Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Place Promised in Our Early Days: Now why didn't I have one?

It’s been a while since I saw an anime that I’ve really enjoyed, one that would give me cause to pick up a wooden placard and preach about it to random people on the street like a raving, Armageddon-prophesying madman. Alright, I admit. I wouldn’t do that. That said, it did get me thinking about doing such a thing. Perhaps a simpler illustration would serve better: not since Code Geass have I been so impressed by anime. Nuff’ said, methinks.
Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho (雲のむこう、約束の場所/The Place Promised in our Early Days) is not a series, however. It’s also relatively old, having been released six years ago in 2004, so I really can’t use it as an example to point out that anime is not dying a slow, painful death (a debate that’s oh-so-cool to discuss at the moment).

It isn’t immediately clear when the movie takes place, but we eventually find out that it’s in an alternate timeline, where the Union (presumably the Soviets) is in occupation of Hokkaido, now named Ezo, while the rest of Japan is under the control of the Allies.

The story focuses on three youngsters living in Aomori- two boys, Hiroki and Takuya, who at first glance appear to be typical sweet-guy cum sports-jock and bespectacled clear-headed bookworm. At first glance, of course. There’s more to them than that- they’re also building an airplane to reach a strange tower built by the Soviets in Ezo.

Then there’s Sayuri- a name which I’ve always considered to be the polar opposite of Sadako (from Nakata Hideo’s Ringu)- a girl from the two boys class, who could probably be described as the ‘class Madonna’, loved and admired by all. She accidentally (in a sense) discovers the two boys plan and the three make a promise to fly to the tower together one day.

Things get messy when Sayuri disappears without saying a word. Hiroki and Takuya go their separate ways, the end of their near-perfect, innocent childhood. Takuya goes on to work at a government lab studying the tower, while Hiroki goes to a high school in Tokyo, miserable and depressed. I could go on yapping about the story and spilling every single bean there is to be spilled, but I guess I better stop with the synopsis. It’s been a while since I last hashed out a review and I’m out of practice. Anyway…

The tower thus becomes a sort of anchor for the three, despite their having gone different ways, and whatever their feelings regarding it. Like a sort of high school reunion, I suppose. Some can’t wait to go and meet up with everyone else, some just plain don’t care about it any more, and some dread the very thought of it. But for all of them, it marks a point in time to move forwards to. I don’t have something like that, so I really can’t tell which category I’d fall in. A mixture of all three, I suppose.

Like a Studio Ghibli movie, the music was lovely and played a key part in the story, filling up the silent gaps. It almost seems as if the most important parts of the movie are where nothing is said, or at least when music is being played, accompanied by speech. Scenes with nothing but speech seem like mere interludes, glue to hold the book together.

I suppose it’s not all that surprising that I felt myself connecting more easily with Hiroki than Takuya. I felt myself being sucked up into his depression- perhaps because I’m just easily swept off my feet, emotionally speaking. As for Takuya, despite him having a better grasp on the picture, I couldn’t really empathize with him, for some reason. I guess I always considered him to be a third party. Poor kid.

After three years apart, the three finally reunite, but they’re caught up in the middle of a war, and their relationship with each other, especially that of the two boys, is fragmented. Blast. I’ve gone back to writing a summary again, haven’t I? It’s probably time to call it quits for this one.

I don't really know what to say of this movie. It has a story that is simple but deep, has pleasant characters, a beautiful musical score. Come to think of it, it plays like an opera- not that I've ever seen one, but how I'd imagine an opera would flow. What else? Watch it. Three reasons to convince you. One, it had  me in tears (well, almost. It's melancholy, but it's no sob-fest).
Two, it has violins in it. Personally, I prefer the cello, but that's alright. A cello would have been much too... grim, I suppose. Beautifully grim, but grim nonetheless.
Three, it has B-2 Spirit stealth bombers, if only for a brief scene. Again, I'd prefer the SR-71 Blackbird, but we can't have everything, can we?


