Giovanni’s Island

GIOVANNI’S ISLAND

Yes, I know it’s very close to my last anime review but there’s not that many times this year that I will get to review an anime film so I am taking this one, since it’s available. Giovanni’s Island has been catching people’s attention for most of 2014 since its premiere in Japan in Feb 2014. Although it did take a while for people to take notice of it but there was a real buzz when you saw how people were talking about it at after it’s debut at several film festivals. It played at the New York International Children’s Film Festival, The Fantasia Film Festival, The London Film Festival, The Cairo International Film Festival and The Leeds International Film Festival where it was placed alongside films like Dragon Ball Z, Battle of the Gods and the anime classics like Ghost in the Shell. So it was clear from being placed amongst films like that, that this film definitely had to have something to it. I was kind of excited to see it around Christmas, however I was then informed through Amazon that the film had been delayed back to a January release, but when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, so with that later release, why not give it a full review.

Now Giovanni’s Island joins several anime, based around the second world war from the Japanese perspective, however this one sets itself apart by taking place after the events of the second world war. The film mainly consists of the events after 15th August 1945, being the date of Japan’s surrender. The story centres around Junpei and Kanta, two small children living on a small island and the effects that the aftermath of the second world war has had on their island, especially in the face of a Russian occupation. The main plot is around their lives and tragedies that follow. The film largely plays a similar role to how Studio Ghibli play their films in the whole ‘it’s just life itself’ that’s the plot (made famous to general western audience last year through Boyhood), at least for the first half of the movie. The second half gains a much more defined plot and both work pretty well to their advantage and I did appreciate the tonal shift that this had. With that being said there are tons of great moments in both its first and second half that just stood out brilliantly. This is a well told story, it’s supposedly based on true events but my research on how close to life it was and if this was based on the actual people or just a general setting has turned up fruitless, there isn’t a lot of information about this film from my main sources.

Now the obvious film to compare this to is another Studio Ghibli film Grave of the Fireflies considering they are both centred around the effects of the second world war on Japan through the perspective of siblings that are very close but ultimately are affected through various tragedies. The only major difference being that Grave of the Fireflies takes place in the closing days of the Second World War and Giovanni’s Island takes place in the aftermath of the Second World War and that the siblings have a much larger age gap in firflies. In my honest opinion (and get ready to fire hate towards me in the comments) I don’t like Grave of the Fireflies. I know a lot of people say this is one of the saddest movies they have ever seen, but I genuinely don’t like it. I can’t go into too much detail on why I don’t like it. If you want more of a reason why I don’t like it go and see Bennett the Sage’s episode of anime Abandon on the subject. He shares my view and sums it up better than I could!! The point is Seita and Setsuko from Grave of the Flies aren’t really characters, they are more cut outs, Junpei and Kanta are much more defined characters, as a result, when their lives are turned upside down for various reasons, we feel much more sympathy towards them, which is what Grave of the Fireflies was lacking, but then again Grave of the Fireflies was trying to deliver a very political message towards the youth of Japan in the 80’s, a climate which affected that plot of the film though the filmmakers never overtly admitted that was their intention. This film doesn’t have to reach that same audience, so as a result it doesn’t have to send a message and it allows the characters to be characters.

The plot itself is also paced a lot better. This film has a decent running time, but much like my previously reviewed Patema Inverted, it feels a little bit longer than it actually is. While it technically runs in at 102 minutes, it feels like a 120 minutes movie and I can’t exactly explain how it feels longer than it really is. But it’s longer in a good sense, you definitely don’t want to leave this movie too soon, and that is probably down to it’s brilliant pacing. I think this film’s first half is slightly better than it’s second, but they come together to make an excellent whole. Its amazing characters also aid the film. They are all just terrific and react how you would expect people to react in these situations. Junpei and Kanta are just general average kids, and they come across as really likeable. The same goes for many of the other cast, including the various leaders on both the Japanese and Russian side of things. Probably one of my favourite characters in the whole film was the boys friend and daughter of the Russian chief Tanya, she is very supportive of the boys, but she also gives across a vibe that even though these people are your enemies not everyone in that group is necessarily bad. Tanya was also a very sympathetic character as you almost believe through her and her friends from the Russian side that after they make friends with the Japanese children that they are also being negatively affected by this conflict. They don’t want to be enemies with the kids, they just want to be friends. That was an excellent message sent across. Also the chemistry between Tanya and Junpei is excellent and very well written. The film also makes some stylistic choices that aid the plot brilliantly as well. For example all the Russians actually speak ‘Russian’ and I think this aids the film’s plot brilliantly as this allows us to believe that these are two different groups of people. It would have been a lot worse if the Russian characters had spoken english all the time as it wouldn’t have created that divide. With all that being said, I can’t stress enough how much this plot is unbelievably good and incredibly moving! It’s very tragic in parts and should not be approached by people if you don’t want to see an emotionally charged film, but if you can handle that, it is definitely worth it like The Wind Rises it gives us an interesting perspective of 2nd world war from the perspective of people who were our enemies.

