The town of Izumo, in Shimane prefecture, has long been known for its folklore tales and ancestry; one of them being the myth of Kamiari. In the month of October, it is called Kamiarizuki (“the month of the gods”) in Izumo…because, at this time of the year, a variety of different deities gather together in the town for a pilgrimage to the city’s sanctuary. Kanna is a young girl passionate about racing, and a long time resident of Izumo. When her mother dies, all of her motivation and dreams vanish in an instant. But after an amulet belonging to her mother brings her to an alternate world where time runs slowly and ancient creatures are visible, Kanna learns more about who her mother really was, and what she has to do to not only live up to the family name but to cast aside her crippling feelings of bereavement.
Child of Kamiari Month was released in Japanese cinemas on October. 08. 2021, with Netflix acquiring the rights internationally, and airing on February. 08. 2022. Produced by Liden Films (Yamada-kun & the Seven Witches, Lost Song, Love & Lies), written & created by Toshinari Shinoe and directed by Takana Shirai (Children of the Sea, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya), Child of Kamiari Month is marketed as a gentle fantasy movie for the family to watch. Interestingly, the movie started in a crowdfunding campaign back in 2019, and over the years got the funding it needed to bring it to the screen.
As the movie begins, we see our main character Kanna Hayama still unable to let go of the loss of her mother not so long ago. She puts on a mask to her friends at school and to her widowed father, but it’s still clear to see that she is hurting inside. She believes that she is responsible for what happened to her mother, and so remains in her own world of self-loathing. The white rabbit she takes care of at school becomes something she grows attached to and almost becomes like some way for her to say what is really on her mind. It is through circumstance that she lands herself in a dimension filled with mystical beasts and deities. This same white rabbit she takes care of, Shiro, starts talking to her and tells her that her mother took part in an important task, gathering offerings across the country for an annual feast for the deities. Kanna discovers that this same task was something her mother did too, and so it now falls to her to do it.
On the way she meets all sorts of creatures, with the other most prominent one being demon boy and frenemy Yasha, who believes that Kanna is not worthy to perform this duty in the same way her mother did. This trio isn’t really anything unique to watch, but they get the job done and that’s still good to see. Upon completing this journey, Kanna can bring peace to not only the world around her but her own world too. And so with this, how is the movie and what makes it stand out from things we haven’t really seen already?
The theme of bereavement in the movie has been handled well and with great care. Kanna’s father is also grieving over the loss of his wife, and is still putting his daughter first instead of wallowing in self-pity, regret and ‘what if‘s. It made me think a bit on when my own father died, and how both my sister and I dealt with it. I know that there were some things that I wish I had done then, but I know that there’s nothing that can be done now. Any ‘what if‘s that the both of us had meant nothing if we couldn’t do anything about them. I applaud the makers of this movie for presenting a young girl who is struggling with what to do without her supportive mother and not going in any cartoony direction. She adores running just like her mother did, and now without her biggest fan cheering her on, she thinks whether it is even worth it anymore.
What I do find interesting is that in this fantasy world, Kanna is a complete outsider. While this story idea is far more common in fantasy stories than we realize, I still liked how a girl like her, in a mindset she is in, is put here and discovering all the things about her mother that she never knew. Things that would become key to helping her heal. Comparisons can be made to what Chihiro went through in Spirited Away; in the world she entered, she went on her own journey of self-discovery and saw what was really important to her. Here in Child of Kamiari Month, Kanna goes through something similar, but while Chihiro became someone less self-centered, Kanna has a lot more weight on her shoulders. She has a world to save, gods to please, and her own grief to handle too.
The animation here is something to watch. On Kanna’s journey, time is slowed down considerably, bringing out a unique visual style. The human life around her barely moves, and raindrops take minutes to fall down. The gods we see along the way all look great too and become things that really stand out in the movie. All of this dazzling style comes to a head towards the end of the movie, which shows us the end of Kanna’s journey, both literally and metaphorically. Some people may believe that the animation we see here may be something we’ve seen before in a lot of other animated fantasy movies though and that’s understandable.
Child of Kamiari Month is not without its hiccups. From the very start, it does not really give off the same kind of spark like past fantasy-based anime movies have done, and instead, it takes a long time to seriously get in the groove. The script can sometimes drag on in places, and we often get to hear the same thing over and over again. Kanna is given this great task to collect these items while her world moves in slow-motion, and yet even with this we aren’t really seeing any real urgency that the movie is trying to portray. Along the way, Shiro keeps telling Kanna to hurry but she is still given room to do things that stray away from her mission. She is told constantly by both Shiro and Yasha that this task, that her own mother did, is critical, and yet I still got the impression that the movie was padded out somewhat.
Aju Makita, the voice of Kanna in the movie (both younger and older) is just outstanding here. She’s an actress who has more of a theatre and live-action resume, so voice acting is relatively new to her. And even despite that, her portrayal of a grief-stricken young child motivated to take part in an annual ritual just as her mother did really hits the spot. With veteran actors supporting (Maaya Sakamoto, Minato Kotobuki, Miyu Irino), I’ll say that every voice fits their characters excellently.
I have a couple of things to say about the English translation, however. Even with the addition of Mia Sinclair Jenness (Powder in Arcane) and Luca Christian (Ochaco Uraraka in My Hero Academia), the dub feels pretty corny and forced at points. Another point to make is the English subtitles themselves. Because the only English sub option is the closed-captioned one (meant for viewers who are hard of hearing), we are given the subtitles of the English dub instead of something of its own. And so as a result of this, watching the movie with the subtitles feels very strange, and not just because we get the occasional ‘rain falls’, ‘cries loudly’ or ‘panting’ every now and then.
Here is the Netflix trailer for Child of Kamiari Month:
Even with its positive ending, this movie becomes a dark take on bereavement and the lingering impact it has on children who lose their parents. Kanna starts off being someone still wallowing in self-pity, and so it’s through this journey that she sees a meaning to her life. Losing my own father meant my sister and me were thinking a lot about ‘what if‘s for a good year or so. And so it’s good to see someone like Kanna channelling this grief of hers into something positive; something I know I should have really done back then. She loves running, and it’s her mother’s passing that is keeping her from this passion she had. Through this journey, Kanna is able to see that holding onto the things she loves is a great way to deal with her loss. Some viewers may still poke at this and compare it to the Studio Ghibli catalogue, and I get it. This isn’t really a unique movie, but even still the more we watch, the less we care about that.
Child of Kamiari Month is an all-ages movie the family can watch. It can get pretty sad at some points, but it sticks to its guns and doesn’t deviate into anything that can really upset young children. The topic of bereavement is handled with great care as Kanna goes on her journey from a grief-stricken schoolgirl to a young woman with renewed meaning to her life. While the Japanese version shines, the English version falls flat at points. It’s not perfect and not that original either, but it’s still an emotional watch.