There are a lot of things that make me tear up, I’m a sensitive guy. It is the degree of how much though that shows how emotional the impact a movie can make for me. You may shed a tear, let out a sob, or have streams running down both cheeks. It is those few that forces one to break down which should be truly admired. My Sister Momoko is the thing that brought back the potential of the medium in my eyes. I was losing hope in the anime I was watching and not enjoying, but in comes this and the first time in anime I felt…broken.
The story talks about two siblings who were born premature, Riki and Momoko. While Riki grew up to be strong, Momoko has had some issues. She has something akin to Muscular Dystrophy and suffers mental challenges as well. This premise alone shows that we are in for a ride that will be heartbreaking and warming to watch. It is a story told from the perspective of her brother Riki living with her and dealing with the social acceptance of her. It doesn’t just showcase Momoko and milk it, it delves into the emotions of those around her and how she helps them grow as people.
That is what this movie does well in my opinion, showcasing its characters. Every character grows and every characterization is simple enough to understand. The parents felt darkness in the beginning, but have fought for Momoko’s sake to help her through everything. Riki’s fear of being left behind and his anger towards his sister “taking away” his parents. Ryuji’s inferiority complex and anger at losing his mother, I would have loved to see his backstory more. Mr. Godzilla’s teaching methods and moral lessons, spurned by a love for his job. There are so many motivations and strengths to each character all focused around Momoko. Momoko is this ray of sunshine in the story, she isn’t perfect yet it doesn’t stop her from trying her hardest at everything. She is stronger than any, but still has those common insecurities. Momoko is why everyone is who they are by the end of the film, she is not a plot device to move along the story yet she sets the tone and pace.
There are problems with this movie though that do need to be addressed. Some scenes run on for too long, it jumps to different times more often than not, and is quite melodramatic in moments. The characters, more often the children, feel quite wooden in the acting department. I do chalk that up to being a child actor/actress. It is weird though, even witnessing all that and realizing these things I couldn’t help but cry. It is a human tale, one that needs to be shown for one to truly understand the power of its message it puts forth. It is simplistic at points of course, but the beauty is in its simplicity. Anyone can grasp this message because it is universal and poignant in the tale.
The interesting thing about the story of My Sister Momoko is how accessible it is. There is a distinct lack of complexity, which isn’t necessary for a children’s anime. This actually plays into the favour of the film as this makes the message easy to understands and allows the emotional story to take its audience on the emotional roller-coaster ride. With this approach though, there is a noticeable lack of depth to finding out about each character. While we can sympathize with some, there is at times a disconnect with some characters. It feels like a melodrama in that sense. The characters are often less developed in comparison to the story. While some characters do develop, the focus on the tale of Momoko makes some characters quite two dimensional. It is like a double-edged sword in that sense. Strong characterization and hard hitting plot, but lack of depth for the supporting cast.
The animation does seem dated and certainly looks to be on a budget. That is one of the only things that at points takes me out of the story. The effects and emphasis on some moments was a bit too much and felt like they had it planned out “here is where we try to make them cry”. It should be effortless to at the very least be emotional with a piece like this, there doesn’t need to be some weird sparkles or awkward fade-away shots. I do think this is the style of its director, Setsuko Shibuchi, but it does not age well in presentation. As much as I love she brought this piece to life, someone needs to take the reins and innovate it.
I would love to see this be updated into a stronger movie in the present day medium. Add some subtlety in some moments and shift some focuses around to add some more oomph. Maybe even make it into a 12 episode series to truly delve into some more of the core problems that arise in this story. This is not what we see nowadays in anime, and has actually brought me back from the rut I was in. My Sister Momoko shows us that we need more tales like these nowadays, and unfortunately they don’t hit home as hard nowadays or get us emotionally involved as much as one would hope. It is a wake-up call from all the generic anime we constantly get, that often don’t force us to directly connect with the struggles. Everything is structured in a way to make this a taxing film on the emotions, even if it doesn’t hold up particularly well with animation. The film isn’t perfect, but it is special in its own right and deserves a watch.