I dislike children. I was at the Boston International Children’s Film Festival. What brought me there? Anime.
I should probably admit up front that A Letter to Momo disappointed me, ultimately. It wasn’t bad, but I found my attention wandering quite a bit during the film, and my primary criticism is that it just was overly long. I kept thinking that the final scene had occurred, only to find another scene following it. I was fidgeting away madly by the time the credits actually did roll, something that I found fairly disconcerting. I liked the movie less than I had hoped to, or thought I would.
A Letter to Momo is a pretty simple tale – young Momo and her widowed mother move to an island on the Seto Inland Sea after the death of their father and husband. For Momo’s mother, its a return to a place she lived in as a girl, but for Momo its entirely new turf in a time of grief, and she has difficulty connecting with the local children. Having three youkai roll into her life doesn’t exactly help initially, either, particularly given their predilection for agricultural thievery. Hovering at the edges is a letter that Momo’s father started writing to her prior to his death, but it doesn’t go past the salutation, leaving Momo with a seemingly impenetrable mystery on her hands. And, of course, none of this is helped by the fact that she had argued with his father before he passed away.
I did like Momo, and I did feel for her as she struggled with social interaction – I’ve certainly been through the grieving process before, and it makes social situations scary and alienating – but everything just takes much too long to happen. The youkai are initially invisible to Momo, leaving her frightened as she hears them bumping around the house and speaking, but it takes about ten minutes longer than necessary for it to reach a breaking point when she becomes capable of seeing them as well. A storm at the end of the film causes issues for Momo and her mother, but the complications keep stacking up with the minutes before the somewhat saccharine solution is finally achieved. And the final twenty minutes or so strives to tie up every loose end, not content to leave us as understanding that mother and daughter better understand each other while still having a ways to go before getting back to “normal”. Its too pat, and, as I’ve said endlessly already, it takes too long.
I will say without reservation, though, that I simply loved the setting. Tamayura, another story about a family who has lost the father and husband, actually makes its way to the Seto Inland Sea, and I was reminded of that and gratified by getting to spend more time in that place with this film. My favorite part of the movie involved Momo and the youkai zipping up the terraces of their island on a moving platform, culminating in a view of the sea and the other islands (although it was also a very funny scene involving boars, which increased my enjoyment of it).
I won’t quite recommend A Letter to Momo – folks who find themselves interested in it based on the description, sure, go for it, but if you’re hemming and hawing about it, I’d say try something else. I liked parts of it quite a bit, but taken as a whole, I was more bored than anything else over the course of the film. Too bad!
And, before you ask – yes, the theater was mostly adult weebs, not parents with children for the screening. Looked like the showing of Welcome to Space Show had done better with the intended demographic (it was the film shown prior).