Dusting off the blog for another year of Reverse Thieves Secret Santa; this being my third year doing so.
My Santa recommended three items, Fate/Zero (both seasons), the first season of Natsume Yuujinchou, and Hoshi o Ou Kodomo. As you may have noticed it’s been a while since I’ve posted here, because well life; that and participation in National Novel Writing Month, which I won by the way.
I chose to watch Hoshi o Ou Kodomo. I’d like to watch the other recommendations sometime, but with the holidays and travel, the shorter one won out. I have seen portions of the movie before, but hadn’t ever really given it a fair shot because of some bias, which I’ll get into in a little bit. I think properly sitting down in a dark room, by myself, curled up in a blanket was perfect for getting into a Makoto Shinkai movie.
I’d like to start that I’m not going into the plot of the movie. Instead, head on over to the Wikipedia article and read if you like. I want to keep to impressions.
To start, this is a slight departure from the other feature films that Shinkai has done. His three other most well-known works1 are centered on some kind of love that takes the center of the film’s plot. The common thread is that there is distance involved. Kodomo also involves distance, but I feel that the distance in this case is signified by death. Unlike the previous works, we focus on two main characters instead of one. The young Asuna and the older Morisaki both lost someone very dear to them, a father and a wife respectively.
If you’ve seen any of previous works by Shinkai, the man is a master of background art. Gorgeous works to say the least. The hues in the previous works are awash in purples, blues, and oranges that are cut by light to create breathtaking images for the characters to move in. The same concepts are used here, while night scenes evoke the same feelings of his previous works, we get to see Shinkai move into a completely different palette of greens and browns to create the natural setting this film requires.
The basic plot of this movie is also a departure for the director in that the fantastical world created here is almost a character in and of itself. Agartha is a place that is part of the innards of earth, deep underground. It was a little strange to see things in Agartha like sunlight, and rain, which make little sense in a place that really has no sky; which leads to the need to do a little suspension of disbelief and remember that you’re in a place that isn’t supposed to exist. After getting past that and allowing yourself to be immersed in Agartha you start to feel the depths of Shinkai’s fantasy. He uses perspective to show how massive the world is even if most of it is traversed in a few days’ time in the film. The point being is that the characters are looking for what they’ve lost and it comes at great struggle and depth which is shown by massive perspective. The view of Finis Terra, a massive pit containing the Gate of Life and Death, is so well drawn; you’d think you’re standing at the edge yourself.
In the end Asuna realizes her loneliness is why she came to Agartha, and Morisaki is almost reunited with his dead wife, but she is taken away again. And there is where you feel that Shinkai comes back to the themes of love and loss. In a twist of redemption, Asuna begins to see Morisaki as a father figure, even if he treats her poorly in the beginning, and in a non-twist, Morisaki again loses his wife.
I liked a lot of this movie, from the characters to its setting and art. While I can easily give Shinkai’s other films an easy ten out of ten, I can’t do this for this work. The main issue lies in the plot’s pacing. The film seems to sprint and then slow down, and do it over again. The fits and starts detriment the film’s message of looking for your lost loved ones in death, whereas previous works by Shinkai were laser focused on a single character and interactions with sub-characters. This issue caused the movie to meander around a bit, but pulled itself back together when the familiar themes of love and loss become forefront at the end. Additionally, it’s nearly impossible to not compare the fantasy setting of this film to practically anything by Studio Ghibli; even the character designs evoke Ghibli films. This is not really a bad thing, but it’s a bit of a distraction in the beginning. Personally, I think it’s more of homage than a rip-off of the formula.
Thank you Santa, ‘twas a good watch.
1: Voices of a Distant Star, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, and 5cm per Second.