Combing through lists of anime films in the hope of stumbling upon overlooked gems is a process which becomes tedious rather quickly, but it is the occasional discoveries of films like Junkers Come Here that continue to push me back on track when the effort becomes tiresome. While televised anime often build cult followings to keep some semblance of awareness alive, it seems more common for films to fade into history unless associated with a company or famous director, which hasn’t been the case for films like Junkers and Mai Mai Miracle. It doesn’t help that this film is somewhat poorly represented by its promotional artwork, which tends to feature playful shots of the namesake, Junkers, a friendly-looking dog. What this doesn’t convey is the gentle drama of the film underneath. Junkers is a film which tells a satisfying albeit familiar story in a quiet manner which is likely to please fans of Studio Ghibli’s human dramas, though the occasional usage of familiar anime tropes keeps it from reaching quite the same level.
The story centres entirely around the life of Hiromi, an eleven-year-old girl who lives in the Tokyo suburbs with her parents, a maid, and her tutor, who teaches in exchange for room and board. However, Hiromi’s parents are often away for work, and thus Hiromi hardly sees them nor can she recall the last time all three of them spent any time together. She instead finds solace in her pet dog as well as Keisuke, the aforementioned tutor who ends up, for better or for worse, becoming the dominant male figure for her in the absence of her father. The conflict of the film arrives as Hiromi discovers her parents considering separation, and while she has been able to hide her emotions from her parents despite their absences, this seems to be the breaking point of her feelings of loneliness.
Junkers can talk to Hiromi, but much like in My Neighbor Totoro, this depiction is more or less a key into the mind of the main character and the way she copes with her surroundings and predicament. Just as the boundary between reality and imagination was never spelled out in Totoro, it is questionable if Junkers ever truly speaks (in fact, explicitly questioned by the film itself), and ultimately this is a component of the fact that we view the film entirely from Hiromi’s eyes. The portrayal of Hiromi is a wonderfully multi-faceted and believable representation of a conflicted age and a conflicted situation. The desire to be treated as an adult, the wall standing between you and the adult world, and the strange contradictions which somehow make all too much sense to the young mind certainly elicited a feeling of familiarity in me.
Junkers is not a perfect film, as moments throughout the film feel overlong and there are a few scenes which borrow from generic tropes found in television anime (such as one where Hiromi follows Keisuke around while wearing a cartoonish disguise). Although the animation and character design is pleasantly realistic and low-key, the film is bogged down slightly by a soundtrack that has not aged too well due to its heavy reliance on synthesized instruments (though some may find it pleasantly nostalgic). The appeal of the film is otherwise fairly simple to explain (as this rather concise review shows) – buried within the sometimes rough edges is a rather touching story about coping with loneliness and the longing for parent’s love. Though it may not match the greatest of anime films, it makes an admirable effort.
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