Giovanni's Island (NR)

November 5, 2014
By Sherilyn Connelly
A tale of children enduring hardships in post–World War II Japan, Mizuho Nishikubo's hand-drawn anime Giovanni's Island is an emotional kick in the teeth, and a lovely one at that. In a fishing village on the tiny island of Shikotan, Junpei (Kota Yokoyama) and his younger brother Kanta (Junya Taniai) are obsessed with trains, in particular the magical cosmic train in Kenji Miyazawa's book Night on the Galactic Railroad (itself turned into a so-so movie in 1985). Their lives are thrown into disarray when the Red Army occupies Shikotan at the end of the war. There are echoes of Red Dawn, such as soldiers invading a school or a father talking to his sons through an internment camp fence, but none of the jingoism; the boys discover that the Russians aren't necessarily bad people individually, no matter how harsh their military rule, and Junpei falls in requited like with a soldier's daughter named Tanya (Polina Ilyushenko).

Giovanni's Island is frequently heart-wrenching, sometimes during its beautiful fantasy sequences on the Galactic Railroad, trips that don't always provide the escape from reality Junpei and Kanta long for. (It should be noted that the war crimes of Imperial Japan that The Wind Rises controversially whitewashed are beyond the ken of the young protagonists, and not addressed.)

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