The Place Promised in Our Early Days
In an alternate reality, Japan after World War II was split between two powers in an event known as the Separation. What was once known as Hokkaido is now known by its old name of Ezo -- and belongs to a separate entity known as "The Union", while Honshu and the other islands remain largely under American jurisdiction. And in Ezo, a mysterious, seemingly limitless tower reaches for the sky.
In northern Honshu, just across the Tsugaru Strait from Ezo, three students - two boys (Hiroki and Takuya) and a girl (Sayuri) make a fateful promise to build a plane, the Bella Ciela, to reach that tower. That promise is seemingly broken when Sayuri falls into a narcoleptic state ... but what none of them know about the tower is a secret that may rip apart the very fabric of their world.
What a fascinating film.
Most science-fiction features start immediately by explaining the world they've built, then covering the characters, often on a cursory basis. This film doesn't operate that way -- The Place Promised In Our Early Days is a character drama first, and a science fiction film second, letting the setting explain itself in time. This is not a film for those wanting to be spoon-fed details, and in that sense, it is remarkably similar to The Wings of Honneamise.
In fact, I felt like I was reliving everything that was good about Wings while watching The Place Promised - here we have a nuanced, virtuoso performance from a director with meticulous detail to art, animation, and cinematography, and doing it all outside the normal corporate networks usually involved in the medium. Unlike Wings, however, The Place Promised never loses its message in its visuals. This film is obviously neither a travelogue nor a documentary, and never claims to be; it is simply an extremely well-animated, well-told story that feels a lot more like a good novel than a summer blockbuster.
If there's one criticism that Shinkai's work draws on a consistent basis, it is the relative simplicity of his characters. Admittedly, both Hiroki and Sayuri seem pretty single-minded -- Hiroki as the self-doubting, but persistent protagonist, and Sayuri as the "sweet girl next door" archetype. Takuya is significantly more complicated, and perhaps the most interesting of the characters, though it's fairly easy to predict where his ultimate loyalties lie. Still, it's easy for critics to attack the premise of a "high school promise" as a serious plot device, but I dare anyone to even attempt to psychoanalyze characters in a good deal of modern-day American animated films. (The gap is narrowing, though.)
On a purely visual level, The Place Promised is one of the best anime I have ever seen, period. Shinkai's work was impressive enough when it was just him and his trusty iMac, but give him a team, and his work simply enthralls. One of the things I noticed was the use of camera angles -- anime is generally not a hotbed of cinematographic innovation, which I credit to a lack of imagination rather than a lack of technological knowhow. There is no such shortcoming here. Rather than relying on close shots and stills, this film is always using different techniques to help augment the dialogue in conveying mood. It's very effective, and very refreshing.
Honestly, I can't complain about this film at all. The pacing, the art, the characters, the music ... there is nothing here that is out of place. And even while the science fiction angle remains largely unexplained (and ultimately unexplored), it does pose some interesting questions on its own.
When I first started reviewing, it felt like Miyazaki was the only reliably good director in the business, but times are changing. Kon Satoshi broke through with Millennium Actress. And now Shinkai Makoto has broken through with The Place Promised in Our Early Days.
With folks like these in the business, even a jaded old critic like me has reason to continue to be excited about anime.
It's not often that a film leaves me in stunned, awed silence by the end. This one's a definite keeper. — Carlos Ross
Recommended Audience: This anime deals with fairly mature themes throughout - not inappropriate at all, just sophisticated. There is also some violence, and some rather depressing moments.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (1/1)
The Place Promised in Our Early Days © 2004 Shinkai Makoto / CoMix Wave
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