On an island where the means for a simple life is to provide for your family with nothing but love and protection, who would’ve imagined anything could change that? Giovanni’s Island, directed by Mizuho Nishikubo, tells the tale of two brothers who were living such a life on the island of Shikotan, in Japan, during the end of World War II when the Soviet army invades after Japan is defeated. This is an animated film that will truly break your heart with its storyline told from the perspective of two young boys.
To create an animation with a narrative that will hold an audience’s interest throughout the entire duration is difficult to accomplish, but to create an animation that is heart-felt and emotionally compelling is a far greater feat – and Giovanni’s Island does not fail to achieve these two aspects.
The two young brothers, Junpei and Kanta (aka Giovanni and Campanella as they called themselves respectively), live the life like any kids do; laughing, playing with train tracks and make-believing their favourite book can come to life (i.e. having a magic ticket that allows them to travel anywhere for free on a magical, celestial train).
Confusion and turmoil commences when they learn from their father and uncle that Japan has been defeated and that the Soviet army and the Russian kids of said army have taken over their island. The Japanese people of Shikotan were forced to have reduced properties than they originally owned as well as increasingly scarce food portions in order to make way for the Russian families that occupied the island. The father of Junpei and Kanta was secretly trying to help his people acquire back more food through tunnels, but unfortunately he was discovered in the act of transporting food and he was sent to prison in the cold mountains. Desperate to see their father again, the two young brothers run away and sneak on a train at night that leads them in the general area of the prison, but still too far of a reach. Their uncle and teacher find out what the two boys are up to and it becomes a full-fledged mission to reunite as a family.
A pivotal moment in their mission occurs when Kanta, the younger brother, falls ill from the cold. To see the audience in the theatre collectively become silent and have watery eyes is quite an astonishing experience – one audience member had even gotten up to leave as it became too emotional for him. Now, mind you, this is animation that created this sea of tears and sniffling from the audience.
Giovanni’s Island is as a masterpiece of portraying the history of Japan during the aftermath of World War II in its very beautiful animation, touching dialogue, and depiction of innocence through the hearts of Junpei and Kanta.