Giovanni’s Island is a breathtaking film by Production I.G. It tackles true events of World War II in 1945 through the innocence of a child’s eyes. The film was presented by the Japan Association of Music Enterprises (JAME) to celebrate it’s 50th anniversary. Nishikubo Mizuho & Oshii Mamoru’s (Ghost in the Shell & Patlabor) long time animation directors were at the helm on this film with Shigemichi Sugita and Yoshiki Sakurai writing the script. The film is hand-drawn and looks absolutley incredible from start to finish.
The main characters in this epic story are Junpei and his little brother Kanta who are named after Giovanni and Campanella, the central characters in Kenji Miyazawa’s “Night on the Galactic Railroad,”. This is a story that their father Tatsuo has drilled into them since an early age (as it was a book their late mother loved to read). The two boys love the fantasy story so much that they envision trains transporting them to anywhere they want to go to in cold hard times of war.
The movie sets the scene in July 1945 in Shikotan (a small island off the mainland of Japan) with Junpei and his little brother Kanta having fun, being energetic and collecting eggs for the villagers. They then return to their home where they role-play being Giovanni and Campanella from the Galactic Railroad. The happiness retracts and we start to get an insight into the period of war. Villagers are panicked and seeking shelter – in the distance dive bombers are heading towards Nemuro, Hokkaido. The two boys stand there watching the city of Nemuro burn – while their father Tatsuo (Commander of the islands defense force) is helping people to safety.
We then hit August 15 1945, the war is over – Japan has lost (for people who don’t know this is a short time after America dropped the Atomic bombs on Hiroshima & Nagasaki). You then see the fear that the people of Shikotan have of the Americans – naming them the ‘Red Devil’s and scared of what is going to take place next.
September 1st 1945 , Junpei and Kanta are enjoying school life – when suddenly they are interrupted with loud thundering shots in the background. The class heads outside fearing the worst – that the American’s had arrived – but it’s the Soviet’s (Russia) who were shooting blank rounds nearby. Shikotan then gets invaded by the Red Army (Soviet’s), which hold the classroom at gunpoint, homes are raided and houses are destroyed or taken over. The Soviet commander takes over Junpei’s house and they are then moved into the stables next door. However among all this terror something special happens – The Soviet’s daughter Tanya befriends Junpei and Kanta and before long Junpei starts to develop a crush.
Happiness however quickly falls short as Tatsuo (Junpei’s & Kanta’s father) is taken into custody for trying to smuggle food for the community. Junpei starts to form trust issues with Tanya and is followed by all residents of Shikotan being ordered to leave their beloved island to work in concentration camps. The two boys then embark on an epic journey to locate their father (located in a different camp).
For me this film really helps put life into perspective. I think in this day and age we take a lot of things for granted – we live in luxury, worry about trivial things – we really don’t have that many hardships. Giovanni’s Island shows you a different end of the spectrum living in the age of war through Junpei’s & Kanta’s eyes. It really is a beautiful but heart-breaking journey they go through – even with all the terror and hardship of war the two kids see the beauty in world – at moments I had shed a tear or two. I personally loved this film at every moment – it had great pacing, fantastic bright characters and was to the end bittersweet. I’d recommend it to anybody that has a passion for a good story – but be warned – like me you’ll probably end up a blubbering mess by the end of it.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.