Feb 13, 2021
The thing about anime is that it covers a whole variety of genres, and you never know what you'll find. I literally just discovered this movie, On A Paper Crane: Tomoko's Adventure, today, and surprisingly, it was a lot easier to find than I thought, though that was because I knew where to look. It's a short OVA about a little girl, Tomoko, who visits Hiroshima and goes to a museum about the atomic bombing of the city. Although appalled by what she sees, namely the bombing reconstructions, she has a great time. When she sees a statue depicting a girl holding up a paper
crane, Tomoko makes a crane out of a candy wrapper, and to her surprise, the girl from the statue, Sadako, magically comes to life and tells Tomoko about the war. The two of them become fast friends, though their friendship doesn't last very long because...well, anyone who knows about Japanese post-war history know that Sadako, who is basically Sadako Sasaki, technically died at 12 years old because of radiation exposure from the bomb.
War movies tend to be hit-or-miss for some. Many of them, with the right writing and execution, can turn out great, while others wind up being cheesy, bad, disingenuous, or outright insulting, again, depending on the staff behind them. Most of them aren't the most faithful to the facts (*coughMichaelBay'sPearlHarborcough*), or some try to use the war as a backdrop for something else. On a Paper Crane keeps its scope fairly small, focusing on a child going to a museum and having a magical adventure with the ghost of a dead girl. The animation is mostly fine, as the character designs are fairly realistic and not very cartoony, namely with the characters' eyes being small and not overly big and sparkly, and the way they animate debris flying through the air when the bomb is dropped is very lusciously done. It helps that the background art is well drawn and the movie doesn't skimp on the details of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park's monuments, particularly on one particular building Tomoko and Sadako visit. Though since this movie was made in 1993, the park was very different back then compared to how it looks now. The music isn't much to write home about other than consisting of mostly cheesy piano tunes making their corresponding scenes come across as more syrupy than they should. The song at the end is nice, though.
On a Paper Crane centers on just two main characters, who while not receiving much in the way of development, do have good chemistry and bounce off of each other pretty well. Tomoko is a realistic, well-meaning kid who is naive to the harsh realities of war, and Sadako is...mostly just there to exposit about the war and her own experiences with it. The movie is only 27 minutes long, so they don't really change much throughout the course of that run time except for Tomoko becoming more aware of not only what happened during the bomb dropping, but of Sadako's situation. But while I understand that this movie has good intentions, I really don't think portraying Sadako Sasaki, a real person, as a magical ghost girl who takes her modern day friend on a magical crane and flying around the world was the best idea. Doing that just felt ingenuous, mainly because Sadako is just there to be an exposition dump. I think maybe this movie would work better if Tomoko not only visited the museum and saw Sadako's statue, but read the book that Sadako's brother put out about her life, and maybe make the movie about Sadako's life as Tomoko reads it in the novel. I mean, Japan has made anime movies about WWII survivors before, like Ushiro no Shoumen Daare and The Glass Rabbit (Though I still think the former is better). Now, the only reason I even know about Sadako Sasaki's story is because I bought and read the short book about her put out by Eleanor Coerr back in 1977, which is a more fictionalized take on her life. While I can somewhat understand what On a Paper Crane was trying to do, but the way it told its story just came across as really cheesy, treacly, and overly sentimental for my liking.
To my knowledge, On a Paper Crane did get a very limited VHS release (I couldn't find information on whether this was a US release or elsewhere), even having an English dub, surprisingly enough, which is the version I just saw. But I'm not gonna lie, the English dub...isn't bad, per se, but a lot of the acting could get really hammy and cheesy. Sadako's voice actress in particular just sounded really stiff and stilted, like she was just reading off a script, particularly when she's expositing about the war. But I've heard worse dubs, so On a Paper Crane's dub isn't the worst dub I've ever heard. As far as I know, it never got an official subtitled release. If you're interested in watching this though, I only know of one website where you can watch it, both the dubbed version and the Japanese version without subtitles. PM me for details. So, in conclusion, while I wouldn't call this one of the better World War II-themed movies, it's serviceable enough and has its heart in the right place, but be prepared for a lot of cheese.
What did you think of this review?