Momoko, who attends a special school, is both mentally and physically disabled. Every morning she becomes peevish because she can't go to the ordinary school with her twin brother Riki. Her family soothes Momoko by singing her favorite song "The Song of Frogs."
One day, Momoko shouts encouragement to Riki who's playing dodgeball at an open classroom day and Riki's team wins the game. Ryuji, whose team lost the game, is not impressed and demands that Riki stop bringing his 'idiot sister' to school. Riki totally loses control and hits Ryuji with all his might.
The following year, an experiment in integrated education is implemented and Momoko begins to attend Riki's school. Unfortunately, her physical condition takes a turn for the worse and she's sent to a hospital. Riki and all her classmates want to cheer her up and they set a goal of winning a relay race so that they would be able to tell Momoko the good news. Meanwhile, the fastest sprinter, Ryuichi, insists that he won't be taking part in the race.
Children’s movies almost always have this way of getting into someone’s heart, especially when the main theme is serious from the start and this particular one did not fall short to the expectations. It is a simple slice-of-life story with no real plot other than their everyday life, but so motivating at the same time.
The concept itself is quite dramatic; twins that were born early resulting in one of them getting the short end of the stick. The story is character-centered, revolving around what is important in life and how they react to differences. From little walks to the park to hospital visits to talking
with friends to throwing tantrums, the ideas of life and effort are always present and affecting everyone, even the audience. Everyone has personal problems, be that her brother who loves his sister but sometimes feels ignored and burdened, or her brother’s classmate who has family problems and stoops to bullying. The essence is how they come to terms with themselves and accept their surroundings with an open heart. Even though Momoko is the center of everything, it is the people around her that we see how they change mostly through her.
Although the movie is just their everyday life, there are some events that could be said that are a bit forced or rushed to just add to the drama, but overall I did not feel that they were trying too hard. Actually, it felt as though it wanted to just present us the obvious problems one might have in such a story for the viewer to see what everyone thinks. Nonetheless, the pacing is not really bad when thinking of the big picture, however step by step there could be some gaps.
For such a movie, character development is a given even if sometimes it is a bit abrupt, but that is mostly forgiven as those cracks are filled with what is going on around them. They overcome immature thoughts, realize more about themselves and try to be a better person. The only one not getting any development is Momoko, our main heroine, who stays a hardworking, positive girl. Instead, she gets more character background. The problems she has to deal with every day give more details about her complicated life throughout the movie, which only makes her more endearing.
The art and animation look a bit older than what someone would expect from a 2003 movie maybe, but the colors are bright, the characters are cutely drawn and it fits the atmosphere of it. It is altogether generic, but there was nothing that stands out as positive or negative. The characters were distinctive and they did a good job portraying Momoko’s physical disability, as well. I could say the same pretty much about the sound. Nothing stood out, but everything fit together; the voice actors, the background music, etc.
Overall, I really liked the movie, mainly because I am a sucker for children’s sad stories. Though, who could resist an adorable little girl who is full of life and tries her hardest in a world that does not completely understand her? It brings light to a reality that is easily forgotten when people are not part of it and it is a nice reminder for everyone to be more accepting and see that things we take for granted, others are putting so much effort in attaining them.
So yeah, after finding about this anime movie's existence a few months ago, along with Happy Birthday: Inochi Kagayaku Toki, I decided to set out and find them! The first movie I managed to find without much problems, even though the footage had Russian subs and REALLY BAD sound quality, but it was better than nothing! Not by a long shot! But Momoko? That was MUCH harder to find, even though it was made in...what? 2003? I swear, these movies are more underrated than Dog of Flanders: My Patrasche! Well, after lots of hard searching, I finally found a RAW video of the movie My
Sister Momoko, or Momoko: Kaeru no Uta ga Kikoeru yo (Momoko Hears The Frog Song).
