TL;DR – Kanna believes she is responsible for her mother’s death. When she discovers her mother was a descendant of the God of Running, Kanna undergoes a journey to collect offerings and deliver them to a festival of the Gods where she hopes she will see her mother one last time.
Review (warning: spoilers)
On the 10th month of the ancient lunar calendar, it is said that gods gather together at the Izumo shrine in Shimane to discuss human matters. This meeting, known as Kamihakari, includes a giant feast requiring the delivery of offerings from the gods of various regions of Japan.
A descendant of the God of Running is assigned the task to journey across the land to the different shrines where gods reside and request chiso, a speciality food for that region, and deliver it to the Izumo shrine. If the feast does not occur at the allotted time and day then Kamihakari does not proceed and the following year the regions of Japan will suffer.
Kanna’s mother, Yayoi, is the current descendant and the film opens with a young Kanna racing her mother through a forest. Though Yayoi encourages her daughter to keep running, Kanna cannot keep up and soon lags behind. As the scene fades to white, we see this was a dream and Kanna awakens in her classroom, embarrassed at having dozed off.
She stares out the window and sees the athletics track, an expression of melancholy on her face. She’s promised her dad that should would run the school marathon though her heart is not in it and hides her sadness behind a mask of exaggerated positivity to her friends.
The reason for the well of heartache inside her is because an ill Yayoi forced herself to attend Kanna’s marathon a year ago. Kanna didn’t want to participate, but Yayoi encouraged her to do her best saying that in return she would try her best to get better. Kanna interprets this (wrongly) to mean that if she is able to win the marathon then Yayoi would have the strength to get better. When Kanna doesn’t win, not even getting on the podium, she is distressed, but Yayoi is still happy and tells her it is not about winning or losing but getting across the finish line. For a brief moment, Kanna feels a little better, but then her mother collapses on the ground in front of her and passes away in hospital shortly thereafter resulting in Kanna believing it is her fault that her mother died.
Back to the present and Kanna participates in this year’s school marathon more for her father’s sake, even though her father tells her that she doesn’t need to race. When Kanna does force herself to race it brings back the memories of yesteryear and she fails to cross the finish line. A storm rushes overhead and the teachers, parents and students rush for shelter, but not Kanna who is distraught and runs out of the school grounds to the nearby shrine, her father chasing after her.
When she reaches the shrine, she trips and drops the jade amulet that was her mothers. With the rain matching the tears falling down her face, she puts the amulet on her wrist and suddenly everything around her stops; raindrops hover in the air, people in mid-walk are frozen, and the leaves of trees blown by the storm are still.
Thus commences Kanna’s discovery that she and her mother are descendants of the God of Running and she has taken on the task to gather chiso to deliver for the great feast of the Gods at Izumo shrine. It takes some convincing from Shiro, a talking white rabbit that is a messenger of the gods, and some white lies that makes Kanna believe that if she fulfils her mission and reaches Izumo on time she will get to see her mother.
With the eventual help of a demon boy named Yasha and Shiro by her side she commences her quest. Turns out that so long as she wears the amulet, time has not stopped but has slowed down (one hour in the human world is roughly five days in jade amulet time).
Though she encounters a number of challenges along the way, Kanna’s greatest threat is herself. Guilt and the belief that she was responsible for her mother’s death causes the manifestation of a shadow-like creature that seeks to consume her. It is only when it appears she has totally given up, does she realise that the connection to her mother has always been through running and her denial towards it is a denial towards the love she feels. Thus, she comes of age and manages to complete her mission.
The story is solid and there is enough material to create a fantasy-grounded-in-the-real world movie that could rival the likes of Hayao Miyazaki and Makoto Shinkai films. However, I felt Child of Kamiari Month fell short in two areas.
The first is there is no real antagonist. Any sense of urgency or danger only comes from Kanna’s guilt and the depiction of a morphing darkness that builds around her like black fog when she dwells on said guilt. The lack of tension makes for a straight forward telling of the story. With the lack of tension and thrills (traits that are normally critical in an adventure of this nature), the story could have been gripping by introducing elements of mystery. However, there is nothing hidden nor are there story elements that are unknown that raise questions that draw the viewer into watching more to see the answers to those questions. Again, it is a straight forward telling in this regard.
The second area is the animation itself. This is where I have been spoiled by the brilliance and detail of Miyazaki and Shinkai films. Animation studio, Liden Films, keeps the animation child-friendly. This itself isn’t a problem, but I found certain sequences unpolished. For example, the adults in the film like Kanna’s father and mother look like the children but just taller and bigger. I think it has to do with the eyes of the adults appearing the same size, so in the end they just look like big kids as opposed to Kanna’s parents. Another example, is the scene where they meet the dragon god at Suwa shrine. This could have been an opportunity to showcase an electrifying introduction to a mighty dragon, but when we see him his eyes look like the rest of the anime character eyes and instead makes him look childlike. Like a pet dragon instead of a dragon god to be feared.
I could forgive the animation if the story behind it was the driving force, but because the story lacked the elements of either 1) danger/thrills or 2) mystery, Child of Kamiari Month, turns out to be coming-of-age tale that will appeal to young kids only. Teenagers and older will be wanting more. A promising film that falls a little flat.
5.5 out of 10