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Giovanni’s Island ("Giovanni no Shima")

Canadian Premiere
  • Japan
  • 2014
  • 102 mins
  • DCP
  • Japanese
  • English (subtitles)
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“Highly recommended as a legit big screen drama... the sort of animated film adults will appreciate as much or more than children” - Joe Bendel, LIBERTAS FILM MAGAZINE

Shikotan is a small fishing island off the coast of Hokkaido, part of the Kuril archipelago strung between Japan and the eastern end of mainland Russia. In the summer of 1945, life is simple but idyllic for the few inhabitants, especially for youngster Junpei and his little brother Kanta. When not exploring the forests and coastal reefs of Shikotan, the brothers discover the wonderful imaginary world of their widowed father’s favourite book, Kenji Miyazawa’s children’s classic “Night on the Galactic Railroad”. The war never truly touched the islands — until its final days, when Soviet troops arrive and occupation begins. Some of the Japanese flee, others plan cunning subversions, but most simply accept the new arrangements. The commander of the Russian occupiers has taken the boys’ home for his own family, which includes his lovely daughter Tanya. She and Junpei soon become quite close, but the return of peaceful days is not as it seems. Historical currents stronger than any of them will pull Junpei and his loved ones into a time of hardship and loss…

Like the anime classic GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES, the gracefully executed GIOVANNI’S ISLAND examines the struggles of the Japanese in the immediate aftermath of their defeat in World War II, from the perspective of a child. It does so, however, with a far lighter touch. A testament to the emotional resilience of children, and the preciousness of those lost but not forgotten, GIOVANNI’S ISLAND echoes the work of the master Miyazaki in refusing to paint a picture of extreme moral contrasts. There are no heroes or villains here, just ordinary people managing as best they can under trying circumstances.

After decades of television work and live-action features, award-winning scriptwriter and filmmaker Shigemichi Sugita (THE LAST RONIN, 2010) wrote this, his first animated film, deftly directed by Mizuho Nishikubo, a longtime collaborator of Mamoru Oshii (GHOST IN THE SHELL). Nishikubo invests the film with an elegantly simple yet clearly articulated visual style, whether his eye settles on the mundane local landscape of the magical realm of Miyazawa’s fantasy. This historical melodrama is a superior work of animation, unsurprising as it arrives on the Fantasia screen bearing the high-standard stamp of Japan’s internationally celebrated studio Production I.G.

— Rupert Bottenberg