When teenager Haruka discovers that a hand mirror her late mother had given her has gone missing, it brings back memories of a fantastical tale her mother had told her when she was a child. According to the story, all of the little possessions we neglect become fair game to the fox spirits who claim these items as their own, hauling them away to another world. At the time, Haruka had proudly boasted that she would always take care of her things, and recalling this makes her determined to get the memento back.
Haruka visits a shrine to make an offering in the hopes of persuading the fox spirits to return the mirror, which, in her heart, symbolizes her mother. Emotionally exhausted, Haruka sits down on the steps of the shrine and falls asleep in the long hours of the afternoon, only to awaken to see a fox spirit scurrying about. Much like Alice following the White Rabbit into Wonderland, Haruka trails the fox and unexpectedly journeys into his world where she attempts to reclaim her mirror.
From the start, viewers will immediately be drawn in by Oblivion Island’s gorgeous presentation. Credit goes to Production I.G, veterans of films such as Ghost in the Shell, for venturing into fairly new territory for an anime studio and coming through with a superior effort. Though the character animation may not quite be on par with the likes of Pixar, the film’s computer generated visuals are still head and shoulders above most. One of the most striking features of Oblivion Island is the painterly quality of the environments, which at times almost look as if they were hand drawn two-dimensional scenes blessed with an almost endless color palate. When coupled with the computer animated characters, the backdrops make for a curious but enticing mix of visual styles.
Thankfully, the film’s story holds its own against the marvelous visuals. Granted, Oblivion Island has a handful of clichés and the plot can be predictable at times — the main antagonist is a dictator-like baron who has stolen Haruka’s mirror, the fox spirit Haruka follows becomes her scrappy, adorable little friend — but everything moves forward at an exhilarating pace. The main characters are presented with enough depth to allow viewers to connect with them, and the fantasy world presented in the movie is magical yet believable. The land of the fox spirits is a treat to visit, and repeat viewings of the movie are in order to take it all in.
Oblivion Island has a couple of loud, tense moments near the ending climax, but it never becomes too scary, and on the whole it is a movie the entire family can enjoy. I watched it with my own young children and my five-year-old, in particular, was glued to the screen. We switched back and forth between the English and Japanese audio tracks, and both are solidly performed. With nothing objectionable in terms of the film’s content and plenty of artistic value to appreciate, Oblivion Island is a recommended addition to any library, be it public or personal. Just remember, should you go to turn on your television only to find your remote control is missing, you’ll know who to blame.
Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror
directed by Shinesuke Sato
100 minutes, Number of Discs: 3, Single disc/DVD
Company Age Rating: TV-G