This review is not intended as the final word on this film -- but primarily just a quick note to say that reviews making comparisons with Miyazaki should not mislead you into thinking this film will be as well-appreciated or understood by children as Miyazaki's films. Obviously, there are several fans of anime who love this film, and I can see some of the reasons why. I got this film, though, mostly for my children who love everything they have seen from Studio Ghibli, and did so on the strength of comparisons in the reviews posted here and elsewhere with the work of Miyazaki. As it turned out, though, my kids became quite bored halfway through this film and lost interest in seeing it to the end. I kept it on, but found myself drifting a bit as well.
The visuals were stunning -- as good as any I have seen in animation. I also thought the story held promise and was overall touching, but also suffered from what seemed to me to be contradictory aims. On the one hand, the filmmakers seemed to want a simple story about childhood friendships and dreams, that can be lost sight of for a time but possibly recaptured. On the other hand, the filmmakers wanted a strong science fiction premise that explored the possibility of alternate realities. I don't think either aspect worked as well as it could have. The plot is not really, though, the main problem that I saw with this film; I think it had more to do with a feeling that the characters never felt to me as if they had been brought to life. Some of the early sequences reminded me of the simple evocations of childhood and wonder found in Studio Ghibli's "Whisper of the Heart" -- but what carried that movie all the way through was the personalities and overall interest of the characters. By contrast, I never felt very connected to the characters in this film, and my children didn't either. My children's response to the film did not seem to have as much to do with the complicated storyline as its failure to create truly memorable and likeable characters. Shinkai is a talented artist who creates beautiful and inspiring images, and I will certainly keep an eye out for his future films -- I hope that in the future he can collaborate with a storyteller who can help him bring his stories to life through the characters.
Makoto Shinkai's The Place Promised in Our Early Days takes place in the late 1990s in Japan in an alternate timeline. The story follows two boys (Hiroki and Takuya) who both like the same girl (Sayuri). At the beginning of the film, they areall 8th grade students. The boys find the remains of a drone plane, which they have named the Bella Ciela. They take part-time jobs at a factory, where their boss helps them scrounge for spare parts to rebuild the drone plane. The boys promise Sayuri that after … more
Makoto Shinkai made an impressive debut as a writer-director inVoices of a Distant Star(OVA, 2002);The Place Promised in Our Early Days(OVA, 2004) is his first studio work. In this alternate world, Japan was divided after World War II: Hokkaido, renamed "Ezo," belongs to "the Union;" the rest of archipelago is an American dependency. Ezo is dominated by the Union Tower, a seemingly topless needle. Middle school students Hiroki and Takuya dream of visiting the Tower, and start building an airplane. They're joined by Sayuri, who nurtures a crush on Hiroki. As the characters move into high school, Sayuri falls into a coma. Hiroki and Takuya learn that her dreams are linked to the Tower and to experiments in contacting parallel universes. Shinkai fills the screen with sun-drenched landscapes that recall the films of Hayao Miyazaki, but the story rambles and falters. Although his understated style is often effective, Shinkai needs to learn to pace a longer work. The narrative often feels choppy, and the ending weak. Serious anime fans will want to watch the progress of this talented young director. (Unrated, suitable for ages 13 and older: alcohol and tobacco use, minor violence)--Charles Solomon