Japan has a knack for producing artistic creators who can weave an interesting story where there are no bad guys. Every now and then, you’ll see such a film in the States, but it is not common. In A Letter to Momo, director Hiroyuki Okiura returns to the land of his ancestors to tell a touching story of dealing with grief and experiencing new things.
Set on an island in the Seto Inland Sea, not too far from where I lived while in Japan, A Letter to Momo tells the story of Momo and her mother (Ikuko, played by singer Yuka Muraishi) as they move back to Ikuko’s hometown after the death of Momo’s father. Momo has a hard time adjusting from Tokyo life to the very small town, and is pretty grumpy and morose during the first part of the film. After discovering she can see three mischievous yōkai, she slowly starts to change and accept her father’s death and the eccentricities of country life.
I loved the scenery in A Letter to Momo. The time spent of the backgrounds was immense, and the animators really nailed the feel of that area of Japan. I stayed on one of these islands for a few days to teach at an intense English-language camp for Japanese high school students from our area, and I loved it. The air is so clean and fresh there, and I love the smell of the sea. All of this came through in the film and made me feel all natsukashii about my time there.
The music is delightful and fit the film perfectly. Mina Kubota showed a musical soft touch, making sure to never overwhelm any scene or take the focus away from the characters. The characters designs are simple, but emotive and effective, reminiscent of those used by Studio Ghibli. Interestingly, Studio Ghibli assisted with some of the animation work on A Letter to Momo.
My favorite part of the film, however, was how it showed parts of the grieving process, and did so in an accessible way. It even showed the different characters dealing with it in different ways, which is completely realistic. I loved the part where Momo realized just how much effort her mother was putting into being cheerful for Momo’s sake. This was one of several parts which made the characters real to me.
I also enjoyed Momo’s interactions with the three yōkai. Even the immortal yōkai learned and grew as the film progressed as they learned to see the humans in their care as more than just a job to complete. Each of the yōkai had a unique personality, and Momo had to deal with each in a different way in order to get them to work with her. I really enjoyed her learning process as she figured things out.
The only real drawback to the film (which I didn’t see as a drawback, though others may) is somewhat of a requirement of knowledge of Japanese culture and mythology. Without it, some of the scenes and plot points will be lost on the typical American viewer. This is just a small thing, though, and most anyone should be able to enjoy A Letter to Momo without issue. I strongly recommend it!
Release Date: April 21, 2012 (USA)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Original Title: ももへの手紙 (Momo he no Tegami)
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (minor smoking)
Nudity: 0 (there is a bath scene, but nothing is visible)
Violence: 1 (slapstick, one character slaps another)