The Place Promised in Our Early Days Retro Review

Makoto Shinkai’s first work, Voices of a Distant Star, is a classic, impressive on both artistic and technical levels. On it’s meager budget, it questioned the nature of love, inspired, and stood as the pinnacle of a growing do-it-yourself animation culture. Now with a bigger studio , Shinkai expands on whether love could transcend time and space: Can love truly transcend reality?

Genre: Romance, Sci-Fi, Slice of Life
Produced: ADV Films

The Place Promised in Our Early Days is Shinkai’s directorial followup to the excellent debut, Voices of a Distant Star.Japan, in his revisionist vision, was split into two halves following World War II, the Union and one controlled by the United States. Three junior high school students spend their days dreaming of reaching single ivory tower across the border that seems to connect the earth and heaven like a single piece of white thread.

The film follows these students through a set of three periods as they grow older. What begins as a coming-of-age adventure tale, soon mutates into a quasi science fiction psychological drama. Shinkai is no stranger to science fiction.Voices of Distant Star used the elements of the genre to give it an emotional gravitas. The Place Promised in Our Days however lets it get in the way, it’s logic muddling the underlying romance.

Part of the problem lies with the script, which emphasizes drawn out monologues filled with teenage angst. The writing avoids any sort of subtlety, either hitting us over the head with its mythos or the philosophical crises of the characters. Shinkai seemed to benefit from the shorter format of Voices, where each word of dialogue had to be deliberate. When writing any sort of narrative, my 9 grade English teacher told me, ‘Show, don’t tell’ a piece of advice the director sorely needed.

But for all it’s flaws, the charm the characters exude and the innocence of the love story makes it hard to dislike. Its easy to identify with the fundamental themes of friendship, separation and isolation. I praise this movie on making a bold statement on the power of platonic relationships and taking the romance genre to an abstract frontier.

The pacing issues the movie suffers are directly related to the script where moments of calm were extended just to make room for the exposition. It causes some parts of the movie to drag when all I wanted to see were further developments in the directors dystopian setting.  When it comes down to the action there isn’t enough time for the cast to truly display their personalities.

The production though, surpasses Shinkai’s debut in almost every aspect. Creatively, it dips its fingers into the unreal, painting dreamscapes in incongruous shapes and dark shadows while interesting use of color gives traditional settings of fields and cities personality. The vivid colors of childhood provide a stark contrast to the brooding hues of adolescence. There is a strong sense of atmosphere. Even static scenes are brought to life by small flourishes: rustling blades of grass, subtle lighting tricks and a watercolor palette.

Sound production follows suit, with an excellent orchestral soundtrack. The theme, a simple melody of a single violin, is both evocative of the movie’s charm and memorable. Hidetaka Yoshioka, Yuuka Nanri, and Masota Hagiwara do an excellent job of capturing the angst of their characters. On the dubbed frontier I must commend Chris Patton for his performance. His delivery is natural even when dealing with the scripts more long winded speeches. Although, the same can’t be said for the rest of the cast who have seem to show a lack of enthusiasm.

The Place Promised in Our Early Days if anything is ambitious. Makoto Shinkai’s aspirations to weave a competent science fiction narrative into story of childhood sweethearts is commendable. While he isn’t able to mesh these two genres into a cohesive tale, this film still has an ability to draw you in from its breathtaking production. We never reach the place where this director intially promises, but he makes one hell of an effort.

Story :  6/10
Characters : 8/10
Pacing : 6/10
Production : 10/10
Entertainment : 7/10
Overall : 74 / 100

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