DVD Review: Giovanni’s Island

Director: Mizuho Nishikubo
Rating: 7/10

This moving anime casts an interesting light on a little-known part of Japan’s post-WWII history. With the war over, a remote fishing island finds itself occupied by the Russian army. For children such as the protagonist, Genzou, feelings are mixed – the Russians are big and scary, but they bring electricity and their own rather intriguing blond-haired sons and daughters. Maybe things won’t be so bad after all. Then, however, the deeper realities of occupation bite…

The style of the film is dense and highly individual, by turns grotesque and lyrical – there’s a scene involving a toy train set that’s as beautiful a piece of animation as you’ll see anywhere. The mood darkens in the second half as the islanders go through the terrifying process of repatriation to mainland Japan via a Siberian labour camp. As if this weren’t traumatic enough, the story takes a few melodramatic turns which pile on yet more heartache.

Giovanni’s Island seems to beg comparison with Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies. It’s not quite so single-mindedly sure of itself as that film (nor quite as gruelling, thankfully), but it certainly merits being mentioned in the same breath as an animated film that dares to revisit some painful moments in Japan’s past.

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