"The Place Promised in Our Early Days": A Modern Animated Classic

KarlOlson

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<i>Toon Zone is reviewing some of the films screened at this year's <a href="http://www.sicaf.or.kr" target="_blank">Seoul International Cartoon and Animation Festival.</a></i> The Place Promised in Our Early Days<i> is in competition in the feature film category. This is a review of the US DVD version.</i>

<a href="http://news.toonzone.net/images/2005-08/placedvd.jpg"><img src="http://news.toonzone.net/images/2005-08/t-placedvd.jpg" align="right" border="0" hspace="3" vspace="2"></a>Makoto Shinkai, prior to <i>The Place Promised in Our Early Days</i>, was best known for his one episode OVA <i>Voices of a Distant Star</i>. That OVA received a massive amount of attention both in Japan and internationally because, well, it was literally "his" anime—he did everything but the voice acting and music on the project. All the writing, boarding, animation and compositing was done by Shinkai himself and based off his own original concept, and even more surprisingly the result puts many major studios to shame to this day, both in visual process but in story as well. Essentially, he crafted a masterpiece in his apartment, on a low grade computer at that. Some wondered whether <i>The Place Promised in Our Early Days</i>, which actually had a real animation crew on it, would lack the single-minded brilliance and ambience of <i>Voices</i>. Any doubts of that are resolved simply by watching the anime—it's not just as good <i>Voices</i>, it blows it out of the water to become an outstanding masterpiece comparable to work by Hayao Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon.

In an alternate timeline, Japan ended up split into two countries at the end of World War Two. The Southern Islands remained Japan, while Hokkaido became the country of Ezo. Hiroki and Takuya are high school friends who live in the part of Japan closest to Ezo. They are bright young men and they share a dream: to build a plane to fly to Ezo to see the immensely tall and mysterious tower that has been built there. To do this, they bust their butts at a part time job to get money for parts and materials for the plane. They also have an interest in the same classmate, a lovely girl named Sayuri. One day, Hiroki and Takuya mention their airplane in progress, the Bela Cielo, to Sayuri. She says she would love to see the plane so they take her down to the abandoned train station they use as a hanger. That day, they make a promise to Sayuri: that she too would one day get to fly to the tower in the Bela Cielo. However, after that day, they never saw Sayuri again. Hiroki and Takuya parted ways—Hiroki drifted along, going to high school in Tokyo in attempt to forget his dreams of flight, and Takuya ended up getting an internship with the government working on applied trans-dimensional physics (in other words moving matter from one dimension to another). Takuya also begins to work with a guerilla organization intent on preventing an impending war with Ezo by blowing up the tower. Basically, they've moved on and drifted apart. However, Sayuri ends up thrust back into both of their lives—she's been in a coma for three years and it seems to be connected to the tower in Ezo. Can Takuya and Hiroki overcome their differences, keep the promise they made so long ago and save Sayuri from her sleep while preventing this impending war, or will they never be able to broach the differences that have come between them?

<a href="http://news.toonzone.net/images/2005-08/place1.jpg"><img src="http://news.toonzone.net/images/2005-08/t-place1.jpg" align="left" border="0" hspace="3" vspace="2"></a>Visually, <i>The Place Promised in Our Early Days</i> is overwhelmingly gorgeous. Almost every single frame of the film looks so beautiful, so elegantly composed and so perfect in its use of color that they could be considered fine art. The backgrounds have a beauty that seems almost photographic. The character animation is too flat against the backgrounds, but there are subtleties in the movement that make up for it. The compositing is absolutely perfect—there are plenty of computer-generated elements at points, but they are tightly and smoothly massaged into the backgrounds.

Story-, character- and direction-wise, <i>The Place Promised</i> is a wonderful sci-fi tale that's told in a manner almost poetic. Rather than get mired in a lot of heavy technical jargon, it gives just enough information to set the stage, allowing the story and character relationships to take center stage. The story also makes excellent use of visual expression to convey emotion. The music sweetly and perfectly accents the film, enhancing the characters' personalities in a subtle but strong way. Shinkai's film says so much with so little in narrative and dialogue that it's just breathtaking. Shinkai takes the groundwork created by Miyazaki and Kon to the next level, creating a story that is so delicately and tightly told that it's easily in the upper echelon of anime films, and films in general.

The voice acting from both casts is quite good. I would never have dreamed that some of the people involved had the range for such an outstanding drama such as <i>Place Promised</i>, but I was incorrect. Jessica Boone (perhaps best known for her work as Misaki on <i>Angelic Layer</i>) punches in with an excellent performance for Sayuri while Kalob Martinez, a new talent at ADV, manages to provide an unexpectedly good performance for Takuya. Chris Patton does a great job with Hiroki as well. And this is not to slight the Japanese cast either, all of whom put in absolutely superb performances.

DVD-wise, the encoding is top notch for both the video and audio, and it's got plenty of extras as well including interviews with the Japanese voice cast and Makoto Shinkai and the original trailers for the film in Japan.

Basically, <i>The Place Promised in Our Early Days</i> is an amazing film which would be at home on the shelf of any animation fan, especially if you've already got <i>Voices of a Distant Star</i>. It's a modern classic, and it's a film that many, many years from now will still be just as brilliant and beautiful.

<i>Check back tomorrow, when the results of the SICAF competition will be announced. See more <a href="http://sicaf.or.kr/Eng/movie_receipt/view.php?board_id=film2005&num=29&s_field=&s_keyword=&page=&category1=02&category2=1&category3=&mMode=" target="_blank">images from the film</a> and <a href="http://movie.naver.com/movie/preview/preview.nhn?preview_id=244&inpage=3_1_1" target="_blank">watch a video clip</a> provided by SICAF. For more from SICAF 2005, see Toon Zone's review of the opening film </i><a href="http://news.toonzone.net/article.php?ID=5176">Renart the Fox</a><I> and of <a href="http://news.toonzone.net/article.php?ID=5179"></i>The District<i></a> and </i><a href="http://news.toonzone.net/article.php?ID=5181">Pororo to the Cookie Castle</a>.
 

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