Is Child of Kamiari Month Worth Watching? – This Week in Anime

It’s a crash course in Shintoism in Takana Shirai‘s directorial debut about a young girl who moves to Izumo after the loss of her mother.

This movie is streaming on Netflix

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.


Steve

Nicky, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a precocious young girl follows a talking white rabbit through a fantastical setting full of supernatural beings who keep offering her weird food. Also she has to collect the seven Dragon Balls.

Nicky

Look, this bunny is having none of your shit, Steve.



This movie may take place in October but it is keeping the April spirit by giving us the gift of bunny.

And the bunny’s going to have to deal with it because I’ve got a whole column’s worth of Alice in Wonderland jokes where that came from. But for the sake of actually doing our jobs, I guess I can try to hold back and actually talk about this week’s film from the Netflix vault. But that wascally wabbit better not try me.

Animated by LIDEN FILMS and conceptualized by
Toshinari Shinohe, Child of Kamiari Month is a movie that is made possible through a series of three crowdfunding campaigns. It was released in Japanese theaters in 2021, and now available to us through Netflix.
And yeah, it’s been on the platform for over two months now, so it’s not exactly “this week” in anime, but you gotta cut us some slack. These seasonal transitions require us to be creative, and we’ll be able to get to some simulcasts next week, I promise. For now, we’ve got a spunky little gal with a big helping of trauma to work through.


Kanna is a sixth grader who has many fond memories of running with her mother. Unfortunately for her, this is an anime movie, so of course her mother contracts a terminal case of anime mom disease and passes away, taking away Kanna’s love of running with her.

Anime Mom Wasting Disease is a serious malady. Please be sure to consult your doctor if you show signs of having a great relationship with your bug-eyed child.
Yayoi, to her credit, definitely gets points for really milking the dying mom schtick. Not only does she look like a skeleton and collapse in the kitchen for no discernable reason, she also goes outside and immediately dies to the blustery fall weather in the single most traumatizing way possible for her daughter. It’s almost the grand slam of Anime Mom Wasting Disease. All she’s missing is a low side ponytail.


Anime making a good argument against me not having any children when I can’t even go outside in the spring without feeling a little chilly and having to wear a sweater like it’s fall. Curse you low constitution rolls!

It’s gotta have one of the highest mortality rates of any occupation. Most of us wouldn’t last a week.
See, someone like me? I’m much better suited to be the anime dad who gets left behind. Yeah, I try my best for a time, but my daughter ends up taking over most of the domestic duties, while the best I can do is buy her weird Eva Unit 01-themed sneakers that don’t fit. That’s a job I can handle.


Anyways, as I mentioned before, the film takes place in October, which in Japan is called “Kanna Month” or The Month Without Gods. It is the month when all the local Shinto gods take off to go to their big party called Kamihakari where they decide fates, with some gods staying at home to protect the lands. However, in Izumo where the summit takes place, October is instead known as Kamiari Month, or “The Gods’ Month.” Hence the title!

A teacher helpfully explains all this in the first act, which is how you know our own Kanna is inevitably going to factor into the ceremony somehow. And lo and behold, her mom used to be an idaten—a sort of demigod who helped facilitate the big party—and by putting on her bracelet, Kanna inherits that title alongside the ability to see very large cows.


Even though some of the gods have to miss the feast because of their duties at home, that doesn’t mean they should feel entirely left out of the celebrations. So the Idaten has to go all around to collect their locally-based food contributions, or Chiso, before the party starts in order for the party to be a full success.

And I’m gonna say it if nobody else is: it’s little hecked up that these offerings are called Chiso, yet not a one ended up being a cheese plate. I don’t know what kind of banquet those deities are having, but they’re sorely lacking on the coagulated dairy front.
Maybe they should build a Shinto shrine in Green Bay. That’s all I’m saying.

If I were a local deity, I’ll be sure to send over some chips and salsa.

Or some locally sourced spinach-artichoke dip. Let’s show these gods we really care about them! And, jokes aside, I do think this is a pretty neat conceit for a movie: A little Japan travelogue that highlights the local food and customs of places outside the big metropolitan areas. I don’t think Kamiari Month capitalizes on that conceit as much as I’d like, but it’s a good idea.

