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Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below (Hoshi wo ou kodomo) (2011) June 30, 2012

Posted by ayasawada in Anime, Film.
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Hoshi wo ou kodomoI finally saw Makoto Shinkai’s latest at the BFI’s biennial anime season. It’s breathtaking enough to make me thankful to have caught it on the big screen, yet in its quest to deal with weighty issues it just misses perfection, and perhaps even some of the director’s usual heart.

Shinkai’s long been lauded as a Miyazaki successor and seems to have taken that quite literally with his latest film. To watch this is to see him morph through a Ghibli audition over two hours: from a typical contemporary Shinkai setting to a touch of the small-town of Totoro, the naturalism and creatures of Nausicaa and Princess Mononoke, the imagination of Laputa and the strong femaleXheadstrong male dynamic of all of them.

The plot follows Asuna, a dependable, but solitary high school girl who meets a mysterious boy and ends up almost Alice-like in a hidden world on a journey that forces her to confront truths about herself, humanity and the finite nature of our existence. It’s Asuna’s character development that really makes the film – we experiencing through her a wonderland of adventure, but also harsh realities, which force her to mature.

This is another epic from a man who broke through with a story about love and giant robot wars across space, and followed that up with more heartbreaking tales of unrequited love broken up by civil war or the passage of time. Every time he seems to go a magnitude bigger and in Children Who Chase Voices from Deep Below he seems to combine almost all of his previous themes with the even larger ones of death and the meaning of life.

It’s this gaggle of influences that maybe stifles the plot and it’s not helped by a rather ordinary (by his standards) Tenmon score that feels almost by numbers. Mind you, it never feels particularly messy, just uneven enough to leave a slight niggling feeling that something’s not quite right. This despite me being utterly engrossed in the ride and fond of the characters. It’s also beautifully animated, with any excuse for a jaw-dropping landscape or beautiful character/design distraction.

I’m loathe to criticise too much because it’s still a brilliant film. It just seems to lack that bit of stardust that the classic Ghibli’s, or even some Pixar films, have – that warm or bittersweet feeling that you carry out of the cinema in your heart, which are the hallmark of Shinkai’s repertoire. For a film clearly striving for perfection, good, rather than great, is a little disappointing.

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