a.k.a. Beyond the Clouds, the Promised Place
a.k.a. Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho
Following World War II, Japan was divided into two halves. On the northern half, an enormous tower was erected and loomed across the horizon for all to see. On the southern half, three teenagers (Hiroki, Takuya and Sayuri) pledged to build a plane and one day fly to the tower. But there is more to this ominous beacon in the sky than they first imagined, and its power would threaten to break that promise made in their early days.
summary by Kain
Highs: Warm, Impressionist artwork; successful use of themes; heartbreaking music selection
Lows: Dabbles too often in inconsequential techno-babble
Had you told me a decade ago that one man and his computer would become the greatest director of anime’s new age, I would have surely chortled with great mirth at such a preposterous notion. Needless to say, Shinkai Makoto has exceeded all expectations and through sheer will has catapulted himself to the pantheon of the anime industry.
Shinkai is a master of conveying loneliness without making it dull. Through rather unconventional camera angles and object placement, every scene in this movie carries a certain heft that successfully portrays negative space. It’s because of these techniques, first dabbled in She and Her Cat and perfected in Voices of a Distant Star, that the audience is immensely aware of the loneliness that the characters feel. Alas, Shinkai doesn’t just treat this loneliness as a cold, empty void, but also at times as an inviting solitude, a respite from the hustle and bustle of civilization. Scenes are transitioned through the use of “pillow shots,” tranquil glimpses of random objects. This manner of segue has been implemented with equal success in Grave of the Fireflies.
The themes are carried by the concept of reduction. Any staunch minimalist will appreciate the soft, watercolor backgrounds that harken to the days of Impressionism. The clouds especially are drawn in a simple, muted and floaty style. The music is equally as minimalistic with its stirring violin lead.
The Place Promised in Our Early Days is yet another beautiful, emotional anime that only falls short of the best due to an unnecessary amount of scientific explanation. This anime only utilizes science fiction as a catalyst on which the characters progress through the story. And oh what a magnificent story it is!
Highs: Complex characters; beautiful music and artwork
Lows: Excessive use of the sci-fi element
Shinkai Makoto seems to be destined to become the most influential figure in anime for decades to come. Like Takahata Isao and Miyazaki Hayao before him, Shinkai decided to go independent. He left the lucrative world of video games behind in the process, allowing him the liberty to create his own stories. Just like how Miyazaki loves to use characters to portray that transition from childhood innocence to adolescent self-awareness, Shinkai has made the transition from teenage insecurity and isolation to adulthood his realm. This theme is portrayed accurately here.
Even though romance is the main catalyst of the story, what really makes this movie unique is that quiet introspection the main character goes through, narrating events as he views them and giving us insight into his thought processes. It is also different because we get to see characters mature to the point of surprising us with their decisions as time goes by. This shows us that time and circumstances do change people, sometimes to the point of making them someone completely different from how we thought we knew them. When comparing this movie to Shinkai’s earlier creation, Voices of a Distant Star, one can’t help but notice a distinctive development of his skills as a director. Even though he likes to keep control of almost every aspect of his work, this time around he surrendered the task of character designs and animation direction to Tazawa Ushio. He also asked for the assistance of Tanji Takumi to create those lovely, minimalist backgrounds. Allowing others to share his vision has proven to be the best of decisions, as this anime is much improved over Voices of a Distant Star; the backgrounds look impressive, the character designs are more lively and expressive and the fluidity of the animation is light years better.
If there is anything that detracts from the experience, it has to be the science fiction element that is included to give the characters theirraison d’être. While not being the focal point or even used in a prominent manner, it remains complex enough to make some people pause and try to recall what a particular tech word meant. Given the richness of the story, those pauses can become a real nuisance as the mind can wonder off for a few seconds, and important details can be missed. Nevertheless, because they are not prominent nor take much time, this is but a minor fault and should not be a big issue.
I’m almost willing to bet that a few years down the road, we will think of this movie in the same way people think of Castle in the Sky for Miyazaki Hayao and company as their second major release. Some will love it and some will not, but no one will dispute the quality of the film or the passion and vision of the people behind it. Anybody who loves a good story, animated or not, should watch this, as it does indeed deliver on the promise made by all the awards it won.
Highs: Artwork that dabbles with perfection; engaging story; innovative sci-fi element
Lows: Sayuri; underplayed initial romantic setup; a bit heavy on the techno-babble
Makoto Shinkai never fails to impress me. I find it amazing how he can express the depth of a character or story or the beauty of the world they inhabit with (sometimes literally) only the mere minimal of what’s required.
The first thing one notices about this anime is the art style. The use of muted colors and tones are over-powered by the excellent use of light; it brings a subtle beauty to even the most mundane of moments. Time of day, temperature, humidity, you’re not just seeing the setting, you’re feeling it. The animation is very cinematic. It uses angles and cuts not normally seen in animation that really add an oomph to particular scenes. Accompanying this is a soundtrack of similar description. It’s subtle and elegant and enhances the mood without being obtrusive.
The story itself is Makoto’s most complicated yet. The characters are woven into an international environment of growing intensity, and the story surrounding the mysterious tower, the science behind it and its link to Sayuri, Takuya and Hiroki is one of the most absorbing I’ve experienced in quite a while. I do admit that I had to rewind and go over some of the more technical explanations, but when it shows such innovation, it’s worth a little clarification. The core of this story, however, lies in the characters. Takuya and Hiroki’s moments of introspection are heart-aching as it gives insight into how insignificant or bitterly lonely they feel they are. As time goes by they mature in different and surprising ways, and it’s rewarding when it reflects in their actions. I wish I could say the same for Sayuri though.
This anime has the same problem Voices of a Distant Star had in that the initial romantic set-up should have been given more time. While the friendship between Takuya and Hiroki was believable, why they felt Sayuri was that special to them was really a little lost on me. Sure, it did show them hanging out together and she’s very sweet and pretty, but what made Sayuri so unique and influential wasn’t exemplified nearly enough. This was important because her role and influence played a major deciding factor in how Takuya and Hiroki viewed themselves and how they shaped their own future. Because she wasn’t given the depth or introspection the other two leads received, it cheapened the experience. Sayuri just ended up as a damsel in distress waiting for her knight in shining armor to rescue her from her tower.
As a sci-fi, The Place Promised in our Early Days excels. As an examination of the move from adolescence to adulthood, it’s exceptional. Sadly, as a romance (which this anime ultimately is), it flounders. Even so, Makoto Shinkai has still written and directed a rich story matched with an aesthetic quality that rivals the best.
The Place Promised in our Early Days can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.