to build my confidence any.
I watched the film from the opening scene on the ferry until the very last shot. What did I think? It’s one of the best anime films I’ve seen in a long time. I was really feeling it, and so too was the rest of the audience. There was a Japanese woman sitting a couple of seats down, and I could see she was in tears at the end of it. I would classify myself as a moderate crier, but I honestly didn’t feel the urge to cry because I was so amazed at how well it was made. I guess my amazement eclipsed my emotions. I can understand why the young woman cried, though, because it was a moving film, not “Hotaru no Haka” moving, but moving nonetheless.
What really got me, was how the movie captured so many tiny nuances of Japanese culture. Being in Ibaraki, which does have those neighborhoods that are in the countryside, I’ve been in houses that look exactly like the old, traditional one that the family moves into during the film. I have been to a few dinners with Japanese families where everyone is sitting in “seiza” style on their heels. From the interactions between family members, to the post office workers on their scooters, to the narrow neighborhood roads, to even the labels on the small, bottles of store-bought tea, the film was just spot on (at least from my foreigner/outside-looking-in perspective). I don’t know if or when this film will go to the U.S., but if you really want a good idea of what Japanese life is like, especially in the more rural areas, you really should check out this film.
Watching “Momo he no Tegami” made me think about something. I think Hollywood has the art of cinema-making down to a science. Some of the best films in the world are created right in Hollywood or at the very least have some kind of tie to a Hollywood company. I think there are directors in the U.S. who are masters of the film medium. The directors have perfected the art of telling stories through cameras, sound, lighting, and real people. That’s not to say there aren’t brilliant films created in other countries; that would be a stupid claim for me to make, but America is looked to as a movie-making juggernaut. I have seen some Japanese films that I felt didn’t really match up to some of the standards I was used to seeing in America: from the camera work to special effects to even the acting. I think Japan’s use of film is still developing, still trying to find its voice.
Animation on the other hand - that is a completely different story. I don’t think any country in the world has a better handle on how animation works than Japan. That’s part of the reason why so many people have an interest in Japanese anime because it truly exhibits mastery of an art form. There are some brilliant animation directors in Japan who are as adept at storytelling with pencils, ink, paint, and stills as any American director behind a camera. Yes, America has some great cartoons, but I haven’t seen anything that even comes close to what some of the Japanese animation studios have been able to achieve.
Watching “Momo he no Tegami” lets you see Japanese animation at its finest. Even if you can’t appreciate the story, just seeing how intricately-done the scenes are, how well the artists capture human expression, Japanese mannerisms, and their own culture makes you respect the film from the opening scene. I happened to really enjoy the story, despite the gaps in my Japanese comprehension. When you couple a good story with how masterfully the animation medium was used to pull it off ... it blew me away.
I don’t if you’ll agree with me on this one. I’m no movie critic, but this one would get five stars from me.