Nearly at my Top 10 of 2011, with just this and one other film that I am desperate to talk about. There maybe a little bit of fun before we get there, but what would this blog be without my long drawn out promises?
I have mentioned before how Anime is not a film genre that often excites me, but there are the odd exception, including the output of Studio Ghibli and the work of the creator of this film, Makoto Shinkai. Very much an auteur, each one of his works gets more interesting, and this one is no exception (and not just because of his fantastically long titles).
In “Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below” we meet a lonely young schoolgirl called Asuna. Now she is a hard working girl, class president, but has had to fend for herself after the early loss of her father, and continued absence of her Nurse Mother. She often likes to go up in the hills and listen to signals she picks up on her Crystal Radio set. One day she encounters a strange beast, and is saved by a mysterious young boy, whom she befriends. Sadly, one day the boy does not turn up for one of their meetings, and afterwards his body is found. At the same time a rather intense substitute Teacher, Morisaki, turns up, who intrigues her with tales of cross cultural myths about secret lands where people can rescue loved ones from the underworld. It turns out that not only is he not a real Teacher, but these are more than just stories, and together the find an entrance to a world underneath our own, Agartha. Asuna joins her Teacher in a quest to this world, encountering a magical but harsh world that is intent on keeping its secrets from those who live above. Asuna encounters her friends’ brother, as well as some less friendly figures, but will Morisaki’s desire to recover his decade long dead wife prove to be a quest that Asuna can survive unscathed?
The thing I have loved about all Shinkai’s work up to now, is that although he plays in the genre of Sci-Fi/Fantasy Anime, he is able to build up a realistic world that is nothing more than a backdrop for his characters. Yes we have a fantastical journey here in a mythical world, but that is merely his backdrop for examining relationships and real world issues such as loss of father figures, grief and being able to let go. Asuna is a really three dimensional young girl, full of joy and wonder, but also hiding a great pain. Morisaki is even more interesting, showing that although he is ostensibly the substitute father figure here, he has his own goals, and may not stop at anything to ensure they are met.
Not only that, but he is comfortable enough to drop various hints about certain events that he simply does not make a big deal about – for example, it is quite clear that Asuna’s late Father was from Agartha (the provenance of her Crystal, and hints about why she is so sought after by the creepiest inhabitants of this strange world), but it is never allowed to be investigated too deeply, and is something for the viewers to ponder about, the story remains true to its themes, not letting this detail get in the way.
The artwork is as beautiful as you would expect from a Shinkai piece, with the backgrounds deserving of the leisurely pace afforded to it, giving the audience time to examine the little details. The soundtrack is also lovely and unobtrusive.
I thought the ending was also a brave one, Morisaki does a selfish thing in the end, and he suffers for it physically. Shinkai does love to silently tie things up in the closing credits (as he did with “The Place Promised In Our Early Days”), giving us some closure, but not allowing it to interfere with the real story of interest – the growth and change afforded to our heroine.
This one is Highly Recommended – although it never quite reaches the heights of “5cm a Second”, it is an example of how good Anime can be. If you are looking to branch out a little in this Genre, and have enjoyed more mainstream works from Studio Ghibli, I think this would be a perfect next step – in some ways it is a much more accessible work than his previous two films, but could prove to be a gateway to looking at the work of a really interesting creator.