REVIEW: 岬のマヨイガ [Misaki no Mayoiga] [The House of the Lost on the Cape] [2021]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 100 minutes
    Release Date: August 27th, 2021 (Japan) / September 7th, 2022 (USA)
    Studio: Aniplex / Eleven Arts
    Director(s): Shin’ya Kawatsura
    Writer(s): Reiko Yoshida / Sachiko Kashiwaba (novel)

In times of yore …

The Tōhoku earthquake has left Yui’s (Mana Ashida) small town all but destroyed. Since every house seems to have a lone survivor to lament their loss and wonder what to do next, it’s no wonder that an ancient evil spirit escaped from its prison beneath the water to try and feed on their grief, force them to leave, and take control so it can grow and expand exponentially until all humanity is destroyed. Yui and young Hiyori (Sari Awano) are two such souls wandering the streets aimlessly as they confront the reality of their current situations. With nowhere to go and people asking questions about how to best deal with them, a kindly old woman (Shinobu Ôtake‘s Kiwa) inexplicably arrives to adopt them as her own.

She takes them on a journey to a house at the edge of town. It’s not necessarily her home to give, but a home she’s allowed to take, nonetheless. That’s the purpose of the mythical Mayoiga. They exist to be found by those in desperate need and serve each new inhabitant with unmatched “hospitality and good fortune.” The spirits that reside within provide everything these three women could need from food and shelter to safety and luck. Because ever since they’ve arrived, they’ve found themselves wanting for nothing. Yui needed transportation and someone gifts her a motorbike and job. Hiyori needed companionship (she’s been mute since her parents died) and fate gives her a family and friends. The stronger Red-Eyes grows, however, the more fleeting this happiness becomes.

Don’t therefore be surprised that the first half of Shin’ya Kawatsura‘s Misaki no Mayoiga [The House of the Lost on the Cape] feels as though it could have simply been a live action film. Based on the novel by Sachiko Kashiwaba and adapted by Reiko Yoshida, the story proves very grounded as it introduces its lead trio and the hardships they have faced. Yui’s home life was a nightmare before the earthquake—her father an emotionally abusive man who blamed her for all their misfortune. Hiyori was orphaned before the disaster and made to live with relatives who perished in it. If not for Kiwa, they both would have either been lost as vagabonds or pushed into the system for fostering and/or adoption. Her unconditional kindness saves them.

Yui is obviously skeptical as a result, remembering all those children’s tales starring witches who fatten up orphaned children to inevitably feed on them for sustenance. She doesn’t believe she could be so lucky as to have found someone who proves the exact opposite of the only guardian she had ever known, and it doesn’t take much to trigger her back to that hellish headspace the instant something feels amiss. The same goes for Hiyori. An upcoming seasonal celebration’s rehearsal with a classmate whisks her mind back to the horror of her parents’ funeral. Their trauma threatens to consume them at any moment just like it does every other survivor of this monumental tragedy. So, without Kiwa’s support, Red-Eyes surely would have fed on their anguish first.

It’s this monster’s appearance—by way of tiny snake-like ghosts wrapping themselves around unsuspecting residents to make them see that which they miss the most and provoke each into leaving with them—that turns the film into a supernatural fantasy. Kiwa doesn’t just know about the Mayoiga. She knows about all fantastical beings to point where she can call on them with a prayer and they will come. Talk about an eye-opening experience waking up to find River Kappa in your front yard discussing how best to confront the potential that Red-Eyes is no longer in his kiln prison. That Yui agrees to cook them all dinner rather than run away just goes to prove how much trust Kiwa has earned and how comfortable life here has become.

Everything ultimately leads to the inevitable choice of moving on for the family you have now or staying imprisoned by the memories of the one that’s gone. Both Yui and Hiyori will need to decide and, thankfully, they have the other to help steer them in the right direction. Because had they been alone like so many others in town, they’d take one look at Red-Eyes’ illusions and fall into his melancholy trance. That’s still a possibility even when they are together since their trauma isn’t the sort that one can simply brush off. It’s about the power of love battling against the abyss of despair. And despite their spirit friends’ assistance, the only way the former can win is to allow that love into their crying hearts.

The film is therefore about healing above all else—with a dash of mythologizing come true. Kiwa tells a few stories to better help the girls understand that there’s more than meets the eye (animated in a very rough and fluid style to contrast the otherwise familiar anime aesthetic of the whole) and each eventually finds its way bleeding into reality. One could say she proves a guardian of all lost souls who just so happens to be with these two when this fight for mankind’s preservation unfolds. And while she’d like to keep them safe and away from the danger since they’ve already faced enough, it’s no longer a one-way street. They’ll do anything to protect her too. Even if it means finally confronting their worst fears.

Kawatsura delivers a solid, heartwarming drama that balances the real world with the supernatural. We need to spend as much time as we do blind to the magic because Yui and Hiyori are raw nerves ready to flee at the first sign of trouble. They, like us, must ease into the surrealism. Trust Kiwa isn’t trying to eat them first and then decide whether Kappa are friendly enough to invite over for carbonara. Then we can progress quicker to the precipice where all bets are off as Red-Eyes prepares his final form. Everything is put on the table from ghost-like apparitions to talking stone shrines to the wonder of music as a shining light against evil’s shadow. And while brief, the final battle awakens our world’s newest protectors.

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