Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are household names when it comes to Japanese anime and animated films in general. They have always managed to capture the essence of Japanese folklore-ish tales around a very thoughtful spirit. It is no secret that I am a fan of Miyazaki and his creations. It would be easy to say that there would come other directors who seek to follow in Studio Ghibli’s footsteps, and one such director is Makoto Shinkai who grew up loving Miyazaki’s creations. Following his “5 Centimeters per Second” and “The Place Promised in our Early Days”, Shinkai’s “Children Who Chase Lost Voices” is his longest animated feature and may have just as well been made by Studio Ghibli. The style, the character designs and set pieces appear to mimic Ghibli’s other works such as “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Nausicaa“. Still, Shinkai does not appear to be a minor copycat, and he finds his own set of uniqueness that made this film stand out.
Like many of Ghibli’s creations, the heroine of this film is a young girl named Asuna (Hisako Kanemoto) whose mother works long hours that she often fends for herself. She goes to school, does her own cooking and laundry and one thing she always does is go to the top of the mountain, using a radio to listen to music with a crystal-like stone as a conduit. This is Asuna’s routine until she encounters a huge creature along the train tracks and meets a young boy named Shun (Miyu Irino) who saves her from the creature of magic. Things begin to change around her life, as Asuna now finds herself wondering, and she goes about her daily routine, meeting a new teacher named Morisaki (Kazuhiko Inoue) who shares a story about resurrecting the dead. But it seems like that story can become much closer to reality, and she now finds herself in a very unusual situation with Morisaki who seeks to enter a hidden world that her only hope may lie with Shun’s brother Shin (Miyu Irino).
I have often said that Asian movies often ask you the motivation rather than spoon-feed you its motivations. Such is the way the narrative of this film, it is rather a slow burn as the world of Agartha becomes revealed for its viewer. Shinkai who also wrote the screenplay brings forth several themes that go around Japanese folklore as well as adding some devices that may have been inspired by the ancient myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. It is about a distraught man who sought to resurrect his dead wife. One could easily see the themes of the film, even as the plot becomes developed, the world of the Agartha becomes even more revealed, creatures of the night called the Izoku stalk those who are children of both the human world and this world of magic. Guardians of the gate called Quetzelcoatl also come into play, and the certain areas of this mystical land have similarities to the world of Tartarus, something Shinkai obviously wanted to emphasize. It was a subtle way to communicate just how mythology from different cultures can often come under a common ground.
At its heart, “Children Who Chase Lost Voices” is a film that attempt to define the pain of the loss of a loved one as represented by the Morisaki character. He was an adult when he lost his wife, and as such he feels every bit of the pain that such a loss would come from. Asuna is a young girl whose father had passed on before she even reached maturity. As such, she never felt such pain and perhaps this makes her wonder. Such young innocence often find a way to shut out such feelings since they Asuna was probably too young to know her father well. Asuna’s involvement in Morisaki’s goals may have been born more out of curiosity and the hope that Shun is actually Shin in disguise. It is for Asuna to find out about the meaning of a loss, and this film may be seen a something that brings her ‘to age’. Shin is the one character that seems to operate within his own set of rules. He listens to his heart and acts on them, whether his heart causes him to rebel against established rules, he would do what he sees as ‘right’.
The film is exquisitely animated. The set pieces are fantastic; from the details of a simple fan, to the landscapes, wooden textures and the things in the house, the work was superb. I found it curious that the colors appear to be a little restrained, they weren’t as bright as I would’ve usually expected from a film like this. There is just something that feels melancholic to the atmosphere of the film. The beauty of its designs have that look that exudes irony that complements its narrative. The film also has its scenes of exciting chases and fights, that the film also comes forth with a more adventure-like tempo.
Be that as it may, the film is not perfect. The film did suffer a little bit when it comes to pacing. I thought that the film could’ve been edited better. It also misses on some areas, I know the intentions were probably to define the characters along with the world of Agartha, but I saw several missed opportunities that could’ve made the film much more stronger. It leaves several questions unanswered, and as gorgeous as the film looked, that it was easy to be enchanted by its production values, some parts of the script were a little cumbersome.
Still, Shinkai’s “Children Who Chase Lost Voices” is a good film that contains adventure, romance, action and tragedy that proved to be a fine anime piece of work. It certainly deserved all the accolades it had received, and despite it feeling a little too much on the Studio Ghibli side, that isn’t really a bad thing. It had a simple story whose rewards come from its journey. It casts an enchanting spell that is sure to grab anime fans. There are still anime storytellers out in Japan who believe that the magic of anime comes from a compelling story, and that computer generated effects are not needed to enthrall an audience. Makoto Shinkai may be no Hayao Miyazaki, but his heart certainly is at the right place.
Highly Recommended! [4 Out of 5 Stars]
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