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A Letter to Momo
Camera 3 Downtown
Director: Hiroyuki Okiura
Cast: Karen Miyama, Yuka, and Daizaburo Arakawa
Synopsis: Clinging to an unfinished letter written by her recently deceased father, young Momo moves with her mother from bustling Tokyo to the remote Japanese island of Shio. Upon their arrival, she begins to explore her new habitat, meeting local children and learning their routines and customs. However, it's not long before several bizarre occurrences crop up around the previously tranquil island, and Momo embarks on a strange and supernatural adventure to discover the source of the mischief.
Running Time: 120 Minutes (plus 8-10 minutes of trailers)
No free passes or daily deals, but discount cards o.k.
A World Teaches and Tugs
By JEANNETTE CATSOULIS
Enveloped in a sweetness that buffers the depths of its emotions, Hiroyuki Okiura’s “A Letter to Momo” explores the stains of loss and regret on a personality too young to articulate them. Yet the film’s tiniest viewers are more likely to be entranced than distressed by this magical animated tale — Mr. Okiura’s second, after “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade” (2001) — even if their parents find themselves surreptitiously sniffling.
Shunning the hard, shiny-bright colors of many animated movies, Mr. Okiura uses velvety pastels to paint a sensitive fantasy around Momo, a grieving young girl whose father was lost at sea. Transplanted from Tokyo to her mother’s family home on a remote island, Momo is depressed and lonely, haunted by the angry words she spoke to her father before he left. Unable to appreciate the terraced citrus groves, mossy forests and turquoise seas that encircle her new world, she frets over her most treasured and tormenting possession: a letter her father started but never finished, its blank page a reminder of all that was left unsaid.
If this sounds unbearably mopey, relief is at hand in the anarchic form of three spirits, onetime goblins whose bad behavior has earned them a kind of afterlife community service. Sentenced to watch over Momo and her mother until her father’s soul can take over, these supernatural Stooges, invisible to everyone except Momo, pierce her armor and lift the film’s mood. From the instant the smallest one — a potbellied, button-eyed baby — licks her leg with its pink, flypaper-long tongue, their unruly appetites and loony behavior inject a whimsical energy that gives the movie oomph.
As fun as they are, these lively interludes don’t derail the soothing, rockabye rhythms of Momo’s journey. Her most deeply felt moments, rendered in smoky grays and palest mauves, are never overwhelmed by the story’s fantastical elements, while the traditional, hand-drawn animation captures the smallest body movements with painstaking naturalism. When an old aunt gently lays her hand on her husband’s arm to shush him, the gesture is so familiar — and so wonderfully authentic — that it takes your breath away.
This tenderness is what makes “A Letter to Momo” so memorable. As Momo conquers her fears, averts a tragedy and finally sees the beauty of her surroundings, the movie grabs your heart with the softest of hands. It took Mr. Okiura seven years to realize his story, but it doesn’t take Momo nearly that long to comprehend that sometimes only by reconciling with the dead can we be guided back to life.