The story's about the Kuramoto twins, Riki and Momoko. Riki is your typical average boy who's energetic, not very good in school grades wise, and as healthy as he can be. Momoko is another story. I didn't quite hear or understand what she has (I found it RAW, with no subs), but she apparently is born with a lot of handicaps, one of which makes her head constantly fall to one side, as you can see. She's thin to the point of looking like a stick figure, has to wear one of those oxygen things up her nose (what the heck are those called again?), and she has to go to a school for the handicapped. Plus, she's shorter than Riki by a foot. Momoko hates the fact that Riki can go to a normal school and she can't, but she calms down when she hears her favorite song about frogs. She watches Riki play dodge ball against another class's team and cheers him on, which makes Riki win! But one of the boys on the opposite team, Ryuji, insults Riki by saying mean things about Momoko, which sets Riki off. But what happens when Momoko gets to go to Riki's school as part of an experiment in integrated education? Will she be able to survive, or will some school bullies gain the upper hand in the school social hiearchy? And how will adults handle this new move?
Unlike Happy Birthday, Momoko was made in 2003 and, unsurprisingly enough, has better animation compared to the former, though it still has its small hiccups. I think some of those hiccups were intentional since the movie's about disabled kids and all, so I can let it slide. Speaking of disabled kids, yes, this is the SECOND movie I found that shows ACTUAL DISABLED KIDS!!! YAY!!! Thank God, another movie that proves that nobody's physically or mentally perfect! Seriously, the more new anime that come out, the more and more I notice that it seems Japan has some sort of complex against showing people with little deficiencies here and there, like being fat or having braces or acne or all that jazz! Seriously! What the heck? Also, the music isn't really memorable, like Happy Birthday's. Some nice little tunes here and there, and they fit the show, but they're not exactly mind blowing. I don't really mind, though I do think the frog song is a bit weird. THANKFULLY this show has MUCH BETTER sound quality than Happy Birthday, so I'll give it credit for that too.
Oh God, the characters again! Seriously, also like Happy Birthday, the characters are what make this movie awesome. Riki's your perfectly realistic and average 5th grade schoolboy. He likes sports, doesn't do well in school, and can be a bit of a brat sometimes, but don't all boys act that way? Plus he has a hard time dealing with Momoko's disability and even thinks at one point that his parents prefer Momoko over him. Don't we all have similar feelings like his? Don't we all feel a little bit jealous at one point in our lives? It's really not all that uncommon. Momoko is just awesome just for being herself. She's disabled, yet she still wants to live and be a normal girl despite her setbacks (though I have to admit I did find her little waterworks moments rather annoying, but that's just because I'm kinda sensitive to little kids crying. The noise hurts my ears). She can talk and walk and just be a little girl. Seriously, don't you just want to hug her? But then again, she's OH SO UNGODLY thin, she might break! You also have to give the creators credit for making Ryuji into a respectable character as well. He's not big and fat and bulky like your typical school bully. He's actually quite thin and civilized-looking, and while he does start off rather mean at first, his development throughout the movie is just pure cinematic gold. The other characters are great too, even the side characters (like Riki and Momoko's parents, classmates, and Ryuji's father).
Also like Happy Birthday, Momoko focuses on the treatment of others who are different, tolerance, friendship, living, and healing. Unlike Happy Birthday, this isn't a story about child abuse (Oh God, if this was what Momoko would be about if something like that actually happened, then I'd cry buckets!). But they do share the same morals and messages. Life is short and painful, but it's important to keep living, even when the odds are stacked against you. I seriously wish movies like this were made more in this day and age! We're so sick and tired of all the moe crap that's being thrown at us like garbage!!! And yes, I cried at the ending.
If I had to choose between this and Happy Birthday, for me, Happy Birthday seems to win. Oh no, I'm not saying Momoko's inferior to it. Momoko is awesome for being what it is, but Happy Birthday had a slightly greater impact on me. But Momoko is still a wonderful, adorable, and gut wrenchingly sad movie that I wouldn't mind showing to anyone I knew! Now if only someone would sub or license these already!!!
“I also cry a lot at school. But Ms. Ushizawa says that crying and laughing a lot shows that we're alive.”
