The Place Promised in our Early Days

UK Distributor:  ADV Films

BBFC Certificate:  N/A (Special Screening)

Running Time:  91mins (approx.)

Director:  Makoto Shinkai

Audio for Screening:  Japanese audio with English subtitles

Cinema:  Apollo West End, Piccadilly, London

Reviewer:  Rich (Webmaster)


A couple of years ago a short anime film called Voices of a Distant Star caused a huge commotion in Japan and around the world.  Director Makoto Shinkai had made the entire film himself, he wrote, directed, animated and produced it to near professional quality and the film's success catapulted him into the big league of anime directors, so it wasn't long before he was given a lot of money and some staff for a new project.

Shown as part of the Anime All-Nighter for the 2006 Sci-Fi London festival, The Place Promised in our Early Days is that new project, and it is set for UK release later this year by ADV Films.  The film is set in an alternative Japan where the country has been split following World War II, the South is known as Alliance and is under US jurisdiction, but the northern island of Hokkaido is now a separate state known as the Union.  Tensions are running high between the two states because of a mysterious tower built on the Union side, an impossible structure so high that the top is not even visible from the ground.  The leaders of the Alliance view the tower with fear and distrust as no-one on their side knows what it is there for, but for two schoolboys it is a wondrous thing that they want to see first hand.  The two begin to build a plane in an abandoned station, with the eventual aim of flying to the tower, and are soon joined by a girl called Sayuri.  However, things are not going to be easy, as tensions build war between the Alliance and the Union seems inevitable, and Sayuri is being plagued by strange dreams, will the plane ever be complete and will they get to the tower if war does break out?

Makoto Shinkai retains the style that he used to such acclaimed effect in Voices of a Distant Star, blending some quite minimalist but very pretty backgrounds with beautiful lighting effects to create look that will no doubt become his trademark.  With the added money and helpers Shinkai is able to give far more body to his film than his last, the intriguing story is backed up by a larger cast and a bit of action and drama to compliment the beautiful visuals.  He uses light in a completely unique way, masterfully using it to enhance mood and dramatic emphasis to the point where it becomes integral to the film.  It is the visuals

Stunning to look at but a bit shallow

that really drive this film, and whilst they are often breathtakingly stylish, they also help to gloss over some of its weaker points.

Whilst the story is an intriguing slice of sci-fi it does seem that Shinkai has gotten caught somewhere between using the increased freedom he had when making this film and the style that made his debut so popular.  Voices of a Distant Star had only two characters and used dramatic lighting and limited locations to cut down on the time-consuming animation needed, The Place Promised in our Early Days has a larger cast (although many characters are utterly peripheral) but retains the minimalist feel.  Many scenes take place in the same locations and although the backdrops are pretty they often lack depth, with no background animation or features to truly bring them to life.

A cameo from the Eye of Sauron

The problem with the minimalist approach to this film is that it feels a lot longer than it is, one and half hours seems more like two and a half as the story in places crawls past at a snails pace.  The characters are relatively engaging but you don't really get a great deal of insight into them, and certain aspects - like why two schoolboys are capable of designing and building an experimental superplane - are never really explained.  There are some interesting ideas concerning parallel universes and dream science though, even if some things are not that believable.  There is some action and drama too and although the approach may

 be minimalist it is certainly unique.  Shinkai's approach to anime is refreshingly different, but does need some work, the problem he has is not so much the ideas but the execution, he seems afraid to compromise his style and to an extent the film suffers because of this.

In fairness it must be said that I did watch this film at about 5am after being awake for nearly 24 hours, and this was probably not the time to watch a slow moving and thoughtful film.  It does have its plus points, the idea, animation and visual style are all very unique, and this combined with the story makes it a very intriguing film.  Makoto Shinkai has taken the step up to a full length film without compromising the things that made his debut so popular and striking, but in a way this has held him back.  He seems to stretch 40 minutes of content over a 90 minute film, and this makes The Place Promised in our Early Days quite ponderous, with large gaps of time where very little seems to happen.  The film is strikingly different and it will no doubt appeal to people who liked Voices of a Distant Star, but for me it seems like Shinkai is in a transition period and does not really explore the possibilities the story and the medium present him with.  It is unique and beautiful to look at, but if you want lots of action, emotional depth and fast paced plotting, you are better off looking elsewhere.


Feature:   Extras: N/A

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