A LETTER TO MOMO
(Momo e no Tegami)
A Letter to Momo makes for inevitable comparison to Hayao Miyazakis My Neighbor Totoro (1988). Both films are about young girls who are forced to move to the countryside by changes in their home circumstances where they befriend strange creatures amid the placid surroundings. Both films are about a delight in the relationships between children and magical creatures. The ill health of a parent hangs over both, culminating in a climactic drama where the young child has to race to save the life of the ailing parent. In some ways, A Letter to Momo goes further than My Neighbor Totoro where Totoro was about the child dealing with the fear of a parent dying, it ultimately retreated to the safety of allowing them to do survive. A Letter to Momo goes further emotionally and is about a child coping after a parent has died (although does also feature a climax very similar to Totoro about the child having to race to prevent the other parent from dying).
Just like Hayao Miyazaki in My Neighbor Totoro, Hiroyuki Okiura gives the film a slow and laidback pace. There is not much that happens in the first half that advances the plot. It is the same as in Totoro where most of the film consists of vignettes and cute little incidents of the children and creatures playing with one another. Neither film has any external force driving the drama, like a villain or the need to obtain something as you usually get in a childrens film it is only in the last half that either film coalesces into something dramatic and develops a plot involving the children and creatures attempts to save the parent. The escapades are undeniably a good deal of fun with there being an especially exciting sequence with Momo and the goblins travelling up the side of the slope on an orchard on a flatcar while being pursued by wild boar after the goblins abduct their babies to eat. The climax with Momo crossing the unfinished bridge amid a train made up of goblin creatures shielding her is another triumphant piece of nonsense.
As in Jin-Roh, Hiroyuki Okiura makes a great virtue of placing the focus of the animation on simply depicting everyday objects and buildings in realistic detail. This is not a stylised film, it just sits among an extraordinarily well detailed and perfect ordinary seeming everyday world. Eventually it builds to a tender and lovely story of a friendship between a young girl and the eccentric but lovable goblins and the deep emotion that she feels towards her parents. This Hiroyuki Okiura does in ways that end up considerably moving one.