I was able to watch Mizuho Nishikubo’s Giovanni’s Island in a cinema during an anime film festival. I could hear people in the row behind me sniffing and sobbing quietly towards the end. We call that effect ‘dem feels’ in anime fandom.
There’s plenty of anime fans who’ll appreciate a good ‘dem feels’ story. The other type who’ll certainly want to watch Giovanni’s Island are those with an interest of the Russian occupation of Japanese islands at the end of World War II.
Giovanni’s Island is, largely, a true story.
I’m not a ‘dem feels’ fan nor am I overly interested in the occupation of Japanese islands by Russia at the end of the War (side note; the Russians are still there – it’s an active political issue) but I certainly appreciated the storytelling in Giovanni’s Island. Just knowing this story is largely true gives your brain a whole angle of “Oh no” to wrestle with while you watch events unfold. No wonder the row behind me developed the sniffles.
Giovanni is a character from a book. It’s a real book, I believe, about an intergalactic train that takes souls up to the stars. The anime’s main character is named after this Giovanni as his younger brother is named after another character from the same story. The book’s fan is their father who happens to be the leader of the village on the island when the Russians arrive.
The family end up living in their own stables while a Russian family move into their house. The kids soon bond with the Russian girl now living in their house. Her father turns out to be the commander on the Russian troops.
What could go wrong? Loads. And it does.
Giovanni’s Island is a story of people trying to do right – and just trying to make do – while the world unfolds around them. I don’t think there’s a single villain in the story. Certainly some of the Japanese characters get themselves into trouble. It’s pretty scary when the Russians arrive an although the Russians tend to tower above the Japanese there’s no cartoon monster among them.
I suspect Giovanni’s Island will do well with critics who appreciate clever art films. I have a mind to pitch the blu-ray when it comes out to Mark Kermode, a critic who appears on the BBC often and doesn’t seem to be allergic to sub-culture titles. It’s that kind of story.
Overall? I won’t suggest that the film was always easy watching but it’ll hold your attention firmly when it gets a bit uncomfortable. Like good stories? You’ll probably like Giovanni’s Island even if it feels a bit niche.
The film will be out on blu-ray on Amazon UK later this year. You can pre-order today.
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