  1. I think there's nothing wrong with an anime - of all things - being beautifully grim. What better medium for it?

  2. @Moritheil: Beautifully grim. Hmm, that would certainly be an apt description of this movie, as well as of cellos. An alternative medium? Theater, for example, if grim, tends to be grim in a horrific sort of way. Live-action movies work well, but I guess animated works still do it best.

  3. @A20-man: Wow, it's been years (maybe 2006 or earlier) since I've seen this, but like Shinkai's "Voices", I'd say that "Place Promised" painted... breathtaking melancholy.

  4. This is actually my least favorite of Shinkai's three current films, though as I absolutely adore his other two, I'm not sure that carries much weight. Of three films I thoroughly enjoyed, it's just the one I liked less than the others.
    This is the review I did for Global Shinkai day this year:

    Ah, wow, sorry I'm posting so late on this.

  5. @Jay: Haven't seen 'Voices' yet, but it sure seems like he's really into that sorta mood. It could get tiring if he churns them out by the dozen, but I've liked his movies so far.

    @Kris: Haha. So you actually like all his films, then. No worry on the late posting- and here I am with a late reply in return:P

  6. @A20-man: Whaaat? You haven't seen his original short-film masterpiece? Where he created and crafted the entire film himself? (Except for music and voices, of course.) I'd probably still say it's my fave of his.

  7. @Jay: Hehe, nope, I haven't. I've only seen 'Promised' and '5cm'. I guess I'll get around to in eventually. Would have been funny if he'd done the voices too, though. Probably sound like one of those kid's shows, like Thomas the Train or something, where one person narrates for every character.

  8. On the Voices of a Distant Star DVD, there's a vocal track (the original vocal track, but not the default, because it also has a professional Japanese dub track as well) where Shinkai and his wife voice the two characters. It's quite lovely.

    But I think Jay was talking about "She and Her Cat," which is his first film, and is on the Voices DVD.

  9. @Kris-chan: Ahh, I actually meant "Voices", since I was responding to A20-man not seeing "Voices" yet. I don't really count "She and Her Cat" as a "masterpiece". ^_^

    @A20-man: But like Kris-chan noted, Shinkai did provide his voice as demo for "Voices". Though I don't think it would've worked if he attempted to demo the female voice too! In any case, try to forget his subsequent films when you eventually watch "Voices".

  10. @Kris: OK- that's my first time hearing of 'She and her Cat'. Ah, so he's married. Didn't know that. He looked quite young in the post-film interview - I thought he'd be just a few years older than me (i.e. still too young to get married)- and quite bachelor-ish, heh.

    @Jay: Just remembered how Kujira voiced every single non-essential character in Lucky Star- it might feel like that if Shinkai played every role.. -shivers- Well, who knows? He might just be capable of pulling off a very convincing female voice- you never know;)
    I'll try to forget them, heh. Maybe in a few more months, though.

  11. He was born in 1973, so he's almost 40. Blessed with those Japanese genes, I guess, that make them look so young. I think he's adorable.

  12. @Kris: 40? Wow. Then again, I haven't really changed much myself since high school, so hopefully I'm in the same category- and perhaps even beyond, hehe.

  13. Yeah, even I can still pass for 19 or 20 sometimes, and I turned 27 last week (eep!). But Shinkai does look REALLY young. He looks like he's in his mid-late 20s. I couldn't believe he was nearly 40 either.

    I'm not sure I know how old you are, but you look fantastic, so I don't think you have much to worry about.

  14. @Kris-chan & A20-man: Ahh, the benefit and beauty of Asian genes. And P90X. ^_^

  15. @Kris: Aww, shucks- you've got me blushing now. Just kidding, hehe- but thanks. I'm 21 this year. Oh, and happy (belated) birthday to you;)

    @Jay: Asian genes... probably the only downside is that there seems to be less variety in terms of bone structure, which turns off painters and sculptors. Not that I care, I like the smoothness, hehe.