Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror
Details: 99 mins, Japan,
Synopsis: Haruka is an ordinary teenager. Her mother passed away when she was a kid, and her father looked after her ever since. But now that she’s 16, communication with her ever-absent workaholic father is not at its best, and 'home' has become synonymous of solitude. One day, in a shrine yard, Haruka spots a strange creature resembling a fox, carrying a toy plane. But as she goes after the funny animal, she finds herself on... Oblivion Island.
An animated Japanese Alice in Wonderland.
JAPANESE FILM FESTIVAL: The first fully-digital 3D feature from veteran Japanese anime house Production I.G. is an appealing fantasy/adventure aimed at family audiences.
The screenplay of Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror by Shinsuke Sato (who also directs) and Hirotaka Adachi borrows elements from Toy Story, Wall.E and Alice in Wonderland.
The marriage between anime and CGI isn’t entirely successful as the human characters have doll-like faces, the colours of houses, trees and fields appear washed-out, and they lack the rich, vivid detail of Western animation.
The animation does get more layered, intricate and imaginative after the 16-year-old heroine Haruka (voiced by Haruka Ayase) plunges like Alice into an underground world full of monsters and evil brigands.
After an argument on the phone with her father, Haru goes off in search of a hand mirror given to her by her late mother, a memento she had cherished, then lost. The ordinary-looking mirror is said to have magic powers but its provenance isn’t explained, a nuance which probably won’t bother young viewers who would be the primary audience.
Praying for the return of the mirror at a shrine, she picks up an egg and is sucked down into a world where fox spirits build whole cities out of goods discarded by humans (shades of Wall.E).
Humans are forbidden so she disguises herself with a mask and enlists the help of Teo (voiced by Miyuki Sawashiro), a doleful creature that looks like a mouse with large rabbit ears. They learn the mirror belonged to the mad Baron (Iemasa Kayumi) who rules Oblivion Island and flies around in a Zeppelin with oars, and it was later stolen by brigands known as Petitloss who live deep underground.
On the island, Haru and Teo attend a wondrous Theatre of Oblivion, where the memories of discarded objects are played out on stage. There Haru is reunited with Cotton (Tamaki Matsumoto), a once-loved toy she had thrown away and who was hurt by rejection, (echoes of Toy Story), a scene which the producers wittily integrate into their show: “What a superb ending.” Audience applauds.
Meanwhile, the Baron has heard that a human has infiltrated his domain and he despatches a fierce looking dragon and underlings to capture her. Haru, Teo and Cotton descend to the depths and it looks like Haru may find that precious mirror until it’s revealed that Teo has been forced to betray his human friend.
Defying the sweet, meek stereotype, the heroine Haru is refreshingly assertive and pushy as well as rude to her father (for which she later apologises), and her relationships with Teo and Cotton become quite emotional.
The Baron is scary looking, clad in grey with kabuki face and gold, upturned collar, but he lacks menace. Sato uses the ‘the flying camera’ technique to render exciting high-speed chases and aerial action scenes, some on a rollercoaster-like railway.
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