When I was a child, there was a young man in my primary class at church who had cerebral palsy. I never sat next to him, I never talked to him or his family, but he was always there at the end of the front row in his wheelchair, smiling and attempting to sing along. I remember the day the teachers announced proudly he had gone on his first date (as he was sixteen at the time), and he tried to tell us through his
smile how it went. But I at the time didn't appreciate what his presence meant to us, as I alongside a few other children didn't have too many nice thoughts about him. He was the only other person I knew with a disability until I was ten when my brother at the age of three suffered a brain injury, and then a couple of years later, my other younger brother (just before the youngest was born) was diagnosed with autism.
Society is not kind to those with disabilities—physical, mental, or a combination of both. It's better now than it was ten/twenty years ago, and sure as hell better than a century ago, but there's still a long ways to go as long as selfishness and hard hearts exist. Yes, it IS difficult to take care of those who need help 24/7, but that's an obstacle that can easily overshadow them who are still people, but trapped in a body that's barely functioning as-is. Learning this as children makes it easier to love and care for the unfortunate who continue to smile every day despite their handicap.
“My Sister Momoko” is a great example of what it means to love and smile, as told through the eyes of nine-year-old Riki whose twin sister, the titular Momoko, suffers from an unnamed disability that's rendered her physically and mentally underdeveloped. Despite the hardships he and his family go through every day, her smiles and innocent countenance bring just as much happiness to them. They are more blessed than others who go through similar ordeals as revealed in the circle of mothers with their own more-severely disabled children, and it's Riki who learns this as much as his parents.
It's not just Riki, it's also his peers who learn to care and even love Momoko when she graces their company with her smiles and encouragement to her big brother. The one who goes through more development is Ryuuji, whose strict father demands he study long and hard to become the best of the best, as “only the strong come out on top in today's world”. Hesitant as he is, he's the one who's the most cold toward Momoko joining the class though he takes it out mostly on Riki whose own struggles causes him to waver in his love toward his sister.
It's almost hard to believe this was animated in 2003, as the style is reminiscent of the 90s (well, maybe the 80s as it made me think of “Barefoot Gen”, honestly), and is a little cheap-looking to boot. There's some off-model moments here in there (mostly in the face), but I have to give them praise for how Momoko is portrayed. It's rare to see a physically-disabled character in animation, and her frail physique and the way she supports her head on a shoulder is unique in that aspect. So many things could've gone wrong in animating her and keeping her consistent, but she works well with her environment, limitations and all. She also stands out in that she's the only special needs child who is able to walk around and even talk, which also means she gets the most attention—justified, as she's the main character, and the other disabled children have their needed screentime whenever we see her school or them on a field trip.
When it comes to voice-acting, again, Momoko stands out the most, and Kurumi Mamiya did a wonderful job. I imagine recording this movie was emotionally draining for many people involved, to be on point with emotions where appropriate must have been some form of catharsis. I'm no voice actor in the slightest, so I can only guess what goes on in those sound booths for projects like this and the amount of time and numerous takes needed to get it just right. I secretly wish this had gotten a dub somehow, but who knows if that dub would've hit all the right notes in a movie that can't afford slip ups that would risk ruining the mood. I want to be optimistic in that whoever would've dubbed it would've given their all much like the original dub, but alas, it's just a pipe dream at this point. Given its obscurity and age, I doubt anyone will pick this up at this point despite its relevance. At the very least, the English fansub did a great job, and I thank them for bringing this to light at long last.
This little film was hard to watch sometimes as it brought back a lot of bittersweet memories, and my youngest brother (who's more severely-autistic than the other two) was constantly on my mind watching Momoko. I still think about that young man and wonder where he is today, if he's still alive, or if his work is done and he's finally passed on. I also still think about the other children I've met in my lifetime from middle school-on who had disabilities, and with some of them, I regret not being kind enough to become friends with them. My heart goes out to those families who struggle to raise their children in a world that looks down on them, who deep down wants to be rid of the burden, but love keeps them going. It may never get better on an outward appearance, but it's better to learn and grow to be caring and nurturing toward these poor, yet happy souls than not at all. Personal experience made sure of that.