Yeah, the visits to the local gods are pretty brief. We really only get a few seconds of most of them, and most of the time the gods themselves are barely animated, but it’s still charming even if you only have a vague idea of Shintoism. And Kanna doesn’t have a lot of time since she’s going everywhere by foot within a few (albeit magically slowed) hours before the big shindig.





Oh yeah the movie inadvertently solves the Santa paradox by inventing a magic bracelet that slows down time to a barely perceptible crawl. So even though the banquet is but a few scant hours of real time away, Kanna gets days to make her cross-country journey. And speaking as a serial procrastinator, I really could have used that bracelet in college.

I want a time-stopping bracelet so I can take even more naps than I already do. I’d seem so powerful and productive and be able to get my preferred twelve hours of sleep a day!

A talking rabbit sidekick who speaks exclusively in exposition and a tsundere demon boy companion would be a nice bonus too.


Our long-eared friend and timekeeper is simply named Shiro after taking the form of a rabbit from Kanna’s school, and the demon boy is Yasha. The latter immediately presents himself as Kanna’s rival because of a longstanding feud between their family and the Idatens, after the demon gods tried to “retrieve” Buddha’s bones.







But even if they have a lot of perceived time, they still have to move rather quickly, since real time is only slowed and not stopped. After all, the banquet is a very important date and they really mustn’t be late! Kanna’s regular pace since losing her mom is too lax, so having Yasha to travel with and to put a fire under her butt helps. Especially since she’s convinced that doing this might allow her to see her mom again.
Yeah, Shiro was, uh, very convincing about that.


It seems like she took Shiro’s platitudes about trying to connect with her by running in her footsteps a little too literally. But the kid has gone through a lot.

That’s the thematic crux of the film. Kanna’s passion for running is all mixed up with her memories of her mom, both the good and the bad. So she practically has a panic attack running the class marathon, yet she also believes running this idaten journey will make everything right again. It’s a very fraught equivocation that, unsurprisingly, leads to her lowest point in the story.




And after watching Estab Life for last week’s column, I thought for a moment that this movie would also embrace that “real winners quit” lifestyle. Which would have been interesting! But it definitely follows the track you’d expect instead.
You can tell it’s getting to her what with that big weird smoke thing following her around. Man, I love VISUAL METAPHORS!

Lol yeah, hope you like evil entities who disguise themselves as loved ones in order to prey on our emotional fault lines.



Tho my favorite part of this scene is the bad-acid-trip filter that gets plastered over Shiro and Yasha while Kanna is in the spirit’s thrall.




The film’s visuals overall are fairly pedestrian, but that was good.
I’m a bit forgiving since this film was crowdfunded, which obviously means that it doesn’t have the budget of, say, a Makoto Shinkai production. That said, most of the time the animation is only about comparable to a broadcasted TV anime, which left a bit to be desired for a movie that was released in Theaters. The direction is also mostly standard and only the animation director is credited. Even the Farewell, My Dear Cramer movie, also produced by LIDEN last year, looked more polished overall. (Though, this isn’t nearly as rough as the Cramer TV anime…)

However, I agree that that was one of the more creative moments, and there a few other instances where the film looks quite nice. I personally enjoy this moment with the dragon diety. Especially since it reveals that he also deeply misses his parent who it cannot see because of it’s sworn duty.


True! And when Kanna finally reaches her destination, the film ups the light and color composition in a pleasing, celebratory way.







But while Kamiari Month is far from terrible, its worst quality is how unremarkable it is for how familiar its story and thematic beats are. Like, it was difficult to watch it and not keep comparing what was on screen to other anime that have pulled off similar or identical material with more artistry.

Yeah, while the animation can sometimes make it count despite all its shortcuts, if the story is just so-so then it doesn’t really stand out compared to similar premises about coming-of-age and overcoming grief. I was thinking maybe for a kid who didn’t know that stuff it would be okay; it’s a pretty inoffensive film, it has a dub, and it’s available on a large platform. But it would also probably be too slow for a kid to engage with since there are few spectacle moments and a lot of exposition.

