Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror

| August 29, 2012

You’ve never seen anything like Oblivion Island. And when I say that, know that I mean it quite literally in fact, as the animators behind this feature-length family adventure film from Japan developed a whole new style of animation specifically for the film. To this end, the animators combined 3-dimensional, computer-generated character models with traditional 2-D backgrounds and settings for a wholly enchanting effect that perfectly corresponds with the overall big-hearted tone of the piece.

Produced in commemoration of Fuji TV’s 50th Anniversary, the film pays beautiful tribute to Japanese folklore with an Alice in Wonderland-style tale that finds the titular Haruka scouring the magical Oblivion Island in search of her most treasured possession, her late mother’s mirror. Incapable of forging materials of their own, the inhabitants of Oblivion Island have constructed their world out of the neglected refuse of ours. You see, the island is home to a civilization of mythical borrowers, foxes and the like, who abscond with our neglected items when we aren’t looking, items they repurpose for their own uses.

The production design of this recycled civilization is absolutely breath-taking. The patchwork society created by the animators for Oblivion Island is at once bright and colorful and yet characterized by an overall worn, used aesthetic that lends its otherwise cheerful appearance a distinct tinge of sadness. So complex is the production design, in fact, that virtually nothing on Oblivion Island is composed of merely one thing. Even single steps in staircases will be cobbled together from various bits of collected material, making every element of Oblivion Island visually exciting. What’s more, the film’s co-writer/director Shinsuke Sato backs up his complex visuals with an equally rich social order.

If I have any issue with the film it’s that, as a family film, many of the key narrative developments feel a bit rushed, but it ultimately compensates for this through its incredibly lengthy, character-oriented climax. And although the climax subjects the film’s cast of characters to much of what the MPAA would refer to as “peril,” the excitement here is never ominous in a way that would disturb young viewers. And yet, the film doesn’t really avoid putting its characters in peril simply for the sake of being family-friendly either. It walks a really fine line, and in doing so, Oblivion Island will certainly appeal to viewers of all ages.

The film is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray from FUNimation Entertainment. The home video release features the original Japanese audio track with English subtitles as well as a solid, kid-friendly English dub for family viewing. Additionally, the film comes packaged with over 70 minutes of bonus material.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).

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