Anime Reviews: Children Who Chase Lost Voices
Deciding to go a somewhat different direction, Makoto Shinkai proves he's more than capable of making an enthralling and exciting fantasy adventure film.
Title: Children Who Chase Lost Voices a.k.a. Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo a.k.a. Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below a.k.a. Children Who Chase Stars a.k.a. Journey to Agartha
Production: CoMix Wave, Inc.
Film Length: 116 minutes
Air Dates: 5/7/2011
Age Rating: 7+ (mild violence)
Summary: After her father died when she was very young, and because her mother works long shifts as a nurse, Asuna has had to grow up early and take care of herself. She spends much of her free time bringing supplies to her secret clubhouse overlooking the river, where she sets up a makeshift radio and listens for a mysterious song she once heard--a song that at once made her both overjoyed and filled with sorrow. One day, as she makes her way to the clubhouse, an otherworldly beast attacks her before she is saved by a young man named Shun. As they form a bond, Shun reveals that he comes from a place called Agartha, and that he came to find something. But the truth behind Agartha, as well as the mysterious song Asuna heard, will be far beyond anything she'd ever expected.
The Good: Damn near everything; lots of fun nods to history, mythology, and Studio Ghibli
The Bad: Nothing really comes to mind
The Ugly: The fact that I really can't find anything to criticize
And here I thought Makoto Shinkai's works couldn't get any better than 5 Centimeters Per Second. And then this movie happened. And my mind was promptly blown to smithereens. It's probably the Shinkai film I've seen the fewest times aside from the brand-new Garden of Words (which I've yet to catch), but it's also the film where I can find almost nothing negative whatsoever to talk about. You're probably gonna get real sick of me praising this movie soon, so if endless gushing isn't fun for you to read, then here's the short version: You want to buy this movie, and you want to watch it right away. Preferably on Blu-Ray in high definition.
That's because Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a gargantuan visual beast that puts everything else the man's ever done to shame. 5 Centi-what? The Place Promised-who? All pale in comparison to the extremely lush details and vibrant colors this film has to offer. And the landscapes! Oh God, the landscapes! If for no other reason, you have to see this film for yourself just to see them! From monumental crevasses to the most mundane dirt roads, every shot is a wonder unto itself, and this movie is chock full of them. More than once, I had to pause the movie just to stare as my jaw slackened. Definitely do not miss out.
As for the character designs, the art style is very reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli film, but is done moreso as homage than any actual lifting. They give off a very Castle in the Sky type of feel to them, and given that Children Who Chase Lost Voices is essentially a love letter to that film (among others), I can think of no better inspiration to pay homage to. The immersive designs also extend to the exotic locales we visit throughout the film, each with their own real-world inspiration and unique twists. In one scene, there is an underwater monument that encompasses carvings and statues of various heroic figures from vastly different historical eras, all stacked on top of each other, and it's one of those moments where my only response was an emphatic "Wow!" as my jaw hit the floor for the, what, 14th time? On the downside, I think my jaw's left a permanent imprint on my floor as a result of this movie, and that might compromise its structural integrity.
And then there's the animation itself, which is smooth and natural, not lacking in any detail in the characters' actions. Even the simple act of chopping vegetables is a thing of beauty here, animated lovingly with nuance and grace, so you can imagine what one of the many action sequences would look like in comparison. (Hint: OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD.) I don't have much else to elaborate on here, as perfection tends to speak for itself, so let's move on.
In terms of the auditory department, I've yet again only praises to sing. The voice acting, whether you're hunting for the original Japanese or the English dub, will serve you well no matter which you choose, with the only difference really being that Hillary Haag's portrayal of Asuna in the dub leaves her sounding a little bit older than she is. She's still great, though! Neither version should disappoint anyone, really.
Now then, the soundtrack. Well, I suppose it would be difficult for Tenmon to out-do herself yet again, so I suppose disappointment is par for the--oh my God, is that the opener?! And then the rest is just as good?! Yes, indeed! From the soft and touching "Shukufuku (Blessing)" to the proud and majestic "Agartha," the undeniable conclusion is that, yes, Tenmon can, indeed, out-do herself yet again. Just as with Studio Ghibli's Jo Hisaishi, it seems everything she touches turns to gold. So yeah, spectacular soundtrack. Before we move on, here's the ending theme, "Hello, Goodbye, and Hello."
To cut straight to the film's narrative, I want to talk a little bit about the characters. Because I quite liked them. Asuna is probably the strongest and most well-developed character in the cast (fitting, as she is our protagonist), and that is largely due to the fact that she is easy to relate to--she works hard at home, studies hard at school, and pours her resourcefulness into a singular hobby (searching for that mysterious song) because she has nothing else. Her family life, while not strained, is almost nonexistent and she has very few friends to speak of, so her loneliness is almost palpable all throughout. Thus, when the mysterious yet gentle Shun comes into her life, saving her from the otherworldly beast, you can feel the same sense of wonder and awe that she feels towards him.
Of course, that's not to say the other characters aren't fascinating, as well. Shun may be mysterious and somewhat distant, but his gentle actions and almost despairing demeanor make him a mystery worth unraveling. Shun's younger brother, Shin, may be radically different in his behavior, but his motivations and convictions are likewise enthralling and kept me hooked. Also, Morisaki's single-minded quest to find a way to bring his wife, Lisa, back to life is yet another character arc I found myself helplessly invested in. And that's not even counting notable side characters like Asuna's mother, the village elder of Amaurot, his granddaughter Manna, or Mimi, the cat who seems to follow Asuna wherever she goes. All in all, the characters are one of the chief reasons this film works as well as it does.
As far as the story goes, I can't say too much without spoiling the crap out of the film, but to give you an idea of what to expect, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is what you would get if you put Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke in a blender and seasoned it with bits of myth and folklore (Izanagi and Izanami or Orpheus and Eurydice, for example) from around the world. And I never once was bored or disinterested along the way. I can't think of anything negative to say about it.
And really, that applies to the film as a whole. I just can't find any real faults to point out. I guess you could say the movie might be a little too long and that some scenes could have been shaved off to make the film flow better...but then you'd realize that you'd be lying, and that it's just fine as it is. Sorry to disappoint all those in the crowd (if you can call my precious few readers a "crowd") who happen to like reading about a story's faults, but I just can't find any. I literally have nothing but praise to offer this one.
That's that, I guess. Who would've thought that Makoto Shinkai--a man notorious for bittersweet romances--would reveal his greatest work to be an offering to the holy altar of Studio Ghibli-style action/adventure films? I wouldn't have believed you if you told me that just a mere month ago, but Children Who Chase Lost Voices has proven that hypothetical me from a month ago to be an absolute fool. This truly is a spectacular film, and I cannot tell you enough to see it for yourself.
Final Score: 10 out of 10. I often maintain that it's next to impossible for a work of art to be flawless, but Children Who Chase Lost Voices, with its awe-inspiring visuals and engaging narrative, proves to be one of those very few exceptions.