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Film Spotlight: A Letter to Momo

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A shy 11-year-old girl, Momo Miyaura (Karen Miyama) and her mother (Yuka) are in the midst of moving to her mother's childhood home in the wake of her father's death when a few drops of rain fall on her head as if they're some kind of sign from above that her father is still with her. So begins writer-director Hiroyuki Okiura's magical fairytale of a movie, Letter to Momo, an animated Japanese film that's been a hit on the festival circuit. It shows at 7 p.m. on Sept. 14 and 17 at the Cedar Lee Theatre.

A story about Momo and her visions, the film commences as Momo's mother leaves her alone at their new home so she can attend a conference out of town. Momo immediately starts catching glimpses of a small creature following her. One time, it even plants a big wet kiss on her leg, causing her to let out a scream.

The problem, of course, is that no one believes her. And why should they? No one else can see what she sees. Eventually, she realizes there's an alternate world of goblins that claim to be "just regular folks." And the more she learns about the folklore associated with the remote island where she and her mother have moved, the more she realizes that the goblins might actually be real. When she stands up to them, they initially react negatively and call her a "wicked little brat." To get back at her, they move into her house and start wreaking havoc, stealing fruit from the town's orchards and making a mess in her bathroom, effectively creating an awkward situation when her mother returns.

It might seem as if the film is following the trajectory of a horror movie, but in Okiura's hands, the subject matter is handled so delicately, the film comes off as family friendly: The flick even showed at the children's film portion of the Toronto International Film Festival. Beautifully animated, it compares favorably to the films of anime master Hayao Miyazaki.

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