It was a feelgood Sunday for me at the Japanese Film Festival with two charmers – My Uncle and this animation that also showed at MIFF this year. Aimed at kids, it is a two-layered story about Kokone (voiced by Mitsuki Takahata), whose father Momo (Yôsuke Eguchi) repairs cars, and Princess Ancien, whose magic tablet allows her to give life to objects in the beleaguered kingdom of Heartland.
Ancien is who Kokone often dreams of and we begin to see parallels between her life and that of the Princess. Kokone’s father lives a quiet life and often receives payment in food rather than money. Kokone wants to go to school in Tokyo but knows they can’t afford it. Her mother, Ikumi (Risa Shimuzu), died when she was a baby and her father rarely talks of her. Unbeknownst to Kokone, her father has been working on auto steering technology that a powerful motor company wants to use as part of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. When Momo disappears, Kokone discovers his tablet containing the codes and embarks on a race to save him.
At first Kokone’s dreamworld only occurs when she is asleep but soon the Princess’s magic seems to be seeping into real life. The parallels between the dream and real world are clearly spelt out and help us understand the basic morals behind the story. Ancien’s world is a steam punk one and technology is the magic that can cast a spell or a curse. The evil is the dark, all consuming capitalism of the greedy Watanabe (Arata Furuta) who is trying to undermine the kindly patrician King/Chairman, who represents tradition.
There is enough action, plot and character development to keep kids and adults alike engaged, although the characters are somewhat stereotypical. Although technically this just passes the Bechdel test, Kokone/Ancien is really the only significant female character. Her dead mother plays a small part but is an archetype whose agency is through her sacrifice. It’s possible to infer that the future for Kokone may be different. That, as a girl, she can be a worthy protagonist but the reality is that she still operates within the confines of the world of her father and grandfather.Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.