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With the Oscars once again dismissing and ignoring the Japanese animation side of things, stagnating as usual with what they actually nominate over what they should be nominating for awards, let’s keep reminding ourselves that not getting nominated doesn’t mean the film in question isn’t good. Who’s favorite film is actually ever in the Best Picture category? Anyway, just because the award shows announce their nominees, doesn’t mean films stop getting made. More movies are going to come out and they will continue to be interesting, good, bad or everything in-between, no matter the awards they are or aren’t given. So, let’s get down to it with one of the first animated films of the year with Child of Kamiari Month.
This film was directed by Takana Shirai, written by Ryuta Miyake, Tetsuro Takita, Toshinari Shinoe, and was produced by Liden Films. The story revolves around a tongue girl named Kanna Hayama, dubbed by Mia Sinclair Jenness. Her life has been upended due to the death of her mother and she has lost her passion for running. That’s a touch unfortunate because she is also participating in her school’s marathon with her supportive dad being there. Sadly, due to the emotional baggage that she has been carrying, she doesn’t quite do well at the marathon, and runs away before her father can help comfort her. She runs to a shrine that she walked past with her friend the other day, and while there, her mother’s keepsake starts to activate. Time slows down around her and she realizes that something is up. Kanna can see the spirits that inhabit the shrines now! She encounters a talking bunny spirit named Shiro, dubbed by Luci Christian, who comes just in time to help her with an encounter with an oni boy named Yasha, dubbed by Mark Allen Jr. After the encounter, Shiro tells Kanna that she must go on this journey across Japan and gather the offerings from different spirits for Kamiari Month, a mystical holiday that is a celebration of the gods and spirits. Reluctantly, Kanna accepts the quest to traverse all over Japan to get all of the different gifts and complete the run.
So, a recurring theme seen in so many foreign animated films that have been covered in multiple reviews and brought over to the states has been the main character going through some kind of coming-of-age story of getting over their grief or dealing with the loss of a loved one. It’s not an original concept, but they execute it well, with a much smaller-scale story about Kanna dealing with the loss of her mom and the growing depression and bitterness that has been caged up inside of her since that incident. The other side character that starts out as a rival to Kanna, the oni boy Yasha, has his own arc and reasons for wanting to do the run for Kamiari Month to regain the honor of his family that was dragged through the mud and banished from the heavens above. It’s a quieter experience as a couple of the montage sequences are just visuals set to music. The overall story might have some wonky and familiar elements, but it’s a good reminder, as usual, that not every film needs to be a groundbreaking mind-blowing experience. Sometimes, you just need to dial back your expectations
The animation is pretty solid. It’s not super-flashy, and personally, when you are coming out after Belle, Josee The Tiger and The Fish, and Words that Bubble Up Like Soda Pop, it doesn’t quite compare to those, and not every film needs to, but don’t expect this to be on the same level as those films or upcoming films like Bubble and Drift Away. It does have some nice flourishes like when they encounter a giant dragon god, and when the film wants to have some distinct visual moments, it does deliver on those aspects with some waterloo flourishes that have elements of those Japanese ink paintings. The voice cast is also pretty rock solid with Mia Sinclair Jenness, Mark Allen Jr., Luci Christian, Kirk Thorton, Keith Silverstein, and Michael Sorich all bringing their usual top-level talent.
In terms of criticisms, the film takes a lot of time to talk and explain everything about Kamiari Month. It’s not well-paced, because instead of spreading out everything throughout the runtime, they upload a ton of exposition about the lore and how everything works, and it becomes a bit much. Once you get past the film’s first 15 or so minutes, it ends up flowing much better, but you have to be careful about doing that story build-up upfront. It’s because most will be ready to switch to watching something else if the story is not paced well. It would be better if they were able to spread everything else around the run across Japan as they were doing it instead of wasting so much time in one spot to save money and time on new environments.
While not perfect, and Netflix once again not promoting this film that they spent money on outside of a single trailer, Child of Kamiari Month is a solid spiritual experience of getting over loss and becoming spiritually stronger. Personally, Sing a Bit of Harmony is the better of the two Japanese animated films released this year so far. Luckily, it was able to get some attention on Netflix and on the web before it got buried or overlooked by Studio Wit’s upcoming animated feature Bubble that’s coming out on Netflix in April. If you need something to watch and to get your anime fill that’s not a weekly TV series, then definitely give this show a watch. Next time, we will be talking about a new spin-off series based on one of Netflix’s most controversial and popular series.
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Rating: Go See It!