Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Below
Schoolgirl Asuna Watase is saved from a mysterious monster by an equally mysterious boy, who soon after dies. Her substitute teacher, a Mr. Morisaki, intrigues her with a tale about an underground kingdom, named Agartha, where the dead can be restored to life. Asuna wants to find a way to restore the boy who saved her; Mr. Morisaki, it seems, also has someone he wants resurrected. Asuna journeys with Mr. Morisaki; or occasionally with the brother of her savior; or sometimes has to make terrifying sojourns alone; while Morisaki seeks the fount of resurrection in Agartha.
Nicoletta let me have this. She knew I loved Makoto Shinkai's beautiful artwork from The Garden of Words, and the art in this earlier film of his is nearly as gorgeous; the backgrounds here could easily compete with those in a Studio Ghibli film.
Storywise- well, at least the story here feels more complete than that of The Garden Of Words, and a bit more straightforward than that of The Place Promised In Our Early Days. (I'm trying to not even think of Shinkai's debut film, Voices Of A Distant Star, because I found that film just depressing, albeit well-made.) The adventure in Children starts in a familiar way, and ultimately adopts a moral view of life (and death) that is also rather familiar (see the Osamu Tezuka recommendation), but, in between, things are allowed to take some unexpected turns.
For one thing, Agartha, it turns out, isn't exactly heaven; it's not even a land of eternal life, for the most part. It's actually a desolate place, because hordes of invaders have wrecked it hoping to discover the secret of resurrection, which is a secret the humans who dwell there don't even have; they die just like everyone else. BUT, after a long journey in Agartha, through a wasteland populated with hordes of Izoku (flesh-eating monsters that literally live in the shadows), one may eventually come to a sheer cliff; AND, if one reaches the bottom of that cliff at the time when a heavenly galleon descends there, one can have any wish granted, including the return of a loved one. But there are ALWAYS prices to be paid...
The most interesting character here, for me, was Mr. Morisaki. His particular quest is to get his wife back, who long ago died of an illness. In fact, it looks like a very long time ago; when we see her in flashbacks, she's dressed in what appears to be European period costume, and we see Mr. Morisaki going off to a war that certainly doesn't look like any in recent decades. He uses a manual typewriter that, at least now, would be a museum piece. And yet the story otherwise seems contemporary- a team of soldiers has modern weapons, and flies a helicopter gunship- so just how old IS Morisaki? He may not have the power of resurrection, but we can infer that he at least has a longevity drug. (Or maybe the philosopher's stone?)
Anyway, the point I was originally headed to is this: Morisaki's seeking to resurrect the wife, but the story creates some junctures where he might choose to set aside that goal in order to honor other obligations, or to protect another. The story basically tests his character. After all, he's had at least SOME time with his wife, which is better than a lot of Shinkai male characters have had- this director seems awfully partial to relationships that are either never requited, or are likely to never be- and I wondered which I would have preferred: for Morisaki to abandon his quest out of concern for another (the noble course); or for him to continue it with blind fanaticism (the more revelatory, and "interesting", one.) I would be a very bad boy if I said which way it went, so I won't.
As for Asuna, our heroine, she seems a little passive compared to Miyazaki's heroines; if she were more inclined to speak her mind, and less often a simple follower of whichever male was currently being most assertive, I would have liked her a bit better. The other principal character involved in the quest is Shin, an Agartha native and the brother of the boy who saved Asuna in the beginning. Shin is the conflicted and uncertain type of hero, given a task by his people but finding reasons to question its wisdom. The show wants us to invest emotional capital in both Morisaki and Shin- both males are willing to risk stepping outside the bounds of propriety, in their own ways- and once we have started to care about these guys one might naturally want to follow them all the way to where they wind up, but this is a Makoto Shinkai film. (See below.)
The film shows a lot of influence from Mayan and Hindu religious iconography. (Noein and Nausicaa Of The Valley Of Wind are a couple of other shows with a lot of Hindu imagery; the eyes have it, I suppose.) And the Izoku are pretty impressive monsters, though as much for their numbers, and their ability to appear out of nowhere, as for the size of their teeth. There are also a number of giant reptiles, but they seem almost pedestrian in comparison. Again, I would have liked to see a little more about the eventual fates of all the members of our little quest, but considering Shinkai's usual reluctance to say anything at all on such matters, this film seems almost garrulous by comparison.
A mixture of spectacular scenery and imaginative supernatural beings, but a pretty conventional philosophical approach to its subject in the end, and a more conventional heroine than I would have liked as well. Still, not a bad journey overall, and even the desolate places look beautiful. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Some swordplay and gunplay; mature themes.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Below © 2012 CMMY, Makoto Shinkai
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