Momo e no Tegami – almost Studio Ghibli-esque, but..

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Alternative title A Letter to Momo
Studio Production I.G
Genres Drama, Slice of Life, Supernatural
Source Original
Episodes 1 –  it’s a film after all
Season Summer 2011
Director Hiroyuki Okiura
Music Mina Kubota

     Anime industry just loves adolescent people. Why? Partly because they comprise a huge chunk of the audience so self-inserting is easier that way, but that’s probably not all. Young people are more interesting in a sense that they encounter many problems for the first time in their lives and deal with them in ways that sometimes are very creative. Also, during that age a person shapes his personality that probably won’t change that drastically for his whole life. Considering all that, it’s nothing strange that many anime stories deal with coming of age themes and necessity to adapt to difficult, unexpected and often unwished changes. As there is no shortage of such tales, naturally some are better than others, some lack some specific ingredient, some manage to resonate well with the viewers, others – not that much. Knowing all that, where does Momo e no Tegami stand– a film whose technical details may catch the eye right on?

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     The story isn’t complicated at all – you just have an ordinary girl Momo, whose shyness gets in a way of making friends, moving with her mother to the country because her father died. Momo doesn’t feel very comfortable there, even if her grandparents try to be as hospitable as they can and some local kids would like to know a new person a bit better. And then Momo begins seeing youkai. If that doesn’t sound the least bit of Studio Ghibli-ish, I don’t know what would. A girl as a protagonist, ended up in a place where the forces of nature are very strong and even the spirit world becomes graspable by hand. I don’t even know how many Ghibli films would fit this description. Still, whether Ghibli youkai would be friendly or not, mysterious entities or just cute little thingies or beings of awe, they always seem to be otherworldly, something entirely different and incomprehensible to humans. Here, however, youkai look far down to earth – it would probably have worked as well with some human characters, weird as they were. Apart from having ability to be invisible and kind of helping Momo in the end (I guess it can be argued that the help wasn’t that crucial), all three of them remain just supporting characters, nothing more. This may be a very long shot, but I’d have probably liked the film more if there were actually no youkai. If executed well (and I know that the director is certainly capable of that) the film would have been a realistic, mature and possibly sad story about a girl trying to solve her problems. Now apart from some pretty flat comic relief and the ending that wasn’t really called for, the youkai side of the story doesn’t look that absolutely necessary. The ending itself was not really to my liking either – I can deal with suddenly going from the climax to the resolution without a clear understanding how exactly everything played out, but the final need of the film to leave absolutely no loose end nor any ambiguity and bring a totally happy ending looks quite childish. Some things just can’t be amended and as sad as it is, it’s for the good of the characters and their growth, even if the story doesn’t continue to that point.

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     As the story can be thought of as a tale of maturing of Momo, she gets the majority of the development, but that isn’t anything ground-braking, just usual better understanding of herself and her family (in this case, her mother and her way of dealing with Momo’s father’s death), befriending other children of the neighborhood and understanding that you should think everything through before you say anything. Apart from Momo (and her mother), other human characters pretty much just were here to give a background and illustrate the peaceful life of a small town. The whole mood reminded me of Mamoru Hosoda’s films, and Momo herself gives the vibe of Makoto from Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) and I’m not even sure why. The three youkai of the film are a different sort of creatures.  I understand that they are supposed to be mischievous, selfish and mean, but I just can see barely any redeeming qualities of them. You can have many flawed characters and usually that’s a good thing, but even then they should be at least a little bit sympathetic or pitiful (like the whole cast of Neon Genesis Evangelion). Here I just see a bunch of random guys that do nothing until they come into trouble themselves. Maybe their incompetence was meant as a joke, but I’d rather look elsewhere – without atmosphere braking farting jokes. Probably the best I can say about them is that one of the youkai looked like a twin of Gollum form The Lord of the Rings, and another probably was some long lost cousin of Kimura from Azumanga Daioh.

Excerpt from the film; animation by Akira Honma

     The visuals is probably the strongest part of Momo e no Tegami – Production I.G again shows what they are capable of. The director Hiroyuki Okiura previously worked on Jin-Rou, as well as done some key animation under Mamoru Oshii and Satoshi Kon to name a few. Character designs were also done by him, so the quality and his realistic style were apparent. The backgrounds didn’t leave a lasting impression, nor did everything provide that sense of direction or carefully and masterfully built world that Ghibli films do. Nonetheless, even quite bland scenery had its moments and basically stayed just a scenery to give all the spotlight to the characters, whose movements, while nothing ground-braking, were perfectly smooth and, well, beautiful to watch.

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     The soundtrack, as the visuals, prefers to stay in the background and just give some light and often unnoticeable touches to convey the mood. Listening to the music alone was a very pleasant task and I was quite astounded how many of the tracks were just too faded in the film to be noticed. It’s very difficult to single out anything as pretty much the whole soundtrack remains very homogeneous, calm and soothing. The composer Mina Kubota specializes in exact same airy and atmospheric music where piano usually gets the leading role, so I have no complaints, except maybe the lack of something truly memorable and outstanding.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Shio Machi no Shima e'

Excerpt from the OST: 'Mimamori Gumi no San nin'

     Unexpectedly through the whole writing I have mentioned many an anime, and to think about it, it’s quite natural – Momo e no Tegami is no bad film by all means, but it just hasn’t got strong enough voice to become truly exceptional. Everything is just good – the story and the characters and the soundtrack and everything else – but not something you would remember for a long time. Yes, emotions were portrayed very well, the director has seen to it, but some nitpicks here and there don’t let me think of this film as something that can seriously rival Studio Ghibli production.

     I believe, this anime is

 2Decent

     If you need a not too complicated film that the majority of the time stays lighthearted, and can overlook some random and not that sympathetic youkai, you came to the right place. The film is not perfect, but for a lazy, relaxing and unimposing Friday evening you could chose far worse anime to watch than Momo e no Tegami.

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