Grim_Noir Follows “Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below”

Children Who Chase Lost Voices... poster

Depending on your viewpoint, the director of “Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below” (“Hoshi o Ou Kodomo”), Makoto Shinkai, is either a visionary or a control freak: He is director, screenplay writer, animator, and occasional lyricist and voice actor in his films.

And, like fellow control freaks/visionaries such as Truffaut, Fellini, or Kurosawa, Shinkai’s world view is so all-encompassing, it is difficult to review a new film by the auteur without letting your opinions of his previous works influence your opinion. Shinkai likes his visuals stunning and his emotions messy. How you react to these emblematic totems will determine what you think of almost any Shinkai film.

“Children Who Chase Lost Voices…” begins with Asuna Watase, a lonely elementary school girl, whose father is dead and whose mother (a doctor) works far to hard at the local hospital. Asuna spends all of her free time avoiding unnecessary human contact and playing with a crystal radio she built with her father.

Asuna will be shaken out of this torpor when a mysterious older boy appears and saves her from a large bear-like creature, the likes of which no one has ever seen before.  The boy, Shun, wants to get out of the spotlight as quickly as possible, but there is something about him that makes Asuna work to befriend him.

Asuna and Shun

Shun is from Agartha, the world on which all legends of the afterlife are based. Unfortunately, being in our world has started a biological clock for Shun. If he does not return to Agartha in a reasonable amount of time, he will not survive. Shun’s affection for our world is literally his death. (A death sumptuously foreshadowed by vivid red spider lilies and death’s head moths.) A death that Asuna does not want to hear anything about from anyone, not even her mother.

In the meantime, a mysterious substitute teacher, Ryuji Morisaki, lets the term “Agartha” slip when teaching the Japanese version of the Orpheus & Eurydice myth. Asuna follows Morisaki to his home and questions him some more about Agartha.

Walking home from her teacher’s house that night will lead her to Shin, Shun’s brother. He has been sent to recover his brother’s lost Clavis, a sort of key to the underworld. Asuna, in her denial, refuses to believe Shin is not Shun and she will not abandon him, even when a shady military force attempts to capture him. The couple flee to Agartha with the aid/provocation of Morisaki…

The movie really finds its footing as we are ushered into Agartha. Shinkai takes an inverted mirror approach to his “What Dreams May Come” scenario: The Robin Williams flick was about the Dead coming to acceptance with being dead. Shinkai, however, has different ideas: He is non-clinically and non-judgmentally examining people going through the five stages of grief:

  • Asuna’s mother is trapped by her depression and does not leave her daily routine, and is thus, oblivious to her daughter’s adventures in Agartha.
  • Asuna, on the other hand, currently comfortable in her denial, will be dragged through all five stages of grief during her travels through Agartha. When she finally reaches depression and acceptance, CoMix Wave studio’s animation is so graceful it feels like watching a priceless artifact shatter on a marble floor in slow-motion.
  • Then, there’s the Most Dangerous Griever – Morisaki. Bargaining always sounds so pathetic when dealing with grief, but his belief in a loophole to the permanent death of his wife is so overriding that is is truly terrifying to watch.

Asuna in Agartha

As you can tell from the summary, this plot is big and sloppy, with some laggy spots and holes. This is also creator Shinkai caught in a moment of growth. He is stretching his usual tapestry of Love and Loss to include elements of Action, Adventure, and Comic Relief. In context, the results are spectacular and uplifting in the ways that only the best films of any genre can achieve, and leave the viewer impatiently panting for this meticulous artist’s next work…

She and her pseudo-cat

(“Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below” debuted in Japan on May 7, 2011.¬† It’s North American¬†premiere was at Otakon on July 30, 2011 and it is scheduled to play again at the New York Anime Festival on October 13, 2011.)

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