This is Makoto Shinkai's follow up to his masterpiece 5 Centimetres Per Second and while it doesn't reach the emotional heights of that anime, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is still a thrilling, gorgeous, orginal, creative and highly entertaining adventure. The characters aren't really memorable or developed though and the fantasy setting does make me feel very emotionally alienated from what is happening (the complete oposite is true in 5CPS) and the film really outstays it's 2 hour running time, with padded out scenes and pointless characters they introduce. But just sit back and soak in the visuals, the amazing soundtrack and the higly creative word of Agartha.
More in video review: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5nHUjaLqXY
So this girl sees these monsters and is saved by a boy from the underworld. And she goes there, and she is chased around by some freaks and… WHAT IS THE POINT IN ALL THIS?
Disappointed! This is how I felt after I finished this film. Wanna know why?
1) The director
Makoto Shinkai is quite famous for his tragic romantic tales. Voices of a Distant Star and 5cm per Second are amongst the few romances even an uncaring bastard like myself enjoyed. So it was reasonable to expect yet another film regarding a tragic romance. Because, duh, Shinkai never made anything else. And to my amazement he now did. And it wasn’t good.
2) The studio
Studio Comix Wave is new but has made an impressive work so far. The thing is, with this film it feels like it is trying to rip-off Ghibli Studio instead of trying to find an identity or style of its own. I had to check three times to make sure this WASN’T a Ghibli production. I mean, IT IS SO ALIKE! In my mind there can be only one Ghibli and now I see someone trying to become its copycat? This is an outrage! Yes, pretty damn good visuals and soundtrack, but they all look and sound like a damn robbery from one of the most famous studios around. I couldn’t enjoy the overall film because of it.
3) The story
You think the similarities to Ghibli stop only at the visuals? Heck no, the story itself was a mix of various Ghibli works. At the same time it is hardly as captivating as those films, with far less context, complexity, interesting situations, and plot. So not only it is an imitation, it is also a bad one. If you just sit back and think of the plot of the film you will immediately realize how linear, simple, and eventually forgettable it was.
4) The characters
Not even one of the characters in the film is memorable or interesting. They all play their generic roles to the fullest yet none of them manage to stand out from their counterparts in a myriad other children fantasy stories. To the most part all you see is the heroine being chased around by monsters and being saved by a handsome fighter from a magical land. It couldn’t get any cornier. I saw fifty times more in the far similar premise of Escaflowne, where everyone there was far more complicating than he appeared to be at first. And in case you try to excuse it by saying this is a movie and not a series to demand drastic character development, then I will reply that in this case a movie should not be full of useless characters. Yet look at this, there is a whole school filled with children, a whole village filled with people, a WHOLE MAGICAL LAND FILLED WITH CREATURES and you get NOTHING out of them. They are just standing there, irrelevant to the main plot, and boring since they are not doing anything.
5) The motivation
There is no clear goal for most of the movie. The characters are running around almost apathetically, without really caring or making us care about whatever they want to accomplish. And even when they accomplish it, it feels hollow and pointless, without nothing interesting for you to remember about. There is absolutely no emotional engagement with whatever is going on in it.
Furthermore, the movie hardly tries to convince you of whatever happens. Monsters attack our world, the army attacks them with helicopters, and nobody in the surrounding areas besides the heroine takes notice of them. And then the movie ends and she returns and her mother has apparently popped in the story, and she keeps living her life like nothing matters. SO WHAT WAS THE POINT OF ALL THAT?
Although most viewers will probably just stare at the cool visuals and vote this a 9 or 10, I am a far harder to please man. I expect emotional engagement, development of the initial concept, some plot twist to be taken back for a few seconds, some characters who manage to escape their stereotype, something that doesn’t feel like a lesser rehash of older productions. Well I got none of the above in this one. It was hollow, boring, and made Makoto Shinkai to look like a failed Miyazaki wannabe when he always had his own style and identity. His specialty always was tragic romances, he was so good at it, he had no reason to stray off to something far more childish and stupid like this. Although he tried to pull of something similar here with the myth of Izanami and Izanagi, he failed completely to make it plausible and engaging. His previous works were all quite realistic to the most part, without silly magical powers to offer panacea to any problem encountered. But this? This is a stupid romantic fairy tale for little girls (yes, girls, not even boys) and one so generic that you will forget as soon as you watch the next generic fairy tale that comes along. Heck, watching a low-budget stupid Barbie 3D movie is more than enough to get over it!
