The Place Promised In Our Early Days / Voices Of A Distant Star REVIEW

The Place Promised In Our Early Days / Voices Of A Distant Star REVIEW

0 comments 📅26 August 2017, 12:34

It’s all in the timing. Anime Limited’s Blu-ray of two early Makoto Shinkai films was first promised nearly five years ago! It hit shelves just as Shinkai’s mainstream presence rose several thousand per cent, thanks to his body swap blockbuster Your Name (which has now been re-released in IMAX cinemas). Having seen that film, fans are now able to follow Shinkai’s learning curve here, through 25-minute short Voices of a Distant Star (2002), and his first feature The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004).

And it is fascinating to view them after seeing Your Name. So much is already there, and so much is missing. Of course, the films have Shinkai’s separated lovers and brilliant backgrounds. They also have so much less comedy and whip-crack pacing, so much more angst and loneliness and journeys through the night. The question is whether, now Shinkai rules Japan’s box-office, he will invite his audience into that void in future films – and whether the audience will follow him there.

Voices is the film Shinkai famously made (nearly) solo, about a schoolgirl recruited into a space war and the boy she leaves behind, gulfs of time and space opening up between them. It’s rooted in ‘genre’ anime, with space battleships and big robots, and littered even further with Shinkai’s signature obsessions. It has awkwardly drawn faces, loose story ends (the aliens) and tinges of fanservice. Yet it’s still very powerful.

Place Promised returns to Earth, but not quite our Earth. Although the film is set in present-day Japan, this is an alternate history where Japan was partitioned (like Korea). The northern island Hokkaido is a foreign state, where an impossibly tall tower has been constructed, becoming a potent symbol to rival Mount Fuji.

Against this background, three youngsters – two boys and a girl – have a bold plan to build and fly a plane to the tower. But the girl is having strange dreams (sound familiar?) and then vanishes from the boys’ lives. From this point, Place Promised becomes increasingly science-fictional, though again loss and loneliness are at the film’s heart.

Even more than Voices, Place Promised benefits from a rewatch. While not being gripping, it sustains the interest, with many pungent lines and images. One fantastical dream meeting is practically a prototype for a scene in Your Name. The truly striking climax has flying, but it’s nothing like Miyazaki (despite its shades of Honneamise). The resolution articulates Shinkai’s ethos that sadness can be sublime, and that something is lost when a person grows out of teenage night – out of emo, to be crass.

True, the youngsters are ciphers and Shinkai throws away the opportunity for a love-triangle conflict (the conflicts that do arise are hollow and lame). The situation is laughably contrived, exposing the kind of non-explanations which Your Name is so good at hiding. Most ironically for anyone who’s seen the new Shinkai film, Place Promised will have you expecting huge twists that never materialise. And yet it’s much better than it once seemed. Reviewed by Tom Arden

Release: Out Now
From: All The Anime
Format: Blu-ray Collector’s Edition
Price: £39.99
Age Rating: 12

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