A Letter to Momo Review

This is review number one hundred and ten. It’s a movie from 2011 called “A letter to Momo”. This was the talk of the town when it came out and I’ve been dying to see this one ever since. When I saw Commie subs release the movie, I immediately downloaded it. Thank you Commie. This has a lot of hype to it but is the hype deserved? Hard to tell.

Anyway, it’s a movie about a girl who lost her dad, feels angsty, and has trouble moving on. Let’s read on.

Story

The movie is about a girl named Momo and her mom moving to the Seto Inland Sea to start anew after the unfortunate death of her father. Momo didn’t like being in this place though and she was still looming over the fact that she gave his dad the cold shoulder right before he died. She blamed herself and couldn’t move on. One day, she went into the attic of her new house called “the Sky” and found a book full of monsters in them. Before she knows it, three monsters is running about the place stealing and wrecking the place. She can only see them and she tried to keep them on a leash. Adjusting to her new life, getting over the fact her dad is dead, and trying to keep three unruly monsters in check is too much work for poor Momo.

Taking the Pants Off

“A Letter to Momo” is a nice film. It was directed by Hiroyuki Okiura who is known to directing Jinroh: The Wolf Brigade. It’s an edgy and thrilling 1998 movie that was really just outstanding. Mr. Okiura is now back directing a new film. It was reported that it took him seven years to create the storyboard, the script and the direction of the film. I think this was his “make it or break it” kind of movie because he took everything in and had his hands on the creative output of the movie. Think back to Cencoroll, a 2009 thirty minute movie completely created by Atsuya Aki. He wrote the scripted, in charge of key animation and he directed the film. The movie is awesome and he deserves a plaque for all his efforts. Cencoroll is a thirty minute movie. A Letter to Momo is a two hour movie completely created by Mr. Okiura. To say the feat is outstanding doesn’t even cover it. He deserves a lot of praise and all that stuff. There’s one problem with having your hands on all the aspects of a movie though. Some elements aren’t given that much attention while other parts are given too much attention. The result is a mixed experience for the viewers. Fun fact, Satoshi Kon had a script writer who gave his movie the Fantasy vs. Reality feel. I think Mr. Okiura had no one to check his work and the result isn’t really that good. A movie that shines completely on the “directorial touches” is proven to solidify a director’s talent. Hayao Miyazaki had “My Neighbor Totoro” shine only in the directorial touches and he is considered a legend for that. Totoro is a 1988 movie though where anything different is groundbreaking. I don’t think it’ll fly now 2011 (when it was released) because anime has evolved so much since Totoro. Oh boy, look at me ramble. Let’s break this anime down now.

The first thing you’ll notice in this anime is the directorial work. Think of Miyazaki and his ability to bring a scene to life with detailed touches and complete realism of a place. You can feel the same in this movie. The Seto Inland Sea was nicely captured in this anime. There are a lot of scenic shots and a lot of intricate details in a small place. The sounds of cicadas drown the scenes and you can just feel the place coming to life. That’s an outstanding work by Mr. Okiura. He was able to bring the place to life and so the experience is a lot more surreal. It’s hard to believe the same guy who created Jinroh made this movie. In terms of the beautiful scenes and the wonderful animation, you’d think Studio Ghibli made this. It’s an amazing achievement and I appreciate that. Unfortunately, all other elements of the movie are weak.

Perhaps it was me expecting a Studio Ghibli surprise but I was easily fed up of the sceneries and started to expect the story to move along. It was slow at first which I suspect would pick up half way through the movie but even with the introduction of the three monsters, the story never seems to pick up. There is a story in this movie that is decent but the first thirty minutes was drowned in the directorial “magic” of Mr. Okiura which seems too egotistical. Hayao Miyazaki was able to wake up the child inside of you in mere minutes and that’s a testament to his talent. In this movie, the child inside me was expecting to be woken up but he wasn’t because of the terribly slow pacing and the super simplistic approach to the story. The fact that the most exciting part of the first half of the movie was Momo running to the streets being chased by the three monsters is ridiculous. We got too many Slice of Life shots that don’t add anything to the movie. This movie is a Fantasy and Drama Family themed movie and all those components are ill conceived.

The fantasy aspect of the movie is boiled down to the three monsters and their identity. There were honestly other creatures but the movie was centered on these guys. The fantasy aspect of the movie needed more. Instead of Momo being immersed into the fantasy world, we get Momo caught up on other things. Other things that don’t improve our opinion of the movie or the state the characters are in. The movie could’ve easily done more and the fact that it didn’t is a waste of a great potential. The movie is also a Drama with themes like Family Togetherness. This aspect was never build up and so it had no emotional impact. The fact that the Drama aspects comes later on in the two hour movie is really questionable. I should cry after discovering Momo’s feelings and her mom’s vulnerability but I can’t because it was never the focus of the show. What is the focus exactly? It’s about the life of Momo as she tries to adjust to her new home, keeping the monsters in check and slowly coming out of her shell. The movie was too focused on Momo that only the elements within her grasp is shown like the Slice of Life. It’s the Slice of life that was too immersed in the scenic shots and the beauty of the island that displays the director’s magic. The Fantasy and the Drama sadly took a backseat which made the story piss poor and half-baked and overly simplistic.

