LIFF28 - Giovanni's Island - Cinema Review

'separates the innocence and acceptance of the film's children from the complex selfishness of the film's adults'

For around an hour, Giovanni's Island is a compelling proposition. Set on Shikotan Island, in Japan's North East, director Mizuho Nishikubo tells a complex tale of post war struggles, beginning at the film's opening, as Japan announce their surrender during the closing days of World War Two.

Clearly drawing on similar notions explored in Isao Takahata's legendary Grave Of The Fireflies (perhaps even a little too closely), Nishikubo's film creates a similar divide as his forbearer by separating the innocence and acceptance of the film's children from the complex selfishness of the film's adults. Junpei and Kanta, sons of island resistance rouser Tatsuo, see things in beneficial black and white, which draws them closer to Tanya, daughter of the Russian commander who arrives to oversee the island's modernisation and surrender.

Meanwhile, as Junpei and Kanta foster their relationship with Tanya, Uncle Hideo is off trying to barter with the mainland, whilst Tatsuo follows other pursuits and village teacher Sawako tries to hold the children together. There's a lot of charm here and that first hour is eminently successful in showing children making the best of a situation the adults only seem to be making worse.

The problem with the film's final third is two-fold. In leaving the microcosm of the island, Nishikubo is forced from his film's core message and USP into a wider narrative that relies on grander gestures. Gun fights, escapes and swindles pervade, where the first half's simple songs of rebellion and connecting train set of peace had much more power.

The other problem is that, despite all of the really good work, this ultimately has little more to offer to the Grave Of The Fireflies story. Nishikubo follows Takahata's film so closely that much of the emotional heartstring pulling feels very familiar, which though not enough to register it blunt, is at least enough to register it near identical. A good film, a great one even, if you haven't seen the film it closely follows, but it doesn't have enough to best the Ghibli effort, which told a similar story both better and, crucially, first.




Giovanni's Island plays LIFF28 again on Wednesday 12th November at 16.00 at Vue.

The 28th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 5th-20th November 2014 at cinemas around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.


By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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