Too gentle, too pastel, too Japanese for the kid-based Stateside animation market, Hiroyuki Okiura’s fragile film has its moments, but can’t deliver on its delicate promise. The heartfelt story tags along with three spirit-goblins who watch over a young girl who’s just lost her father. For her, moving with mom from bustling Tokyo to the quiet old family place on a small chain of islands hardly helps. It’s all so . . . unrelatable. Teen years are tough enough, but just try making new friends when you spend half your time interacting with three grotesque, constantly hungry and pretty funny spirits no one else can see. If only there were a few advantages to offset the misunderstandings & embarrassments they keep getting you into. Some of the local terrain & activities are not without charm, and beautifully observed in washes of color, but the visual tone can also turn wan, with a dull matte-finish in the shade or the interiors. And a ginned up climax with a big ride to the rescue when Mom’s asthma suddenly acts up feels tacked on. The film earns its best laughs whenever a rude moment interrupts the rural peace (the frog-faced goblin has the best lines and the best delivery). But the film is probably of most interest to animé-heads.
DOUBLE-BILL: Ghibli Studios outclassed this with their mid-60s teenage saga from the same year FROM UP ON POPPY HILL/’11. OR: For a Golden Age Hollywood classic, there’s Elia Kazan’s superb debut A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN/’45 which has surprising similarities and nearly the same tear-stained grace-note ending.