Fantasia 2014 | Report #2

filmfest fantasia_75Giovanni’s Island is a particularly interesting film because most of the story concerns what happens to people after a war is over, as opposed to focusing on the war itself.




fantasia Giovanni_s_Island

I’m not big on crying at the movies (although I gave The Fault in Our Stars a generally positive review, I remained dry-eyed throughout, unlike a large proportion of the screening audience), but there’s something about anime that really hits home with me. Hence, I spent a good deal of Giovanni’s Island, an adaptation by Mizuho Nishikubo by Kenji Miyazawa’s classic novel Night on the Galactic Railroad, wishing I had brought a handkerchief (and a lot of the audience at the Fantasia screening sounded like they might be having similar regrets).

The story is about two brothers growing up on Shikotan, one of the Kuril Islands of Japan, during World War II. They’re young enough and the island is removed enough from the main fighting that they’re able to be more concerned about their ordinary daily lives—going to school, hunting for eggs, reading Night on the Galactic Railroad with their father—than with the war. They’ve even taken nicknames from the book: Junpei is Giovanni (hence the film’s title) and Kanta is Campanella. However, after Japan surrenders, Russian soldiers begin arriving on the island, which brings both good fortune—the boys become friends with Russian girl named Tanya and her family—and bad—first they must give up their home to house the Russians, and then are evacuated to the Russian mainland with all the island’s residents when Russia claims the Kuril Islands for themselves (a dispute which continues to this day).

Along the way, their father is arrested for resistance activities and sent to a prison camp in Siberia. Kanta insists on trying to visit him, despite the fact that everyone (including his older brother) tells him it would be madness to attempt, and here is where the tears really start to flow. The story is told with great sensitivity, and without demonizing anyone: The Russians are shown as human beings who do what they can for the boys given their obligations to their own country, and the Japanese are shown as having both good and bad qualities, as well. It’s a particularly interesting film because most of the story concerns what happens to people after a war is over, as opposed to focusing on the war itself.

The animation for Giovanni’s Island is hand-drawn, and to call it stunning would be an understatement. Most importantly, the art maintains a tricky balance between realism and imagination, so that both the child’s-eye perspective of Junpei and Kanta and the adult perspective of the realities of their lives are honored. (You can see a sample in the film’s trailer.)

Here’s a bit of Fantasia trivia for you: At a screening, after the lights go down but before the film starts, members of the audience make all kinds of cat noises (with the occasional dog or sheep noise mixed in). A bit of Googling turned up one explanation: The meowing all began in 2003, in response to a short film called “Sam the Cat” by DJ XL5, and has continued ever since. So it’s one of those folk traditions that makes total sense to anyone on the inside, but remains completely baffling to outsiders (and isn’t that the best kind of tradition anyway?). | Sarah Boslaugh

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