After roughly a ten year gap after making the highly-underrated film Jin-Roh, Hiroyuki Okiura returns! 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. Orchards are found ransacked, prized trinkets start disappearing and, worst of all, each morning after her mother leaves for work, Momo hears strange mumblings coming from the attic of their home. Annoyed by these creepy goings-on and her mother’s refusal to believe them, Momo embarks on a strange and supernatural adventure to discover the source of the mischief, which leads her to a trio of troublesome imps: the flatulent lizard Kawa, the childlike Mame and their hulking ogre leader Iwa. Momo also learns that her visit to the island is in some way connected to her father’s mysterious letter.
The biggest statement thus far is that there has been a 10 year gap in between films. No, he wasn’t Tarantinoing it, as A Letter to Momo had reportedly taken the director Okiura seven years to produce. Momo ponders an unfinished letter left in her father’s drawer. It deals with heavy issues. She also has to deal with new living quarters after her mom decides to move them both back to her childhood home on the island. Animation is executed flawlessly as her adolescent awkwardness is honestly and masterfully portrayed by the animators.
The theme of family reconciliation, is admittedly not very family-friendly but somehow I could see young viewers getting into this anime. Both Production I.G. and director Hiroyuki Okiura wanted to expand their horizons past adult-oriented animation, and wanted to do something more charming, and family friendly. Momo is the result of that. The subject of loss is difficult to convey on film, yet alone in an animated one and perhaps this isn’t just a good film, but maybe essential viewing to the nerdy adolescence? The only hinderance I can see is the extremely long running time.
I imagine that at this point, this review has begun to give off a portrait of a family-friendly anime, which was not entirely my intention. Its complex characterizations and multiple storylines are on par with Spirited Away. They both have introverted girls forced to face a new environment with Shinto-themed underpinnings. Take away the fantasy aspects and throw in a realistic environment and ideology, and you have A Letter To Momo! It sticks to the tried and tested formula of supernatural spirits that only interacts with kids, and is a magical crowd-pleaser with great pacing and a heartwarming story.