If you felt so certain that you have seen A Letter to Momo before, you were not alone. it was very similar to another anime. You might have heard of it. It’s called My Neighbor Totoro.
But of course, I would not judge A Letter to Momo just because of that. So let’s begin.
The primer: Written and directed by Hiroyuki Okiura, A Letter to Momo followed the events after the titular character and her mother moved back to their country home. Momo had a hard time fitting into the new environment and the discovery of three spirits in her house did not make things any easier. Momo eventually befriended the three spirits and they went on some fantastical adventures.
How was it so similar to My Neighbor Totoro?
This was obvious. Just think of Totoro and look at Momo’s story. A girl (or girls) and one parent moved from the city to country house surrounded by nature and peaceful community. The girl subsequently met spiritual entities and eventually became friends. There were a boy of roughly the same age of the girl and old folks living next door. The girl got lost or ran away at one point and had people out looking for them. The girl’s mother had some kind of chronic illness that caused lots of troubles in the end. The girl eventually asked the spirits to intervene and resolve their problems. Aside from the main plot, the overall atmosphere and artworks were very similar to Totoro’s. In addition, the interaction between Momo and the three spirits was also reminiscent of that in Natsume Yuujunchou. I wouldn’t be surprised if Neko Sensei or the Cat Bus showed up at some point.
Was it that bad?
Far from it. Despite being utterly derivative, A Letter to Momo was a very good film and entertaining. It was so good that I felt sorry. A Letter to Momo played it too safe. With a different script and probably more risk taking, we could have a fantastic anime instead of a fantastic remake.
The characters were generally by-the-number for this type of anime. Momo was your typical stubborn teenage girl and her mother was kind but she suppressed sadness inside. The three spirits were also typical for comedic characters. But these characters worked well because their interaction with each other was great in the film. Momo was likable and I, as a viewer, was on board with her the whole journey.
I did not expect A Letter to Momo to be so funny. But it turned out that the comedy part was much more memorable than the drama elements. Despite the conventional structure, the anime was full of small but delightfully funny moments which helped carried the viewers along to the end. A Letter to Momo also boasted detailed, beautiful artworks and animation. I liked that the anime kept the background art from standing out too much, lest it overshadowed the characters. But upon closer inspection, it was clear that lots of work was put into creating this humble, peaceful town.
Scary thoughts and Deus ex Machina (Spoiler alert!)
One thing, however, bothered me. In the final act, Momo’s mother was suffering from asthmatic attack. So Momo had to cross the bridge in the midst of a typhoon to get a doctor back to her house. She asked the spirits to help her but they initially refused to intervene. Fortunately, they changed their minds and helped shield Momo from the wind and she made it across safely.
Think about it. Earlier, we learned that the three spirits was sent from the Sky to look after Momo’s family. They came as three drops of water. We were told that Momo was able to see them only because the three spirits accidently fell on Momo’s head. That meant Momo was never supposed to see the spirits, let alone talk to them, if not for that ‘accident’. So if this were just another normal scenario, Momo would not have known that these spirits existed. She would ran off on the bridge alone, got blown off the bridge and die horribly. Her swollen dead body would end up in the bottom of the ocean, eaten by fish and crabs!
Conclusion: Let me make this clear. A Letter to Momo was solid, funny and beautiful. But the anime was stuck under the shadow of other greater films. I would say that A Letter to Momo was a great film but not a memorable one. With all that said, the anime still deserved high level of recommendations from me. Seriously, it was better than half the anime released last year.
Title: A Letter to Momo (aka Momo e no Tegami)
Genre: drama, comedy, fantasy
Released date: April 21, 2012
Running time: 120 minutes
Director: Hiroyuki Okiura
Animated by: Production I.G