Giovanni's Island is a story about a Japanese family living on an island off the coast of Japan post World War II. The Russians have taken over the island (along with most of Japan), yet life still remains relatively peaceful on the island of Shikotan. Junpei and his younger brother Kanta base their thoughts and ideals off of the book Night on the Galactic Railroad, a book written by Kenji Miyazawa in the late 1920's. The children view "The Galactic Railroad" as an imaginary train traveling through space via the fourth dimension; they believe it can take them anywhere in the universe. The book itself has such a significant role in the movie's story that even the two children were named after the two main characters of the novel (Junpei for Giovanni and Kanta for Campanella).
Now, if you do not know the story of this book, I suggest you do not look it up (if you planned to) until after the movie, due to spoilers.
The animation of Giovanni's Island is beautiful and smooth, but I would not expect any less of Production I.G. (At least due to its newer works). No matter the situation, the animation and art style perfectly conveyed each scene and how the characters felt.
Mind you, this is not the most heavy-hearted, nor tear jerking (post) WWII movie out there, but the setting, story, and characters did feel very realistic, and I cannot promise that you will not shed a tear by the end of this film.
The only character I did not really like was Uncle Hideo. Hideo seemed rather aloof throughtout the course of the movie, though he did help distract the children by bringing them toy train parts. This further strengthened their imagination and relationship with one another. Even during the more serious scenes, there was only one point when Hideo really seemed concerned and caring. After that, he goes back to being nearly as indifferent as before, though he seems to have changed a little.
Aside from him, everything else was outstanding. The characters really cared for one another, and when you realize the story behind Night on the Galactic Railroad and why it was included, you will see just how beautiful, yet bittersweet, this film truly is.
What I Liked: Beautiful picture book-esque backgrounds. The animation has a nice fluidity to it, expressing the surreal feeling of war and invasion from a child's perspective. The use of Night on the Galactic Railroad as both parallel to the movie and its themes, and as a motif for escapism, childhood innocence and loss. The two choir scenes. The soundtrack is understated, yet perfectly matches each scene.
What I Didn't: Older Sawako and Junpei in the English dub sound deathly bored. Character animation could've benefited from some more shading - it's awfully flat at times.
Final Verdict: A bittersweet, heartfelt story about war, first love and adversity told from the perspectives of two young boys, Giovanni's Island sidesteps politics in order to explore the human impact of the Kuril Islands dispute. Unlike similar films, it manages be dramatic and emotive without feeling overwrought thanks in part to the parallels it draws between itself and Kenji Miyazawa's Night on the Galactic Railroad.
I cannot recommend Giovanni’s Island enough. Yes, it’s a very difficult film at times to sit through but it’s very heart warming at times and it’s also very brilliant in its style and its substance. This is a story you won’t forget for a long time for both the good and the bad of these characters stories. I’d recommend this to people who don’t necessarily watch anime as I think potentially this could convert them to what this sub- genre of films is doing and how there are so many great films to come out of Japan and why this isn’t up for a BAFTA and Oscar I will never know!
In short. I loved it! I would highly recommend it, I don’t think it’s a film you will forget for a long time. It’s both brilliant and tragic