Throughout A Letter to Momo, director Hiroyuki Okiura offers a realistic portrayal of his main character’s emotional state, though this comes at the expense of a deeper exploration into both the story’s lush supernatural landscape and its inhabitants. After the death of her father, Momo and her mother move from Tokyo to the remote island of Shio, where the teenager forms a tenuous bond with three goblins responsible for a series of strange incidents involving stolen goods. Momo’s willingness to accept the otherworldly forces could be seen as a sort of psychological coping mechanism, which also subtly addresses the last vestiges of childhood imagination displaced by maturation, the next step in her shedding of childhood after her father’s death, but Momo takes the bond between the terrestrial and the supernatural for granted, and the filmmakers treat it as a means to a narrative end. Okiura occasionally hints at the striking alternate universe the goblins belong with absurdist flights of fancy, beginning with the unexplained presence of small nymph-like creatures that inhabit the forest near Momo’s home. While the climactic set piece during a typhoon as Momo races to help her mother from a major asthma attack may have been dutifully preordained, it does indulge in a bizarre, surrealist wonderment as the goblins and a vast array of spirits thrillingly work to help Momo on her mission. This abrupt focus on the world that had previously been kept at arm’s length is a more than welcome dose of artful and oddball ingenuity in A Letter to Momo’s otherwise sluggish plot. And given that the tepid, predictable personalities of Shio pale in comparison to the morally ambiguous and conflicted goblins, one wonders why Okiura hadn’t grafted more of this hypnotically conceptual fantasy onto the story’s conventional family drama earlier.
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