Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below

30 Nov

Makoto Shinkai is one of the most impressive directors to come out of the Japanese animation industry in recent years. He stunned audiences with the poetic beauty of The Place Promised in Our Early Days and 5 Centimeters Per Second and was dubbed “the new Miyazaki” by some. Unfortunately, Shinkai’s latest (and longest) work, Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below is something of a disappointment. The film’s flaws lie in the narrative which follows Asuna, a lonely young girl who falls in love with Shun, a boy from Agartha. When Shun dies, Asuna travels to the underground world of Agartha, with her teacher Mr. Morisaki who believes that the underworld will allow him to bring his wife back from the dead, to overcome her loss.

The period of time the film spends on the relationship between Asuna and Shun is not long enough for Asuna’s heartbreak, the spring from which the film launches, to be convincing. Shinkai reminds us of the relationship by illustrating Asuna’s attachment to the cat Mimi, which reminds her of her time with Shun but when the only way you believe in the relationship is through symbolism then the film is on wobbly foundations indeed. Certain moments in the film are actually moving but the majority of them belong to the character of Mr. Morisaki – his relationship with his wife is detailed in flashbacks and his desperate journey to bring her back to life and fill the hole left in his heart is genuinely heart-wrenching.

Shinkai has an evident love of the natural world and it shows in this film where nearly every frame showcases its beauty. The night sky is animated so awesomely that it seems likely that’s how Van Gogh’s Starry Night would look if he was around to paint it today. Lush, vivid colours are used throughout the film, most impressively with plant life where the attention to detail is laudable. The sheer beauty of the film occasionally distracts from what is actually going on which can have the effect of covering up the failings of the narrative, making the film an overall enjoyable experience.

Shinkai’s third feature film is good but not good enough to live up to the promise that his two previous works propagated. During the film I wondered if he took the comparisons to Miyazaki seriously enough that he went down the path of making a Miyazaki-esque film. The film certainly seems heavily inspired by Miyazaki, specifically Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke and some designs even reminded me of Goro Miyazaki’s Tales from Earthsea. The too-short but still sweet opening which revolved around Asuna and Shun seemed like a vignette similar to those from Shinkai’s previous work, 5 Centimeters Per Second but trying to develop it into a two-hour film seemed to be a mountain too difficult for Shinkai to scale.

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