Oblivion Island: Haruka And The Magic Mirror (Cert 12)
1 Disc DVD/Blu-ray Combo (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 100 minutes approx.
16 year-old Haruka recalls a time when, as a young child, she made a promise to her sick mother that she would always treasure the hand mirror she gave her. Discovering the mirror is missing, Haruka pays a visit to the local shrine to pray for its return when she spots a strange fox like creature.
She follows it but ends up falling into a small pool of water which acts a portal to a colourful fairy tale world called Oblivion Island, where the forgotten treasures of the humans are taken and used to build up the city. Haruka catches up with the little creature, named Teo, learning that humans are considered monsters on the island, making their search for the missing mirror a lot more difficult with suspicious islanders on their tail.
While CGI animation has been the major focus in the west, Japan has remained faithful to the good old fashioned 2D cell drawn product, with the odd attempt here and there to try and match the success of Hollywood’s output with mixed results. Normally limited to video game spin-offs where style over substance is the order of the day, it is no surprise that Japan’s attempts have fallen short of expectations. That could be about to change with this release produced in commemoration of Fuji Television’s 50th anniversary, from the acclaimed Production IG,
Already known for their pioneering ways within the anime industry along with their incredibly high standard of animation and range of top named titles to their credit, including Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Eden Of The East, Blood The Last Vampire among others. So, if anyone is going to break the drought of successful CGI only films from Japan, who else – aside from Studio Ghibli, who eschew CGI – would you put your money on than Production IG.
Straight away the whimsy of their homeland peers Ghibli is palpable in the artwork depicting the breezy rural landscapes of Haruka’s home with traditional 2D pastel colours for the backgrounds. While the characters themselves are strictly CG, the clash isn’t as jarring as you might expect.
However it is once Haruka is transported to Oblivion Island that the PIXAR influence comes into full effect, easy rivalling anything the US giants have produced thus far. And much like its western counterparts Oblivion Island is aimed strictly at the family audience so no “typical” anime violence, fan service or deep philosophical musings here although the age old themes of familial piety that is prevalent in Asian culture runs proudly through the story.
The plot is fairly straightforward, being a modern update of the perennial Alice In Wonderland template. Haruka is a bit of a sulky teen without her mother and her father always working so the boredom of solitude is familiar to her. Just as well then that she’ll have no dull moments on Oblivion Island, having to hide her face from being recognised as a human (despite being taller than everyone else, wearing a school uniform and most importantly of all, not being a small fox creature!!) while encountering all sorts of bizarre creatures in a world made up of discarded possessions from the human world.
True to the “one’s man junk is another man’s treasure” maxim, the islanders exist to collect those items we humans stuff away in a cupboard, basement, garage, shed, rubbish tip to gather dust, working on the assumption that we no longer want them.
Of course they make the odd mistake such as Teo did when he pinched Haruka’s mirror which she hadn’t forgotten about, just temporarily ignored. However in this case Teo struck gold as a ruling presence on the island known as The Baron has been collecting mirrors for a top secret project and it just so happens that Haruka’s mirror is a special one that will make his (unsurprisingly dastardly) plan go off with a bang. This gives Haruka and Teo a double mission, blighted by the Baron’s capturing of Haruka and the ostracising of Teo for bringing a human onto the island.
In many ways, there is a case for comparison between Oblivion Island and Pixar’s Up as they both deal with losing a loved one without quietly sidestepping the issue leading to the protagonists having a renewed outlook on life after reconnecting with their past. The focus on toys and other personal possessions being mnemonics for past times may also be shared with Toy Story, while the high energy, action packed and thrilling chase scenes Haruka and Teo are embroiled in are no less spectacular as those Woody, Buzz and co are involved in.
Despite the much larger budgets Hollywood can afford to throw at their CGI productions, there is no shame to be felt by Production IG for their work here. The island is a work of utter wonderment and esoteric design as one would expect, rich with colour and bursting with vitality, along with a nice variation of design for the unusual island dwellers.
Japanese animators have always had a keen eye for accurately replicating human movements and that has clearly paid dividends judging by the nuanced subtleties on display here in both the bodily and facial expressions. The only slight flaw can be found when it comes to depth and texture of things like skin, and certain material surfaces like beds but this is such a small issue that is easily overlooked.
As much as Oblivion Island is a visual treat par excellence (especially on Blu-ray) the story is heartfelt and engaging for audience both young and old. If encouragement was ever needed that Hollywood could be rivalled on the CGI animation front, this film is it. A charming and delightful fantasy romp for all the family.
Dolby True HD: English 5.1
Dolby True HD: Japanese 5:1
Behind The Scenes Of Oblivion Island
A Visit To Fushimi Inari Shrine
Battleship island: An Actual Oblivion Island
Greetings At The Premiere
A Word from The Cast
The U.S Premiere
Haruka and Teo’s Panel Puzzle
A Journey Through Fox Folklore
Sierra Leone Relief Spots
Ratings – ****
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