Hiroyuki Okiura’s (Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade) A Letter to Momo is an endearing and beautifully animated story sure to delight fans of movies like Spirited Away and Ponyo. It’s the tale of a young girl called Momo, who had a fight with her father, but now he’s passed away and she regrets their last encounter. In the aftermath, Momo moves with her mother to the Japanese island of Shio. Here, away from everything she knows, Momo struggles to settle into a new life while desperately clinging to an incomplete letter from her father with only the words ‘Dear Momo’ written on it.
It’s a childhood drama, with an element of fantasy. Momo soon finds herself being able to see three strange creatures that seem to be following her and her mum around. In another movie these yōkai could be patrons of Yubaba’s bathhouse in Spirited Away, but here they’re guardians – albeit with a penchant for disturbing the peace of the formerly tranquil island.
Momo’s adventures with these bizarre characters are relatively tame but whimsical all the same, and as her relationship with them and the townspeople deepens she starts to understand the real meaning behind her father’s letter. Burdened by a slow, deliberate pace, A Letter to Momo could afford to shave 10 or 20 minutes to keep things moving at a fast clip. Not as vibrantly colourful and wildly imaginative as a Studio Ghibli film either, it works as a muted but still lovely dramatic fantasy.