It Only Happens in the Movies? Japanese Cinema and Encounters: A Letter to Momo

After mentioning on all my feedback forms last year previously writing in capitals ‘More anime please’ I was pleased to see two on the line up for the touring film festival from the Japan Foundation. The ICA is a great choice of venue in the heart of the West End holding a cosy hide away for Japanese enthusiasts.

A Letter to Momo (Momo e no tegami in Japanese) follows a 11-year-old girl called Momo who =’s world is turned upside down by the recent death of her father. Growing up in Tokyo her whole life and then being up rooted to the country was already a shock to her system. At first we see Momo as a shy and bewildered child, constantly hiding behind her mother and barely saying a word. As they are ferried to their new home she is hit by three water drops on a sunny day, this is not mere water, these drops hold the form of Yokai (demons).

They move to the old family house with an uncle and aunty on a remote island where time has stopped living in old fashioned sliding door wooden buildings with holy shrines on every road and no shopping centers around. Momo is constantly thinking about her father due to having an argument the day he died and finding an unfinished letter from him addressed to her…which she keeps close to her at all times reading over and over again the words “Dear Momo.” Her aunty tries to entertain her by showing her the attic and her uncles prized Yokai picture books. One is particular in a box becomes prey to the water demons.

Directed by Hiroyuki Okiura (Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade). Seven years in the making and supported by a top-class team of skilled creators, A Letter to Momo uses traditional hand drawn animation fused with a simple story. Often compared to Spirited Away this story has similar aspects but is completely different in  everyday. Here we find the three demons are there ona  mission to keep Momo and her mother safe till the father reaches the afterlife. We aren’t given much more information about the mission or the other spirits that Maade makes friends with.

Alongside the trials of stopping the demons from stealing items and ran sacking crops to feed their never ending hunger she also has a sort of love interest in local boy Yota. She’s scared to make friends or dive off the bridge same as she is to move on and let the painful memories of her father go. Her relationship with her mother is also strained due to miscommunications. Sadly the mum thinks Momo is lying when confronted about the stolen items mysteriously appearing in the attic and they argue which triggers off an asthma attack.

The mothers illness turns out to be quite severe and she requires medical assistance but guess what there’s only one doctor on the Island and he’s off on a house call on another Island. At the same time the weather worsens and well Momo has to take some drastic measures. We see only one part of the journey where she and Iwa (Momo’s mother’s old school friend) travel with spiritual assistance to sheld them from the rain and wind and miraculously her mother is cured.


The demons are funny and only stay for a span for a few days and it is quite sad to see them leave after finishing there mission. However do they fulfill Momo;s last request about sending her letter to her father? You will just have to see for yourself.  There is also an American dub version of this film.

Buy tickets to watch it now.
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