Whoever would have thought that the director behind the gloomy and dark JIN-ROH: THE WOLF BRIGADE could turn out such a lovely, heartwarming, and sometimes funny animated delight? As it turned out, though, this was a movie that director Hiroyuki Okiura had always wanted to make. More than seven years in development, A LETTER TO MOMO is gorgeous to look at -- richly painted backdrops providing a peaceful Japanese island inhabited by friendly folks, youths who dive off bridges, and festivals involving straw boats. Better still is the storyline, which, although familiar at times, is told with an honesty and sincerity which makes one wonder if Okiura had been taking lessons from Hayao Miyazaki's MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO. As with that movie, this story deals with a girl who encounters unusual creatures and takes a surprisingly melancholy turn in its second half. The stakes are darker here, though; introverted teenager Momo has recently lost her father after a falling out, with only an incomplete letter left from him. When Momo moves with her sickly mom to Shio Island, she is mortified to discover three gluttonous (and goofy) goblins haunting her attic. One looks very amphibian-like, another like Gollum, while the largest (and strongest) one looks like an ogre. These ghosts cannot be seen by grown-ups and harbor magic powers. Some may be put off by the slow pace of the story, but anyone else should enjoy this one. I highly recommend it, both for animation buffs and watchers of sincere family drama. The dubbing by NYAV Post is outstanding, as well, with young Amanda Pace turning in a fantastic performance as Momo in her acting debut and great support from veterans such as Stephanie Sheh and Bob Bergen.