The characters are all pretty one dimensional except for Momo and the three monsters. Momo is the type to keep to herself and tries to not be friendly with anyone. It was due to her still slowly fitting in and her dad’s sudden passing so she seems detached when another person talks to her. She is the type who loves to emote though and I find that very nice. When she is alone, she’s mostly comedic or over the top and she honestly reminds me of a more comedic Chihiro (from Spirited Away). The three monsters are pretty interesting as well. The first thing that you’ll notice about them is that they are not the Studio Ghibli style supernatural beings that are cute and charming. The supernatural beings in this anime are unappealing by nature. They are creepy, lazy, and disgusting. They aren’t the type to care and they aren’t very reliable. Throughout the movie, all they did was steal things and eat food. I think they’re the complete opposite of the typical Ghibli beings which I admire. It’s a new concept and something rarely done. I wished the movie would’ve given the monster a lot more purpose though that just being….well, in all honestly, they’re just there. They don’t improve the story and they don’t have a major role. Another wasted potential of the movie. If the movie took a route like the monsters helping Momo out of her shell by introducing her to the supernatural world then the movie would’ve had a more lasting impression on me. They don’t take that route though. Nothing but a bunch of useless characters to take up space while Momo run around the island doing her thing.

You might be wondering why I keep b*tching about the supernatural aspect of the anime being underutilized. One of the main reasons is because the climax of the anime featured the supernatural beings helping Momo in her time of need. It’s a scene that fondly reminds me of the cat bus and the slimy creature in Spirited Away. It was so well done and it was the highest point of the anime. The movie should’ve used more of that supernatural element because it brings the movie to life and it’s the reason why the Slice of Life aspect of the anime was overdone. Are you telling me that a seven year script lacks so much imagination and playfulness? I call bullsh*t on that. It’s such a waste of a good story.

The movie is also lacking another important thing. It’s focus. The movie is called “A letter to Momo” yet it wasn’t the focus of the movie. We get barely 4% of the story dedicated to the actual letter. It’s really all about Momo just running around the place or the monsters stealing food. The whole thing is a mess and it feels like the whole movie is just the director waving around his brilliance. It’s such a shame because directorial work, compelling plot and interesting characters should make up a movie. Not just one of them.

Sight and Sound

The visuals of the anime are outstanding. The intricate details of the scenes and the amazing color palette bring out the beauty of each scene. I expect nothing less from a Production IG movie. The always excel in animation and they stay true to their reputation in this movie. As I mentioned before, the whole movie is nicely brought to life by the great directorial work of Mr. Okuira. No doubt about it. I can judge this movie solely on that then I’d give this movie a perfect ten. The nice mix of simple pastel scenes and digitally generated scenes makes certain scenes truly special.

The animation is also nicely done. The smallest of smallest details are all nicely captured. From the facial expressions to the simple mannerisms, the animation was spot on. There aren’t a lot of actual scenes that truly stand out except for Momo running and one of the monsters farting a nasty one on a wild boar. Yeah, you read that right. The animation is more impressive though on those simple scenes like Momo crawling on the floor or Momo undressing. Simplicity is the greatest of sophistication, I always believe.

The great visuals are nicely accompanied by an impressive soundtrack. The nice orchestra music that is so smartly sneaked in some of the most captivating scenes is just so perfectly done. It makes the scenes a lot more memorable. The voice acting was pretty decent. I like Momo’s voice because she was really the centerpiece of the anime and she needed to be alive. That was nicely done by her voice actress, Karen Miyama. She gave Momo life and I really love how the voice acting elevates most scenes. The rest are OK though. Some of the dialogue feels robotic. I still remember one scene where the boy was waiting for Momo. Her little sister said: “She’s late.” (pause) (pause) (silence) “Let’s go get her.” (pause) (pause) then her bother replies: “No, let’s wait here.” Just because the scenes are laidback doesn’t mean the dialogue should be so lackadaisical.

Overall Score

5/10 “Great visuals and animation but it lacks a great story to accompany it.”

This is Mr. Okiura’s first movie after eleven years and it was outstanding. I appreciate his talents and all that but a lot of crucial things is missing from the movie to make it a lot more entertaining and enjoyable. If you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli though then you’ll enjoy this movie but don’t expect much. Sadly, the negatives outweighs the positives.

Thoughts~

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