Of childhood, memories and foxes: Oblivion Island

Production I.G. is best known for producing Mamoru Oshii’s films (Ghost in the Shell, The Sky Crawlers) as well as working on groundbreaking works like Tekkon Kinkreet, FLCL and Batman Gotham Knight. One of the things they’re well know for is their innovative use of computers for compositing and effects. Oblivion Island : Haruka and the Magic Mirror (ホッタラケの島 〜遥と魔法の鏡) is their first fully computer animated film and it doesn’t disappoint.

Haruka is a 16 year old teen who lives alone with her often absent workaholic father, her mother having passed away when she was younger. At that time, the young Haruka, following a story her mother had read to her, had prayed at a shrine to spirits who return lost things, offering eggs and asking for her mother to be brought back.

One day, Haruko remembers a mirror that her mother gave her and that she has since lost. She decides to go to the shrine and offer an egg to get the mirror back. Accidentally, she spies a small creature with a fox mask and follows it to a strange place called Oblivion Island where she will attempt to find her mother’s lost mirror.

Filled with humanity’s discarded objects repurposed for all sort of uses, Oblivion Island has a carnival atmosphere and is filled with the memories associated with all this memorabilia. Haruka’s first encounter there is with Teo, the kitsune (foxlike creature) she followed and it’s hard to say who is most freaked out by the other, humans aren’t allowed here after all. After her entry has been covered up by Teo, who tries to make the best of a bad situation, she eventually bribes him into helping her find her mom’s mirror.

Now it turns out mirrors are magical items on the island and are thus very valuable and the mirror she’s looking for is particularly powerful. It belonged to the Duke, ruler of the island, but it was apparently stolen, and its whereabouts are currently unknown. Luckily, there are rumours about where it might be.

Of course, Haruka will find the mirror, as well as other lost memories from her childhood, she will make friends, struggle, grow and change and become an adult in the process. Stories where a young protagonist travels to a magical fair(y land) to eventually return an adult are nothing new, and many have been made into movies going as far back as Disney’s Pinochio.

What’s different with this one is that instead of leaving childhood, Haruka has to rediscover it in order to have a foundation on which to build her adulthood. At the end of the film, while she is more mature, when she reconnects with her dad, it is by evoking a childhood memory involving him. The child must remain in the adult for us to be a complete person.

With its building made up of strange materials, Rube Goldberg devices and colourful characters, this movie can best be enjoyed if you’re in touch with your inner child. It will, of course, also be greatly enjoyed by children, as it manages to build tension without being overly gruesome or scary, the way too many children’s films are these days. While some scenes are a bit cliché, the plot rises above this with some heartwarming moments and by occasionally playing on people’s expectations. I had the chance to see this film at Fantasia and I’m hoping for an early North American DVD release so I can watch it again.

René Walling is a fan of SF, animation and comics, this has led him to co-chair Anticipation, the 2009 Worldcon, be involved with fps magazine for more than a decade, and start Nanopress, a Canadian small press. He looks forward to living on Mars where he would benefit from having more than 24 hours in a day.


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