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Children Who Chase Lost Voices

Posted by martinteller on June 15, 2013

Asuna is the top student in her class, but she leads a solitary existence.  Her widowed mother works hard as a nurse and is rarely home.  Asuna has found a remote place in the hills where she tunes in to unknown frequencies on her crystal radio, her only companion a stray cat that she’s named Mimi.  One day on her way home she encounters a bearlike beast, but is rescued by a strange man named Shun.  She forms a bond with this young man and tends to his wounds, and he tells her he comes from the land of Agartha.  The next day she tries to find him, but learns that he has perished.  She turns to Mr. Morisaki, a substitute teacher with an interest in ancient legends.  Morisaki is a long-grieving widower whose dream is to find the underworld realm of Agartha, where it is said that the dead can be brought back to life.  Asuna and Morisaki — and Mimi — embark on a perilous quest.

I have noted before that although director Makoto Shinkai has been hailed as “the new Miyazaki”, his previous two films (The Place Promised in Our Early Days and 5 Centimeters Per Second) are more in the vein of Isao Takahata.  This one is definitely more Miyazaki, with its focus on fantasy elements and characters who are neither “good” nor “evil” but exist in morally gray areas.  Shinkai occasionally spends a little too much time on the mythology.  He uses not only the Agartha myth but also the Japanese legend of Izanami and Izanagi, both of which are close to the more familiar Orpheus story.  He also throws in creatures known as “Quetzl Coatls” but they have little to do with the Aztec mythology.  Although the film doesn’t get as bogged down in the fantasy elements as a lot of anime, there’s a lot of explaining things — or just marveling at the world — that takes away from the character development.  The result is that the themes of loneliness and grief aren’t as powerful as they’re clearly intended to be.

But it’s a nice effort.  There is at least one exceptionally poignant moment, which I won’t spoil here.  And the animation is stunning as always.  Shinkai — with the assistance of his team — might be producing the most gorgeous anime today (or maybe not, what do I know about anime? not much).  The overworld and the underworld are both breathtakingly lush and beautiful.  There are some Ozu-esque pillow shots focusing on the detail of the serene settings.  Radiant shafts of light penetrate everywhere.  And the fantasy world of Agartha is not overburdened with too much out-there weirdness.

A little long, not as emotionally resonant as it could be, and certainly a step down from 5 Cm.  Still a worthy watch.  Rating: Good (74)

IMDb
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