It’s ironic that a movie about running can feel so slow. But yeah, I have to imagine kids are the target audience, but I also can’t imagine a kid enjoying this very much. On the other hand, though, children enjoy all sorts of subpar movies, and Kamiari Month would hardly be the worst thing for them to see.

Oh yeah, I probably liked much worse movies as a kid and there always seems to be just a bit too few movies that are okay for kids to consume even with the infinite variety afforded by streaming. It just wouldn’t be my first pick because it’s mostly very forgettable.

It also gets too didactic for its own good in parts. Very old man yells at cloud, “people these days just don’t care about stuff” kind of whining. Although I can hardly argue with their preeminent example of societal rot being a guy posting.




No lies detected. Just your average poster.




Like if they really wanted to convince kids that Shintoism kicks ass, they needed to include more action and/or something creepy and traumatizing, like, oh, I don’t know, Kanna’s parents getting turned into giant pigs or something.
Or if you wanted to use magical realism as a means of processing grief, something like A Letter to Momo could be a better approach, which is a more lax take on the theme but has a much more mature psychology about it that’s really engaging. I wouldn’t say Kanna is a bad character since most of the film is spent on her emotional state, but there was very little that felt truthful or relatable to me because so much of it is so derivative.



Which is a big problem particularly when you’re writing stories about children for children. It’s really important that your primary audience can relate to the characters and that kids feel like kids instead of adults’ mouthpieces.
It’s a very “by the numbers” movie. It’s competent—it knows what it’s doing—but it just doesn’t have that oomph that elevates it to something that feels more heartfelt than rote.

Genuinely, the most distinguishing feature of Kamiari Month is that all the character designs have faint Naruto whiskers on their face. It has no bearing on anything in the narrative—just a stylistic choice—but it is distinct!

The designs aren’t bad; they have a scruffiness to them, and I appreciate that they’re not overly cute. Yasha had my favorite design but I have a weakness for trash boys who are actually quite nice deep down. But I felt like I could’ve liked him more if the film bothered to make him more conflicted considering his whole deal of having to carry all the expectations of his family.


Nothing but respect for this boy and his unrequited crush on Yayoi that he then sublimates into maximum tsundere times with Kanna.

While I appreciated that he was the one that got Kanna out of her funk at risk to himself, or that Kanna deliberately failed her previous trial against him in order to save him, their friendship never felt anything deeper than being pleasant because the film doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on developing their chemistry. I talked about the film having slow pacing but we’re also mostly moving from one shot to the next in a way that it doesn’t feel like much of a journey.

It would’ve been neat to see the travelogue aspect take more cues from something like Laid-Back Camp. Not necessarily in the artistry (which would help, don’t get me wrong), but just in the purposefully meandering way that show goes about its outings.

And as someone who’s only vaguely familiar with Shintoism the film doesn’t really make it clear what would happen if the gods’ Uber Eats didn’t make it on time other than they’d be bummed out, maybe? So when Kanna goes on her big depression rant about how none of it matters, I couldn’t help but agree even if it clearly wasn’t the message. Spending time with each god would’ve gave this moment more of an emotional payoff.

To be fair, it would be a pretty big bummer to miss dinner. Can hardly blame the gods for whatever they’d do if they all got a little hangry. Worse outcomes have been predicated on sillier causes, especially in the realm of mythology.

Maybe receiving the ire of the gods for all eternity by getting a bad star rating felt too dark for a sixth-grader?

Honestly, the whole film gets thematically muddled in its third act. Like, the big lesson is that you’re ultimately in control of your own destiny—the gods (and parents) can only provide guidance—but also Kanna ends up being exactly what her mom and the gods wanted from her. Not incongruous, per se, but toothless.


Overall, Child of Kamiari Month is inoffensive, but it’s also not a largely ambitious film. I wouldn’t say it stumbles; it’s really more of a slow jog to the finish all the way through. It might be good to put on as background noise but I couldn’t imagine going out of my way to see this in theaters.

It’s not a film I’d run out to see either. But hey, if you’re watching Netflix, chances are you’re being a couch potato anyway. Might as well embrace that bunnyloaf lifestyle.

Maybe the real friends were all the bunnies we met along the way? ‘Til next time, folks.

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