Now acting wise it’s very difficult to comment as I’ve been barely able to find an english speaking cast information anywhere online. Even IMDB is having trouble getting these names across so I can’t highlight names and how well the acting was done to a specific person only to the actor who played each character. That being said, the acting in this film is fantastic the voice actors are all brilliant. I would like to say that I probably thought the best actors in the film were the voice actors who voiced Junpei and Kanta as well as the actress who voiced Tanya. They genuinely all have very believable chemistry and they all are individually great actors. You genuinely believe that these two boys are brothers and these two young people are in love. Some of the more lighter comic relief characters, although there is only really one, also can occasionally get a decent laugh and I would say that the actor who plays Junpei and Kanta’s father is very good although at times he does seem quite stilted in his lines, though that potentially could be down to having to match up with the lip syncing of the character. Some lines don’t translate very well from Japanese to english. It’s very difficult to find too much fault with this cast. I haven’t seen the full movie in Japanese, but I have seen clips and if you’re the sort of anime fan who insists on watching it in Japanese with English subtitles you should get decent performances all round as well, however, I can’t fully comment as I haven’t seen the film in it’s original Japanese. I would also like to praise all the Russian actors who supply their voices to these films particularly Tanya’s actress. I’m not sure whether the Russian cast was re-cast again in the film’s english dub especially considering there was a Russian cast for the Japanese version, but either way they are really good. As I said information of this film is pretty lackluster and I only managed to find much information on the Japanese cast. Overall everyone delivers a brilliant performance, I just wish I could actually put some names to those performances. Please if you get more information on the Engish cast, let me know in the comments section. It would definitely be a great help to me.

This is now the point where I have to talk about the animation of this film. I’ve brought the ultimate edition which I would recommend if you have £40.00 to spare because it contains both the Blu-Ray and the DVD version of the film as well as a scrap book that contains information about the making of the film and the design choices though be warned it’s in limited supply. I watched the Blu-Ray version for this review which is also the version I would recommend if you have the ability (though I suspect seeing on DVD will be just fine) because this film’s animation is once again stunning! I really, really love the animation style in this film It’s not like a lot of anime that I have seen in the past, if anything it feels like a painting that has come to life at times aided by the films excellent cinematography and imagery, and where other animation that has resembled paintings has often looked almost jagged and un-human to suit the style, with this one, everyone feels like they walk and have movement like genuine human beings, which I think benefits the film in a large sense. The animation has to shift to several locations as well and they are all done brilliantly. The scenes in the Island look great. The scenes in Korea are really good and make the place feel very cold in winter. The scenes set in the boy’s imagination, which is based on their favourite book, are absolutely the best portions of the film. The animation staff go to town with this and it looks amazing. You really feel like you are in space in these scenes and the running theme of trains and locomotives is done brilliantly throughout the film. Again another one of the stylistic choices that helps the film. I was a bit worried about the designs when I initially saw this film, I thought they looked a bit too abstract and not human enough to allow us to bond with the characters, but you definitely get used to it very quickly and it makes them look more defined than most other anime characters. This doesn’t look like any other anime that has been made. I’m certain people could point me to an example, but I can’t think of one off the top of my head. While it doesn’t have any sort of ground breaking imagery like Patema Inverted did, it doesn’t have to do that and is just great by doing its own thing and having its own stylistic choice. It’s for that reason I would really recommend watching the Blu-Ray version of this, once again, at night, lights off, with the curtains drawn. This is genuinely a film that would have been great to see in cinemas, but as I mentioned it was only every playing at film festivals, so that is pretty much impossible without knowing in advance.

Does this film have a negative. Well if I had to nit pick, I thought the character of the boys uncle Hideo felt a bit out of place. I don’t know, I know anime typically has a comic relief character even in these sort of films, but he really doesn’t at times feel like he is in tone with the rest of the film. He definitely improves in the second half and I was definitely more happy that he was a character in the second half, but as I said that is really nit picking. I could make a ton of examples that the Russians can come across as rather un-sympathetic in the second half compared to the first half, but I think that would have potentially affected the film overall if they had gone with one style over the entirety of the film. Plus doing that makes us feel a lot closer to the boys plight.

To summarise, I cannot recommend Giovanni’s Island enough. Yes, it’s a very difficult film at times to sit through but it’s very heart warming at times and it’s also very brilliant in its style and its substance. This is a story you won’t forget for a long time for both the good and the bad of these characters stories. I’d recommend this to people who don’t necessarily watch anime as I think potentially this could convert them to what this sub- genre of films is doing and how there are so many great films to come out of Japan and why this isn’t up for a BAFTA and Oscar I will never know!

In short. I loved it! I would highly recommend it, I don’t think it’s a film you will forget for a long time. It’s both brilliant and tragic!

Track it down on DVD, it wasn’t available at my local HMV but it is still available on Amazon and as I said if you can, get the Blu-Ray version, it’s only £2.00 more expensive!

Well now I would like to know what you think about this film and what you think about my disdain for Grave of the Fireflies, which i suspect I am going to be getting a lot of. Please leave a comment if you have an opinion. We accept all opinions and remember you do not need an account or be from a specific area. It’s just as simple as typing it down.

Now that I have reviewed this anime I think I will now go on to my other specialty for the next film. Join me on 6 Feb where I will be reviewing the first comic film of the year “Kingsman: the Secret Service’

If you would like to leave your own reviews on the site send a word document with your name and the film you are reviewing and email me in all lower case at calvin@axia-asd.co.uk. If you want to know more about this go to my Big Eyes review where I give more details.

We would love to see user reviews going up on the site.

Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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Posted in Film Society
One comment on “Giovanni’s Island
  1. Linda Buchan says:

    If you have never watched Japanese anime before I wholeheartedly recommend this
    A truly moving film

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