For a modern animated film, GIOVANNI’S ISLAND is an incredibly beautiful film filled with humour, innocence and loss. Directed by Mizuho Nishikubo (Musashi: The Dream of the Last Samurai; Atagoal wa Neko no Mori), Giovanni’s Island is a great historical representation of post-World War II that acts as an eye-opener for the current young generation and beyond.
Giovanni’s Island revolves around the tiny island of Shikotan and its villagers who gets caught in the disastrous post-World War II mayhem. Unfortunately for Junpei and Kanta, these two brothers are amongst the children who must endure the harsh truth of reality at a young age.
Overtaken by Soviet soldiers and their families, the Japanese are brutally forced out of their homes and living on smuggled rations of food. After encountering the Soviet commander’s daughter Tanya, Junpei and Kanta slowly overcomes their hatred for the Soviets by spending more time with Tanya and her family. Somehow in this bleak world, a magical friendship between Tanya, Junpei and Kanta manages to blossom – to the extent where it could lead to love as well.
When Junpei’s father got arrested by the Soviets, Junpei blames Tanya for betraying him and his family. By the time Junpei learns the truth, Junpei’s family (along with the other Japanese residents) have been transferred to internment camps, far away from Tanya and their homeland.
Artistically, this IG Production perfectly captures a world that has been destructed by war. Through the combined efforts of art directors Santiago Montiel, Kōsuke Hayashi and Kunihiko Inaba, Giovanni’s Island is a canvas painting soaked in fear, hostility and despair. One quick glance at this emotionally sorrowful world magnetically draws the audience into its lair where we would no doubt feel heartache for the characters.
The story of Giovanni’s Island specifically holds great significance for young children as it compels young viewers to think and question about reality. Forced to climb out of his shell and into adulthood, Junpei notices that he and his brother had been forsaken by reality’s illusion all along.
In the complicated reality world, there is pain, lies, secrets and political obstacles that each and every adult must face in order to survive. Despite the portrayal of good vs bad characters in Giovanni’s Island, the film sets out to prove that every person in the world shares some form of common humanity. Music, for instance, plays a common denominator as we witness both Japanese and Russian children singing well-known songs in their own respective languages.
Contributing towards the authenticity of this post-War World II film, Director Mizuho Nishikubo has chosen to utilise Russian voice-actress Polina Ilyusenko as the voice for Tanya. With little dialogue exchanged between Tanya and the boys, Giovanni’s Island demonstrates the language barrier and difference of cultures that everyone must encounter.
In the midst of dark times for Junpei and his family, what made this film’s storytelling unique was its allusion to Kenji Miyazawa’s classic Japanese novel ‘Night on the Galactic Railroad‘. Not only does the two young protagonists, Junpei and Kanta, share the same names from Miyazawa’s story (Giovanni and Campanella), but there are plenty of moments where they play scenes of their counterparts as well.
The fusion of realism and Miyazawa’s concept in Giovanni’s Island adds depth to the storytelling and art direction like no other. From the blissful moments between Junpei and Tanya to Junpei’s spectacular Galactic Railway train rides, Giovanni’s Island is one of the most visually stunning animated films in recent years. Featuring a palette of vivid traditional and CG illustrations, IG Productions highlights the film’s fantastical element in a spectacular manner that distinctly contrasts with the monotonous scenes.
The Soviets may dominate every aspect of their lives but Miyazawa’s fantasy allusion does its job by bringing joy and adventure to Junpei and Kanta’s lives. As expected of Junpei and Kanta, the boys defy reality by embarking on a grand journey to see their Father once more. Filled with determination and youth resilience, Koto Yokoyama and Junya Taniai’s portrayal of Junpei and Kanta could not be more perfect as we are continuously captivated by their on-screen chemistry right to the very end.
Overall: From the depths of despair and loss, IG Productions has created a wondrous masterpiece that will awe viewers from all walks of life. It’s not often that we see historical representations of World War II, and because of this, we believe GIOVANNI’S ISLAND is a real gem in animation’s recent history.
After many emotional ups and downs throughout Junpei and Kanta’s journey, many viewers would have wanted a happier ending for the characters rather than the bittersweet timeskip shown in the end. Yet, it was reassuring to see peace and harmony restored amongst the Japanese and Russians– united once again with the power of dialogue, music and actions.
Giovanni’s Island is now out on DVD. You can view more info on Madman Entertainment’s site [here].