By their very nature, humans are creatures that lose things. Useless trifles, childhood treasures, and even the people we hold dearest will eventually be lost in the sands of time. As one gets older, he begins to wonder just where these lost memories go. Where did that keepsake wind up? What happened to those I graduated with? What if, in some part of the world, a land that held answers to these musings existed? In Oblivion Island, the staff at Production I.G. pose their own idea of such a world, where the impossible becomes the possible, and even anything that was once lost can somehow be found..
Since the days of samurai, legends of Inari, goddess of agriculture and foxes have been told among the young and the old alike. One such tale revolves around a farmer in a small agricultural village, who lost an heirloom he received from his grandmother. While it wasn’t of much value, the item held great sentimental value. The farmer, though, would leave it laying around, and give it little heed. The farmer became desperate in his search for his keepsake, and found himself giving offerings and prayers to the Inari day in and day out. On one clear, still evening, his prayers were anwered when fox brought his precious memento back. Since that day, the Inari shrines became a magnet for those who lost their possessions. People from across the region would bring eggs to the shrine and pray for the safe return of their lost possessions. In reality, though, the sly foxes were taking the very items the humans neglected.
Haruka is a girl with a great burden upon her. She lost her mother as a young age, and her father was forced to work overtime to make ends meet. Haruka was forced to grow up quickly, and to rely on few, which made her bitter and distrustful of the world. Haruka’s once-prized memento of her mother, a small hand mirror, became an object of neglect under her bed. On the one day she seeks this treasured keepsake, Haruka discover that it disappeared without a trace. With desperation setting in, she remembers that one legend that her mother told, and makes her way to the nearest shrine of Inari, egg in hand. What Haruka finds at the shrine, though, will change her view of the world forever, as she’s whisked through a wonderland of discarded trash and treasures. With a local named Teo to guide her, Haruka sets forth in this strange new world in search of her beloved mirror.
From the outset, it’s obvious that there will be few surprises in the plot. There is a clear linear progression to the story through the standard three-act story structure, to the point where one can predict, almost to a fault, the points where key confrontations and plot events take place. The protaganists are portrayed as plucky do-gooders, while the villains are the products of one too many Saturday morning cartoons.
Of course, the film isn’t an entirely brainless, droll affair. The numerous action sequences scattered throughout are well-paced, and fantastically choreographed. Segments like a battle with giant plush monstrosities, or a fast-paced chase through the city are genuinely entertaining, and help to mask other shortcomings in presentation. Short dramatic interludes attempts to build the characters beyond their base archetypes, with mixed results. Some of these moments, like Haruka’s tearful reunion with a long lost toy, do help the characters connect with the audience, and strengthen the overall film. Unfortunately, many attempts fall flat, and viewers are left with ham-handed scenes of the characters dancing to a rendition of You Are My Sunshine.
Through much of the film, though, it doesn’t seem as if Haruka, Teo, or even the enigmatic Baron are the main focus. Instead, the film shifts its perspective to the world itself. Indeed, the stunning landscapes and bustling set-pieces are the real stars of the film, with their gorgeous painted look, and surreal patchwork motifs. Scenes are littered with small details that breathe life into the world, whether it’s the city’s windmills with blades lined with old manga pages, or the various buildings built up from old signs and vehicles. In this sense, the story could be seen more as a means to an end, or a way to move the viewer from one fantastic set to the next.
While Oblivion Island doesn’t blaze any new ground, it is far from a bad film. While the heavy-handed delivery of some scenes is distracting and the absurd-to-a-fault antagonist kills much of the tension, there are far more positives than negatives. Those who can look past these gripes will surely find a charming, engaging experience that will entertain and enthrall audiences, both young and old.