Genre: Drama / Sci-Fi
Version reviewed: Japanese, Subtitled
Date of Review: 18 Jun 2014
Makoto Shinkai’s second major work – and first feature-length – continues the theme he began exploring in Voices of a Distant Star, this time augmented by a full staff.
In an alternate present day (now recent past) where Japan was split into two countries in 1974, in the southern nation, middle-school friends Hiroki, Takuya, and Sayuri make a promise to visit a tower, in the now unfriendly northern country of Ezo (the former Hokkaido), which rises into the sky seemingly without limit and can be seen from afar. There, they hope to uncover its mysteries, but these plans are abandoned when Sayuri suddenly disappears, leaving Hiroki and Takuya to set out on their own separate paths. Fate would soon reunite them, however, and yet another mystery will need to be resolved if they are to fulfill their promise to each other.
The Place Promised in Our Early Days is Makoto Shinkai’s first feature-length work, and he puts the extra time and resources to good use in another examination of his theme of how distance can separate people. As for the story itself, I will not go into any further detail; it’s best just to see it for yourself. There are still some things to point out, however.
The pacing is not typical of many feature-length films. The scene is set through what seem at first to be almost unrelated events. Slowly, the connecting threads are revealed and the story becomes clear. The visual presentation itself shows incredible attention to detail. The most striking example to me was the depiction of reflections of light flittering across the walls and other metal structures inside of a moving train car. Tiny details such as this show the immense care taken in the visual aspect of the film.
I hesitate to go into further detail about this film since I feel it is best to just see it for yourself. Makoto Shinkai has very capably gone from the virtually one-man project Voices of a Distant Star to the more expansive The Place Promised in Our Early Days. What you’ll find here is a story which is gradually revealed and flows to a satisfying end, presented with attention to fine detail. It doesn’t try to follow conventions, as it is still a smaller project in the grand scheme of things. Some parts of the story are unexpected, but are incorporated well into the overall theme.
Some critics have hailed Makoto Shinkai as “the next Miyazaki”, and while surely a flattering remark, I think it’s also unfair. Shinkai’s work feels completely different than Miyazaki’s; the creations of both are certainly of high quality, but The Place Promised in Our Early Days is not the next Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. That’s not belittling Early Days; it’s just comparing apples and oranges. That said, Makoto Shinkai has certainly carved out his own niche in the anime landscape, and it’s one definitely worth checking out.