A Letter to Momo, director Hiroyuki Okiura’s (Jin-Roh) second feature, is a hand-drawn animation that took seven years to make. Carefully animated, it gorgeously shows, as the flow of Momo is seamless in both the storytelling and rendering. There are spare flaws in this coming-of-age film, while anyone can enjoy and relate to the adventure.
Momo first appears to be expressionless and lifeless. She stares blankly in space and speaks as little as possible. She and her mother move the island of Shio, leaving behind Tokyo and the traces of Momo’s recently deceased father for a fresh start. Momo feels incredible guilt because she had gotten angry with her father just before he died. After his funeral, Momo finds a letter written by her father with the words “Dear Momo.” She clings to this letter and wonders what he wanted to say.
Forced to stay home alone, Momo hears curious voices from the attic. She is able to see and communicate with three spirits: Kawa, Mame, and Iwa. They become nuisances to her and the town. Throughout the film, Momo learns to deal with these supernatural creatures, her guilt, and her strained relationship with her mother.
A Letter to Momo is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away, due to the supernatural elements and the maturation of young independent girls. Masahi Ando, the animation supervisor, had also animated for Spirited Away and other Studio Ghibli films. However, Momo has a different tone and theme. This film is very funny, even though the story is overall melancholic. The spirits offer comical situations and jokes, as they themselves are unruly and rambunctious. The chin-lifting scenes and the heart-breaking scenes balance each other out perfectly.
Outside of some ideas borrowed from other Japanese animations, the ending is the only major qualm. I prepared for the story to conclude three times because the scene would fade to black, suggesting the finale. However, there would be another scene after. Nevertheless, A Letter to Momo is an excellent film that anyone can appreciate for its animation, its fun characters and its complex themes.