GIOVANNI'S ISLAND

PrintE-mail Written by Fred McNamara

BLU-RAY REVIEW: GIOVANNI’S ISLAND / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: MIZUHO NISHIKUBO / SCREENPLAY: SHIGEMICHI SUGITA, YOSHIKI SAKURAI / STARRING: MASACHIKA ICHIMURA, YUKIE NAKAMA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

Director Mizuho Nishikubo and writers Shigemichi Sugita and Yoshiki Sakurai craft a hauntingly adorable vision of post-WWII Japan through the eyes of children in Production I.G’s Giovanni’s Island. The film follows two young brothers, Junpei and Kanta, who’s gentle island home is suddenly invaded by the Soviet Union. The film spans roughly a year in its story, and follows the two brother’s Homeward Bound-esque journey to find their father, who was captured by the Soviets after they discover his actions against them, and constantly trying to keep one step ahead of their enemy.

But unlike Homeward Bound, a happy ending for all concerned shouldn’t be expected when watching this film. Throughout their treacherous journey, the brothers take solace in the cult classic children’s book Night on the Galactic Railroad, even adopting two of the book’s character’s names, Giovanni and Campanella, for themselves.

The constant references and illusions to Kenji Miyazawa’s children’s novel paint a disturbingly enchanted view of the film’s scenario from the brother’s eyes. Giovanni having to accept that his island home becomes smothered in Soviets, his family’s home being taken from them by the Soviet leader, falling in love with the leader’s daughter Tanya, his family being evicted from their home island and beginning their journey – all these moments and more and narrated with Giovanni firmly in charge in terms of storytelling. His older self even narrates the film’s beginning and end, bookending a saga where the audience is given no quarter when it comes to emotional impact.

The film’s production values are as idiosyncratic as its depth, with characters illustrated in a rough, sketch-like manner, and even displaying subtle moments of pure cartoon-ish emotion – literal cross-eyes literally pop up here and there, resulting in Giovanni’s Island reminding its audience that despite its weary subject matter, its animated form brings some much needed lightness in its darkest moments. Kota Yokoyama and Junya Taniai turn in sweetly endearing performances as Junpei and Kanta respectively, and are backed by a fine supporting cast.

One slight flaw in an otherwise fine film is that, at times, there are moments when the audience is expected to suspend their disbelief far more so than any bog-standard fantasy-flavoured film. Such moments as the assumed cold-blooded murder of Junpei and Kanta’s reckless yet jovial uncle, and the finale involving an elderly Junpei returning to his home island in order to graduate from his primary school and meeting Tanya’s granddaughter plays around with the audience’s respect a little too much, but the latter is a sweet enough moment in a film chock full of soft brutality.

Giovanni’s Island, armed with its bittersweet ending and coupled with the audience almost never leaving Giovanni’s side (thus seeing the events of the film through his innocent yet mature self), is an immensely twisted concoction of being downright heart-breaking and eerily uplifting at the same time.

Special Features: Making-of / Digital art gallery / Music clip
 

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