Directed by Mizuho Nishikubo (Musashi: The Dream Of The Last Samurai), produced by Production I.G (Psycho Pass, Ghost In The Shell) and brought to us in the UK by Anime.Ltd (Patema Inverted), Giovanni’s Island is set on the tiny Japanese island of Shikotan, at the end of World War II.
The story focuses on two brothers, Junpei and Kanta Senō, who unexpectedly find their lives turned upside down when it is announced to them that Japan has lost the war.
One morning as they sit in class, their classroom is invaded by armed soldiers dressed in unfamiliar uniforms, and in short order they are moved to a different room to make way for the island’s new inhabitants, the Soviets.
Caught up the midst of all the tension between the Sakhalin Oblast and the islanders, they are forced to live in their own outhouses and smuggle rice just to stay alive. However, the curiosity of children will always win out and when Junpei and Kanta learn that they are living next door to Tanya, the daughter of the Russian leader, a friendship begins to develop.
Thinking that she will be confused by Japanese names, they give her the names of characters from their favourite book, Giovanni for Junpei and Campanella for Kanta.
The book in question is “Night On The Galactic Railroad”, a classic Japanese novel in which two boys ride a mystical train through the stars and it is this addition to the story which really sets this film apart.
The children use this book to help them through the trials ahead and there are many, from relative comfort on the island to interment camps, all of which makes this a pretty harrowing story, but one which is inspirational in it’s portrayal of the way that children can overcome political barriers and at the same time use a fantasy world to survive a reality which is too harsh to bear.
The animation style is very clever and suits the story well, the characters themselves are quite 2 dimensional to look at, but the backgrounds are drawn in such a way as to show the feel of a location, as well as just the look. This makes the whole thing very atmospheric.
Combined with a haunting soundtrack and the knowledge that this film is based on real events, Giovanni’s Island is an emotional roller-coaster, which is thoroughly rewarding to watch.
“On August 15th, they told us we had lost the war. At that time, we did not really understand. Then one day, everything changed. Many soldiers, wearing uniforms we had never seen before, arrived on the island. That was the day I met Tanya.”
Giovanni’s Island is available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray and Blu-ray Ultimate edition, from 12th Jan 2015.