“Violet Evergarden: The Movie” is a film about survival and healing, made by people who know much about both.
The film’s very existence is a small miracle. It was in production at Kyoto Animation when the studio was attacked by an arsonist on July 18, 2019. The film was delayed, but not canceled, as the studio and its staff dedicated themselves to its production. It was first rescheduled from January to April, only to be delayed again due to COVID-19 before finally being released last week.
The protagonist, Violet Evergarden (Yui Ishikawa), is a survivor herself. First introduced in the 2018 animated series of the same name, Violet was raised as an emotionless killing machine, deployed to brutal effect in a war between two fictional countries. After the war ends, Violet discovers her humanity by working as an Auto Memory Doll, a ghostwriter helping compose letters for various clients. Working with these clients helps Violet connect to the emotions denied her as a young soldier and to finally understand the dying words of her superior officer, Gilbert Bougainvillea (Daisuke Namikawa) in his last moments on the battlefield: “I love you.”
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||140 min.|
But were they really his dying words? Throughout the series, Violet holds out hope that he may be alive somewhere. “Violet Evergarden: The Movie” provides the answer.
The film begins and ends with a framing story that takes place generations after the events of the series, as the great-granddaughter of one of Violet’s clients happens upon the letters Violet and her ancestor composed together.
The clock then turns back to Violet and her letter-writing compatriots. Violet, who has become one of the nation’s most sought-after Auto Memory Dolls, takes a pro bono job from a young man who doesn’t have long to live and who wants to leave his family letters to be read after his death. Meanwhile, Violet receives a clue that Gilbert may be alive. The real drama isn’t about whether he survived — it’s about whether the two war-scarred souls can still connect.
What happens in the end isn’t much of a surprise. The film doesn’t seem interested in introducing new twists and turns to the “Violet Evergarden” story: Even the subplot about the sick young man is basically a rehash of one of the episodes of the series. Nor is it concerned with finding new viewers: Though it features a few flashbacks, it’s definitely better viewed after finishing the series. Ultimately, it serves as a coda, tying up loose ends and allowing fans to luxuriate in its exquisitely animated world a little longer.
“Longer” is the operative word. The film clocks in at well over two hours, and it takes about 30 minutes before the main thrust of the plot becomes clear. I doubt fans will mind. There are pieces, such as the flash-forward framing device, that may feel superfluous with time. But right now, every minute feels precious. In the time since the Kyoto Animation arson, the COVID-19 pandemic has given us all our own scars. A film that delicately deals with the emotional connections between people — both living and dead — and how survivors heal and grow after trauma, seems perfectly suited for this moment.