I’ve always had a soft spot for films that follow the little girl lost/’Alice in Wonderland’ template. Labyrinth, Mirrormask, Coraline – they’re all fantastic. Thus, I was excited at the prospect of watching Oblivion Island, a film featuring more than a few shared themes with those films.
Young Haruka lost her mother when she was very young. Now 16, she always regrets the fact that she also lost the hand mirror her mother gave her all those years ago. One day she spots a small foxlike creature snatching her keys away, and she follows him into another world. Like The Borrowers or Emily Rodda’s novel ‘Finders Keepers’, creatures from this other world survive on the personal items humans lose. Thus, Oblivion Island is constructed with odds and ends sourced from the human world. Haruka, together with her new friend Teo, must try and reclaim her mother’s mirror from those who wish to use it for nefarious purposes.
First of all, the animation in Oblivion Island is rather… striking. It’s CGI, but not at the level we’ve come to expect from the big American studios. Haruka is well animated, however the foxlike Teo is simply ugly, which is a bit of a problem when he shares so much of the screen time. The whole film has a tendency to get a little gaudy once we move from our world to Teo’s. There’s no particular palette, which often means we’re subjected to a rainbow of colours all at once.
The film shares a lot in common with Labyrinth. In fact, Teo pretty much goes through the same character arc as Hoggle did in that 1986 film. The film was otherwise narratively sparse, so such comparisons are unavoidable. At 100 minutes, the film feels too long. It falls into a comfortable pattern of exposition/action/exposition/action that begins to drag after the first half hour. For the most part the high-octane moments are simply too chaotic, so it’s difficult to follow the action.
The DVD is packed with special features, though they all share an awkward cheesy documentary tone, the type you might associate with an in-house produced tourism video you’d see at a hotel. That being said, there are some interesting snippets. One focuses on the legends surrounding Inari shrines and the foxes that act as messengers for the god Inari, whilst another features a visit to Battleship Island (Hashima), a ghost island filled with empty decaying concrete structures. Though the location has more in common with Skyfall than Oblivion Island, it’s a fascinating place.
It’s clear that kids will be entertained by Oblivion Island, however there’s less for adults to enjoy than the films I mentioned at the beginning of the review. The moral of the story isn’t particularly clear and the sub-par animation is sometimes distracting, particularly when you get the sense that they’re hiding the characters’ mouths as they speak in an effort to cut corners.
Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror is available now on DVD from Madman.Rating: