In Takana Shirai’s directorial debut a young girl must travel about 500 miles on foot in order to feed some gods.
“So for my whole life my mom was a god of footrace.”
Kanna Hayama is a young girl living with her father in Tokyo. Despite her natural talent and initial love of running, she’s become less enthusiastic about it since the death of her mother a year prior. On the day of a marathon, Kanna is unable to finish, and runs to her mother’s grave. There the bracelet she was given by her suddenly causes time around her to stop and she encounters a local god, taking the shape of a cow. Another figure – a demon boy named Yasha – appears and asks for the bracelet, but is stopped by Kanna’s pet rabbit Shiro, who informs her he is a messenger of the gods. Through him Kanna learns she must collect a number of food offerings from local gods, store them in a magic gourd and take them to a shrine in Izumo before the harvest festival.
Child of Kamiari Month packs a lot into its opening half hour, introducing us to a number of concepts from the festival to the talking rabbit, to Yasha and Kanna being descended from gods. Japanese audiences might be more familiar with some of these, as well as the lunar calendar names for months and what they mean (such as October being a month where all the gods leave their shrines to commune in one specific one in Izumo), but all of this was relatively new to me. There is never too much that it becomes overwhelming or incomprehensible – far from it – but it does mean that the story takes a little bit longer to get started properly, and has even less time to complete it.
I probably would have preferred Child of Kamiari Month if it had been released as a limited series, which would have given the various aspects of the story more time to breathe. But while it might feel a bit truncated in many places, the story beats all work in telling a solid story, filled with the sort of quality personal dramas that probably originated with Ghibli and that we’ve come to associate with pretty much all high-concept Japanese animated films. Kanna is a relatable and likeable girl and her struggles feel real, and this grounding allows for some of the more outlandish parts to work; and on the other hand, its more fantastical elements are there to soften the blows of the real-life tragedies, making it easier to process. It’s the same formula that made Spirited Away so successful, and Child of Kamiari Month follows nicely in its footsteps.
For a studio barely ten years old, Liden Films has been putting out some quality animation, and Child of Kamiari Month is their first fully original film, but it doesn’t show. There’s a lot of talent behind the scenes and it shows on screen, with lots of excellent animation, from the big action scenes to the smaller moments of emotion and drama. It does lack some of the big flourishes that define other studios work, such as Studio Chizu and CoMix Wave but thi s modesty plays to its favour, allowing Kanna’s humility to shine through. It would have been nice to see some grander design with the more heavenly aspects of the story, but it’s hard to be too harsh when my complaints are mostly that I’ve been spoiled by some of the work more established, far wealthier studios have put out.
It’s a bit of a shame then that Child of Kamiari Month is never much more the sum of its parts. Each section just feels a little too rushed for the audience to fully appreciate what feels like quite a rich mythology. As such, the weight of the drama never quite hits as hard. Despite this, the film is still highly entertaining, occasionally touching and if nothing else has put Liden Films on my radar. There’s been an increase of studios putting out big budget films like this lately, and it’s been a joy to see directors go from strength to strength all the while working on fresh new IPs and ideas. I’ll be sure to keep an eye on them and Takana Shirai put out in the future.
Verdict: Child of Kamiari Month is somehow both too much and not enough movie all at once, but it’s still go
Overall entertainment: 7.5/10
Insult of the day: Blockhead
Matchmaking conference: I honestly still have no idea what that was meant to be
Stairway to heaven: I don’t care how good you are at running, that’s a lot of steps
Child of Kamiari Month (2022)
Also known as: 神在月のこども, Kamiarizuki no Kodomo
Director: Takana Shirai
Writers: Tetsuro Takita, Ryuta Miyake, Toshinari Shinoe
Aju Makita – Kanna Hayama
Maaya Sakamoto – Shiro
Miyu Irino – Yasha
Riko Nagase – Miki
Ko Shibasaki – Yayoi Hayama
Minako Kotobuki – Norimasa Hayama
Akira Kamiya – Okuninushi
Chafurin – Kotoshironushi
Wataru Takagi – Ryujin