GIOVANNI’S ISLAND. 2014. DIRECTED BY MIZUHO NISHIKUBO. STARRING KOTO YOKOYAMA, JUNYA TANIAI AND POLINA ILYUSHENKO. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
A friend of mine routinely drags me along to see Japanese animé films, usually at ungodly hours on a Sunday morning. I always grumble at being forced to watch movies that are outside of my comfort zone, but when I leave the cinema after these particular excursions I’m usually in floods of tears and raving about how beautiful the films were and how much I loved them and how glad I am that I came.
Together we’ve watched such classics as FROM UP ON POPPY HILL and THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA. GIOVANNI’S ISLAND was no exception to my rule of crying-and-blubbering-about-how-much-I-loved-it, although I was so tired that day when I went to see it that I needed a massive cup of coffee from the cinema coffee-shop to wake me up sufficiently to enjoy it, haha.
It’s the story of two adorable schoolboy brothers, Kanta and Junpei, whose childhood on the Japanese island of Shikotan is a happy one. Things change when World War Two ends, however. The island’s borders are altered and their pretty little island, now Russian territory, is taken over by the Russians. That’s a pretty big upheaval by anyone’s standards.
The Russians, while thankfully not portrayed as monsters, are nonetheless seen as huge, powerfully-built men with big clumpy boots, the terrifying sound of which reverberates throughout the tiny island school. One of my favourite scenes is where the Russians barge in to commandeer the children’s classroom and the teacher, small and frightened though she may be, tells them with great dignity and firmness that they’re in the middle of a lesson and can they please wait…? They’re actually surprised enough to do as she says…!
Things aren’t all bad under Russian occupation. Junpei falls in love with pretty blonde Tanya, daughter of the Russian commander, for one thing, and Tanya’s parents are actually quite friendly and they welcome the two Japanese lads into their home. The Russian children are educated by their own teacher in the classroom next door to the Japanese children, and although they’re separated by language, the rules of war and a thin partition, we see that children are all the same the world over, and that can only be a good thing.
Things change again, however, when it is decided by the Russians that they want the Japanese islanders off their newly-acquired territory. The children and their families are forced to set off on a long and perilous journey that has tragic consequences for one of the poor wee mites. I wasn’t the only person in the cinema bawling openly at that bit, I can tell you.
Highlights of the film include the Russian children singing THOSE WERE THE DAYS, MY FRIEND, a Russian romance song later popularised by folk-singer Mary Hopkin, and the magnificent fantasy scenes involving NIGHT ON THE GALACTIC RAILROAD, a Japanese children’s fantasy story.
Uncle Hideo provides some scenes of comic relief. I also loved the scenes of re-visiting the island years later that neatly bookend the movie. They’re both poignant and provide the necessary closure. It’s a visually beautiful film that tugs on the heartstrings and gives your tear-ducts a good old cleaning. What more could you ask for first thing on a Sunday morning…?
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based performance poet, novelist, film blogger, sex blogger and short story writer. She has given more than 200 performances of her comedy sex-and-relationship poems in different venues around Dublin, including The Irish Writers’ Centre, The International Bar, Toners’ Pub (Ireland’s Most Literary Pub), the Ha’penny Inn, Le Dernier Paradis at the Trinity Inn and The Strokestown Poetry Festival.
Her articles, short stories and poems have appeared in The Metro-Herald newspaper, Ireland’s Big Issues magazine, The Irish Daily Star, The Irish Daily Sun and The Boyne Berries literary journal. In August 2014, she won the ONE LOVELY BLOG award for her (lovely!) horror film review blog. She is addicted to buying books and has been known to bring home rain-washed tomes she finds on the street and give them a home.
She is the proud possessor of a pair of unfeasibly large bosoms. They have given her- and the people around her- infinite pleasure over the years. She adores the horror genre in all its forms and will swap you anything you like for Hammer Horror or JAWS memorabilia. She would also be a great person to chat to about the differences between the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut of The Wicker Man. You can contact her at:
1) ‘… BY A WOMAN WALKING HER DOG…’
2) A WRITER’S JOURNEY
3) ANNA MEETS COUNT DRACULA
4) ANOTHER FIFTY REALLY RANDOM HORROR FILM REVIEWS TO DIE FOR…
5) CANCER BALLS
6) CATCH OF THE DAY
7) FIFTY FILTHY-DIRTY SEX-POEMS YOU MUST READ BEFORE I DIE.
8) FIFTY REALLY RANDOM HORROR FILM REVIEWS TO DIE FOR…
9) THE DEVIANTS
10) VISITING DAY