Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Place Promised in Our Early Days

Makoto Shinkai's second film is quite a bit more ambitious than his first, Voices of a Distant Star. It would kind of have to be, being more than three times as long and a full studio production rather that being animated mostly by himself at his home. Like that first film, it combines elements of heady since fiction with the pain of growing up and being apart from the ones you love. I have to admit that people too young to vote having access to all this highly advanced technology is still a bit of a silly cliché with many anime, but if you can get past it it's a pretty interesting story.

The whole backstory of the situation is only really explained through snippets of news broadcasts, so you have to pay attention to really understand it. It takes place in an alternate history, where Japan split politically between north and south, with the south protected by the United States and the north by the "Union". The Union has built a giant tower in the northern island, and the two main characters begin the story as students who work as engineers in its shadow. One year they become friends with a girl, but during the summer she disappears and they go their separate ways.

It then jumps forward in time, and focuses less on character and more on some of its crazy ideas. There's war looming, and small steps into parallel universes, and somehow the girl is in a sleep state that's tied to the tower. It's seems alternately torn between ideas of science and mysticism, but it's all held together by the emotional connection between the three characters. They could have gone too far with it, but I thought the balance between melodrama and acceptable believability held pretty well, and it keeps the center of the movie strong.

I think probably its biggest asset is the look. The film is filled with beautiful scenery and animation, not overly flashy but just a pleasure to look at for the full ninety minutes, which certainly makes watching it easier. I also liked the soundtrack, which is very understated but effective when necessary. The story itself wasn't perfect, but it was fully satisfactory, and manages to combine the two separate elements of science fiction and drama very well. The ending was nice if bittersweet, and I'm definitely interested in checking out Shinkai's next movie, which seems to deal with the same subjects.

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