Review for The Island Closest To Heaven
As a little girl, Mari Katsuragi doted on her father, and the tales he told of an island on the other side of the world called New Caledonia, a perfect island that was closest to heaven, and she promised her father that together they would visit it one day.
However, before they ever had a chance to go there and when Mari reaches 16, her father dies. Mari decides to go to the island on her own, to find the paradise her father described. The bustling tourist trap that is the main island certainly doesn’t fit the bill, and being part of a package tour doesn’t help.
The Island Closest To Heaven gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Japanese soundtrack and English subtitles. I assume the audio is in mono format, as I didn’t really hear any separation in the audio, although it is clear and rich, making the most of the film’s jaunty soundtrack, while keeping the dialogue clear. The image quality is much the same as for the first two films, clear and detailed, while not quite challenging the limits of the BD format. There is a bit of softness at times, while there is a nice layer of organic film grain. Contrast isn’t too great, but in a film set on a South Sea island, with a whole lot of sunny, daytime scenes, it’s a lot less of an issue here. Colour too is bright and vivid. The subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos, although there are also burnt in Japanese subtitles for English and French dialogue.
The disc boots to an animated menu, and you’ll find the following extras.
Audio Commentary with Samm Deighan
Obayashi – Femininity in Transition by Robert Edwards (14:42)
Tomoyo Harada stars in another Nobuhiko Obayashi movie for Kadokawa, but I like The Island Closest To Heaven a fair bit more than The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. This isn’t a movie that demands too much of her talents as an actress though, and she manages to carry the emotional depth of the movie with more ease for the most part here. Nobuhiko Obayashi restrains his penchant for directorial quirks, and all of that put together make this film a lot easier to emotionally invest in. I certainly enjoyed it a whole lot more.
It’s a delightful coming of age tale, that follows Mari following the death of her father, as she looks to fulfil his dream of finding this paradisiacal island, and in the process finding herself as well. But in many ways, The Island Closest to Heaven feels like a movie some twenty or thirty years older. It unfolds much like the kind of travelogue that we got in the fifties and sixties, back when international travel was the province of the jet-set, and the average person had to settle for movies set in foreign lands, hanging ephemeral plots off cinematic travel guides, or if we were lucky, James Bond movies which threw a lot more in.
At first this movie definitely feels thin and ephemeral, with Mari’s adventure showing off the best side of New Caledonia and the local archipelago, with the sole narrative quirk the difference between the cheesy package tour, and the ‘honesty’ of discovering a new country on one’s own. But the story gets into motion when Mari first encounters Taro, a local 3rd generation Japanese immigrant, who works on his family farm. Then she meets Yuichi, a local unofficial guide who offers to show the real islands, as opposed to the cheesy tour that the official guide is leading.
Taro’s the kind of boy that a sixteen year old girl will crush on, while Yuichi is something of a playboy, and that makes Mari’s visit more interesting, and complicated. But things become much more difficult when her straying off the beaten path gets her into trouble, and she misses her flight home.
The Island Closest To Heaven is really a mellow and even dreamy romantic adventure. It has its moments of drama, and there is certainly a lot of comedy with some over the top characters, but it never gets too heavy and emotional. It really feels like a fairy tale cum travelogue, and makes for a very pleasant viewing experience.
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