It's been slowly picking up, but until the day comes when a children's show/movie is able to portray disabilities without being ham-fisted, prejudiced, biased, or anything that could be harmful or just "passable", "My Sister Momoko" will be that diamond in the rough that doesn't try to fix the world all at once as it knows its limits, but is still positive in its message. The experience is different for each person, so if it doesn't affect you on a personal level or make you tear up, it's fine since it's meant to raise awareness, but hopefully on a positive level than negative.
Youth, simultaneously innocent and cruel, but endlessly perseverent. This is the story of twins, born two months prematurely: Riki and Momoko, both named for the blossoming plum tree's perseverence in winter by their father, who wa inspired by the sight of it in bloom.
Despite a slow frame-rate and some sub-standard voice acting, this is a movie will surely move those who have suffered for being different, felt embarrassed (and later regretted feeling that way) by a relative who is not what society considers "normal," and for those who remember how difficult childhood can often be. The children are nine, they're still easily influenced, as shown
by how quickly many of Riki's classmates grow to accept Momoko after steps have been taken to integrate her, but the darker side of this easily-influenced and malleable nature is also shown in the bullying Ryuuji, an overachiever whose father is cold-hearted and success-oriented. Momoko is innocent and childlike, moreso than the others, having a younger mental age and a pure, almost angelic nature--
Although the characters initially feel like cliches, they are well-written and given enough time, they will show their hidden depths and human fears. There are hints even from the earliest scenes that the children have more to them. The bully is not mean and spiteful for the sake of being mean and spiteful (pay attention to what angers him most in each scene he lashes out, what he attacks and mocks, you will quickly figure out his issue). Momoko is not constantly cheerful and giving simply by nature, and Riki suffers the whole range of emotions that come from being both a third caregiver and child at once. The plot is simple and rather predictable, but there are some sweet turns and plenty of charming scenes where you will grow to love the characters.
It's not trying to be new and innovative in its story, but it succeeds in portraying the everyday lives of children, building an emotional connection with the audience, and creating mood.
Momoko's perseverence and insistence on doing things on her own or at least trying to, rather than being coddled by everyone around her, is also rather unique in anime heroines and I appreciated her resilient spirit. Her mental handicap may have her struggling with reading and speaking with a babyish lilt, but her emotional intelligence is high. She understands the other disabled children perhaps even better than their own mothers.
The art is simple, sweet, and easy on the eyes, although in terms of animation, the frame rate is somewhat slow and the animation can be choppy at times (most notably when Riki starts crying in the principle's office, it almost seems as if some transitional frames had been skipped?). But it's overall easy on the eyes and the character designs are good, fairly realistic (no outlandish hairstyles or naturally pastel-coloured hair here!) fitting such a realistic, down-to-earth story. I was particularly impressed by the way Momoko's body was drawn, her legs and arms are drawn and thin. They certainly look like someone suffering from muscular atrophy (although in Momoko's case, they simply stopped growing, making her overall much smaller than her twin brother). The animation is consistent about her physical limitations and does a good job of conveying difficulties she has in moving, particularly when she tries to run a race.
The backgrounds are quite lovely! Flowers feature prominently, what with the central characters being named after a blossoming tree.
One of my only real issues with this film is the voice acting; Momoko is well portrayed, most characters are acceptable, Riki has some issues in the earliest scenes, but is otherwise alright...
But Ryuuji, the bully, is quite stilted. It lessens some of the impact of some of his scenes, unfortunately, but the animation and music help convey the tone even if his seiyuu's bland performance leaves the viewer confused. It's fitting, then, that his most poignant scene does not rely on words at all.
This film might not be groundbreaking, but it doesn't have to be-- it simply chose to tell a poignant, sentimental, but honest story that isn't often told in animation, and did it well enough to leave one weeping.