a review by Nalini Haynes
Madman describes Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror:
“16-year-old Haruka is on a mission to find her mirror—a precious childhood gift from her late mother that has disappeared. On her search, she follows a strange foxlike creature to Oblivion Island, a mystical world overflowing with once-cherished items taken from their neglectful owners. Trouble follows Haruka and her new friend Teo at every turn as they contend with the island’s overbearing ruler, who will stop at nothing to use the mirror for his own sinister plan!
This internationally acclaimed feature film blends Japanese folklore and storybook charm reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland into an exhilarating tale sure to amaze animation fans of all ages.”
Haruka is an obnoxious teenager who ignores her visiting friend and is rude to her father, then goes down a rabbit hole almost literally, following a rabbit wearing a fox mask. Haruka finds herself on Oblivion Island, which is the place all the lost things go. Determined to find her lost mirror, Haruka crosses paths with the ruler of Oblivion Island, a Baron bearing remarkable similarities to the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, except this baron wears a white jacket embroidered with diamonds.
Throughout the movie there were several obvious references to pop culture icons including the Matrix, a hint of the Wizard of Oz and more. I should have had pen and paper to write them all down. I suspect there were lots of other references that I didn’t pick up either due to their subtlety or references to Japanese culture.
Animated by the Prroduction I.G. (Ghost in the Shell, Eden of the East), the animation was well done with some interesting choices. Prior to going down the rabbit hole I counted at least three different styles of background: one was obviously referencing crude picture-book drawings while the background story of Japanese mythology was relayed to the viewer. The other styles were different styles in which backgrounds and sets were painted for Haruka’s adventure.
In animation the characters are often more cartoon-like in style than the background; not so with Oblivion Island. Until she goes down the rabbit hole, Haruka usually stands out from her background as the most substantial, most ‘real-looking’ object contrasting with a more whimsical background. Once down the rabbit hole she seems to fit with the backgrounds, which again changed style.
Oblivion Island seems to be aimed mostly at children and teenage girls. Initially I thought Haruka was a well-drawn character – she’s slim and fit as teens often are. Even so, Haruka is drawn with her hips a little wider than her shoulders and small breasts, in a fairly natural, non-Barbie shape. Haruka’s blouse was buttoned up, never revealing cleavage. This was all really positive, to be spoilt by Haruka’s skirt being extra short, even in comparison with her school friend’s skirt. This choice was emphasised by the camera dwelling on their legs and skirts. The camera panned from Haruka’s feet to her head several times, including frequently focusing on Haruka’s legs and showing her knickers in a chase scene. It seemed that the makers weren’t quite sure of their target market or perhaps they were trying to provide ‘fan service’ for everyone. Although not impressed, I still thought the G-rating applied to the movie with an addendum that it sends mixed messages.
Comedic moments intersperse the more serious action/adventure while, in my opinion, staying within reasonable limits for children. The artwork is interesting, attractive in a childrens-picture-book style. I enjoyed Oblivion Island and recommend it.
Proviso: parents need to take responsibility for their children’s viewing – every child is different. With my own children, one understood the difference between reality and fantasy much younger than the other, who was very susceptible to nightmares.
cover image © 2009 FUJI TELEVISION NETWORK / Production I.G / DENTSU / PONY CANYON