New anime film highlights Soviet ethnic-cleansing of Kuril islands

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    A new anime film called Giovanni’s Island (ジョバンニの島) will hit theaters across Japan tomorrow. Here is the Japanese language trailer:

    And here is an English language description of the movie, from the website of the New York International Children’s Film Festival:

    Japan, Mizuho Nishikubo, 2014, 102 min
    Recommended Ages: 12 to Adult (Subtitled)

    NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE – Screening for the first time outside of Japan, Giovanni’s Island is the latest grand opus from famed anime studio Production I.G (A Letter to Momo, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade). Spanning multiple generations and locations, the film delicately weaves the complex true-story of two young brothers whose life on the small, remote island of Shikotan becomes forever changed in the aftermath of WWII.

    Giovanni and Campanella, nicknamed after characters in the beloved Japanese novel Night on the Galactic Railroad, live a free-spirited island life, chasing each other along beach-side cliffs and endlessly dreaming about adventures on the Galactic Railroad. But when the Red army occupies their tiny island following Japan’s surrender, they are suddenly confronted with an influx of foreigners – including a peculiar and enticing new neighbor, the golden-haired Tanya, daughter of the Soviet commander. Learning about each other’s exotic and strange cuisines, music and language creates a quick bond for the children – even while the occupation brings on heavier implications for their families. An elegance and beauty permeates the hand-drawn animation and symphonic score of the film, creating a timeless drama where moments of emotional impact are tempered by animated flights of whimsy and fantasy, as the brothers prove much larger in spirit and strength than their rosy-cheeked, small frames would suggest.

    Comment: The film deals more with the hardships of war than the horror – and there is no overt violence on screen. But there is a true to life sense of the loss of home and family, as the film shows how kids readily adapt to even the most difficult circumstances, the way they are asked to take on larger responsibilities, and how they are blameless for the difficult situations that adults sometimes create for them.

    Shikotan island

    Judging from the trailer, it looks like it will touch on some serious historical issues. The territorial dispute over the “Northern Territories” of Japan continues with Russia to this day, and this movie will show some of the worst aspects of the Russian invasion. The Soviet military is shown taking away the children’s father to a labor camp, a fate shared by thousands of Japanese, many of whom were worked to death years after the war had ended. The Soviet Union forced Japanese residents of the island to leave and replaced them with Russian settlers, and the scenes of in the trailer of Japanese people crammed into a boat appear to show part of the ethnic cleansing campaign.

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