Giovanni’s Island is a harrowing piece of wartime coming of age. After nearly a decade this beautiful and powerful movie makes its US Blu-Ray Debut thanks to Shout Factory and GKIDS.
Giovanni’s Island is one of the rare films that is “about kids” but may not be “for kids”. Like Empire of the Sun, Grave of Fireflies, and Come and See before it, the film treats its young protagonist with respect and understanding that children often see endure the worst when war tears apart their country.
Brothers Junpei and Kanta have been hidden mostly away from the war during their lives. As WWII is coming to an end the island of Shikotan – where they live with their father and grandfather – is occupied by Russian forces. As the Russians begin to place all of the Japanese citizens in internment camps the brother’s childhood ends and their fight for survival begins. After losing so much, their quest to find their imprisoned father becomes everything to them.
Make no qualms about it. Though beautifully told and at points heartwarming, Giovanni’s Island is a fairly harrowing experience. The film though softer than the films I referenced above still does not hold back. If seeing children in dangerous situations is triggering, then one may want to skip the film.
Though those who do stick around, will find that director Mizuho Nishikubo and writers Shigemichi Sugita and Yoshiki Sakurai have created a film that is emotionally resonant and in parts as tense as a wartime thriller. There is a grace to how even the most terrifying sections of the film are handled.
Giovanni’s Island may not be for everyone but those that the film does connect with it will find an unforgettable story. One that we rarely get a glimpse into. The cost to a child’s life that war can deal.
The transfer provided to Shout Factory is a perfect example of how they continue to take care and pride in producing home video releases for their Animated films. The razor-sharp transfer is complimented by its color reproduction and contrast levels. The film especially in its final third plays in darkness and snow – which could create artifacting or ghosting issues with the transfer. This Blu-Ray transfer handles those possible problems without any issues.
They include the following;
- Making Of
- Interview With Actor Polina Ilyushenko
- “Troika” Music Video
- Art Gallery
The Making of Giovanni’s Island – A Random Journal (37:42) – This wonderful making-of documentary is divided into 9 Chapters that take one through the journey of making this very special film. If one is familiar with these types of Japanese special features, one will not be surprised at the depth and detail they get into – even something that is cheekily called “Random”. There really isn’t any detail that isn’t covered – including a wonderful discussion about director Nishikubo’s use of “motion capture”, b-roll footage of the voice acting sessions and recording sessions done in both Japan and in Russian, and much more. Comments by Nishikubo, art director Santiago Montiel, real-life Shikotan Island survivor Hiroshi Tokuno, and others. Japanese, English, and Russian with English Subtitles.
Interview With Actor Polina Ilyushenko (4:25) – this archival interview with the actress who plays Tanya the young daughter of the Colonel of the occupying Russian Forces. The interview is set up with a series of questions that appear as title cards and her responses. Some of the questions include her impression of the film’s story, the difference between working on American TV for dubbing as opposed to a Japanese animated feature, her impressions of the character, and more. In Russian with English Subtitles.
“Troika” Music Video (4:13) – as the title cards informs one this is not the version of the traditional Folk song that appears in the film – with the Russian soldiers singing but rather a full orchestral version. The “music video” uses clips from the film of Tanya and Junpei’s story. In Russian without subtitles.
Art Gallery (7:22) – this beautifully animated and automated still gallery plays with an accompanying score from the film. One can pause the various design stills – character, props, locations, but cannot navigate.
The Final Thought
Giovanni’s Island is an uncommonly powerful film. Shout Factory has given it a beautiful special edition. High Recommendations!!!