A Letter To Momo is about the title character Momo recovering from her father’s death, and her mother’s decision to move their family from Tokyo to a remote island. That’s about it to be honest. Well, there is also the whole thing revolving around three Yokai/goblins who are tasked to help Momo cope with her lost. If you’re expecting a drama to tackle the themes of lost, and death you’ll be disappointed. It’s leisure pace makes it more of a relaxing slice of a life than a reflection on hard hitting themes. At the cost depth, the movie remains simple with little added to the premise.
Anything supernatural is given the bare minimum development. It’s good enough to make sense within the story, but lacking in the way that it has little importance in the story overall. The three yokai/goblins in the movie primarily joke around causing mischief to Momo dislike. Each of the three yokai/goblins have distinct personalities with an interesting backstory that is touched on. Their responsibilities on the other hand isn’t touched on quite as much. The methods the yokai use to help Momo cope are a mixed in results; one making a point to have fun, and the other mischievous deed feel pointless. There’s also the supporting characters that hardly influence the movie other than Momo having to become brave. Fine for Momo character since she is a properly developed character by the end, but everyone surrounding her feels more like tools in Momo growth.
Being character driven resulted in a story that has the basics down from setting up the conflict, slowly working towards the protagonist improving herself, and eventually overcoming that problem. It’s just the steps of getting from one point to the other feel disconnected. One sequence involves Momo taking two Yokai to look for food resulting in a chase scene of the three running away from wild boars after the Yokai stole their babies. This chase last a long time adding little to the overarching story. Scenes like these are commonplace in A Letter To Momo. While they are amusing they add up to give an overall feeling the film doesn’t much to offer in theme exploration.
The climax is something of a anomaly since the main conflict is Momo having to accept her father death. Everything before it no matter how sloppily done was intended to be part of her growth. An illness pops up irregularly in the movie, and a expectation that Momo will finally be strong enough to move on if someone else important to her dies. That doesn’t happen opting for a happy that kinda makes sense, and on the other hand is confusing. It felt like writer/director Hiroyuki Okiura wanted to be make a light hearted movie while tackling a serious subject matter, but somewhere in the process he lost his clear direction. Hence the fade to black in the climax that comes out of nowhere, and leaves some questions unanswered. That moment best describe the movie in a nutshell; it has an interest in touching on death, and dealing with it, but not directly dancing around the idea occasionally.
The voice acting from both the Japanese, and English dub cast are wonderful. From the two, I would say go with the English subs. I prefer the English voice of Momo played by Amanda Pace perfectly capturing Momo awkwardness, and inner turmoil. However, where the English dub misses where it counts the most are the voices for the three yokais. In the Japanese cast, Cho (yes, that’s his full name), Koichi Yamadera, and Toshiyuki Nishida whom voice the three main yokai enunciate their characters eccentricities. Their performances, much like their characters, feel exaggerated, and out of this world like they should. While in the English dub, the voice actors downplay the yokais in their performance removing their otherworldly personality. Subduing the supernatural beings did the English dub no favors in the long run since what made them stand out from humans was gone.
Animated by Production I.G. the animation leans more on the more realistic side. Sparingly using 3D, the cel animation has a nice, clean, smooth movement throughout. The lack of background characters is noticeable whenever Momo walks outside in broad daylight on the island, but other than that the animation has little faults to it. This doesn’t mean it’s a spectacle either since most of the activity in the film are mundane. The few times where the fluid animation gets to shine is either during a chase sequence, or when multiple characters are being hyperactive.
Hiroyuki Okiura shines through more as a director than he does a writer. One instance being his usage of cinematography. There’s a scene early on in the movie perfectly establishing how shy Momo is with her remaining silent for several minutes as family around her joyously talk to each other. Okiura doesn’t draw attentions to his character more subtle traits through dialogue which is appreciated. Characters subtly grow, and change without it being told to you directly. His eye for details creates a realistic backdrop through soft, and dim colors in his environments. Providing lovely scenery shots of the ocean, and the small island town. Also, seeing our characters have a change of clothes throughout the movie, a detail that is ignored by a lot animation, is a nice a touch, even if it’ll go largely unnoticed.
In terms of animation the standout sequence is easily in the climax with dozen upon dozen of different yokais being animated, meshing together to basically form one giant umbrella, and with multiple moving parts. My description of the sequence can’t do it justice since there’s more to it like the flowing hair in the wind, the raindrops splitting apart when hitting a monster, the different individuals monsters moving around frequently, and other small details that would be difficult to capture through mere text. No other sequence in the entire movie comes close matching this impressive feat of animation. The music is composed by Mina Kubota comprising tracks that are soothing, whimsical, and calm. It’s a nice soundtrack to play with the nice visuals.
If half an hour was cut from A Letter To Momo I would have favored it a bit more. By lingering around too much the intended effect it wanted to have become lost to me. Sure it’s a solid movie with amusing moments, and good character growth, but there’s also not enough meat to the overarching story that made it feel it was worth it’s two hour run time. The final result of the movie isn’t what it could have been. I came out confuse by it execution even though the intent was clear. In the end A Letter To Momo is a solid anime.