COMPLETELY DISAPPOINTED! GO BACK TO REALISTIC ROMANCES SHINKAI! LEAVE BEHIND THESE STUPID MAGICAL LANDS! And above all DON’T TRY TO GROW A BEARD AND ACT LIKE MIYAZAKI! BE YOURSELF!
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 9/10
Analysis: General Artwork 2/2, Character Figures 1/2, Backgrounds 2/2, Animation 2/2, Visual Effects 2/2
SOUND SECTION: 9/10
Analysis: Voice Acting 3/3, Music Themes 3/4, Sound Effects 3/3
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: Premise 2/2, Pacing 1/2, Complexity 1/2, Plausibility 0/2, Conclusion 1/2
CHARACTER SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: Presence 1/2, Personality 1/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 1/2, Catharsis 1/2
VALUE SECTION: 1/10
Analysis: Historical Value 0/3, Rewatchability 0/3, Memorability 1/4
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 2/10
Stories about the dead coming back to life are a dime a dozen these days, mainly because of the current fascination with zombies and vampires, but rarely do we see a tale that's more akin to the legends of old, where mighty heroes brave the perils of the underworld to be reunited with their lost love.
Sorry, that should be a 12 year old girl. Let's try this again ...
Stories about children having adventures in other worlds are a dime a dozen these days, but rarely do we see a tale that's more akin to the stories of old, where brave youths traversed other realms on a journey that would teach them ... lots of stuff.
Nope, that's not going to work either. Let's try putting the two together ...
Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo, which apparently means "Children Who Chase Stars" but for some reason is called "Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below", is the latest work from acclaimed creator and director Shinkai Makoto. The story centres on a small town in the countryside, where a young girl called Asuna spends her time after school listening to the strange music that comes from the crystal radio that her father left to her before he passed away.
Everything is peaceful until one rather eventful day ...
At it's core, Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo is an adventure covered in a philosophical blanket that doesn't quite fit, and it shows in many ways. The plot tries to blend a variety of themes, but it never really manages to do this with the panache of Shinkai's previous works. In addition to this, there's a childishness to the narrative that some viewers may find a little annoying, and quite often events are resolved in a manner that is very "black and white". Because of this the story lacks a good measure of catharsis, especially in comparison to "5 cm Per Second" and "The Place Promised In Our Early Days", and the film concludes with a rather likewarm resolution.
That said, the movie is interesting to a degree, but much of this comes from the way in which myths and legends regarding the underworld and resurrection are tied into the plot. Unfortunately, it's clear from the opening scenes that inspiration for the anime has come from a few very well known sources, and viewers may find that they spend more time playing spot-the-influence, and less time paying attention to the storyline.
One of the first things that people will notice about Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo is the very "Ghibli-esque" atmosphere it has, but while this perception can initially be ascribed to the rural setting and the young lead character, the similarities actually run a lot deeper. The scenery is a rather pleasant blend of Shinkai's trademark panoramas and the kind of countryside imagery that one might find in "Only Yesterday" or "Spirited Away". Once the action moves beyond the gate, the background art and the settings dramatically improve, and the audience is treated to the kind of vistas that one would expect in a Shinkai feature.
Unfortunately the same can't be said of the design, and viewers may be forgiven for thinking that the entirety of the movie is nothing more than an homage to a certain well known studio. The characters are so stereotypically Ghibli in fact, it's easy to imagine them searching for Laputa or farming in The Valley of the Wind. The similarities even extend to the animals, and while several of the more fantastic creatures wouldn't look out of place in the forests of "Mononoke-Hime", the strongest resemblance (in more ways than one), is between Asuna's cat Mimi and Nausicaä's pet Teto. Sadly, the comparison can only go so far as the characters lack visual refinement, which is further compounded by the lack of gradation in the colour palette used for them.
When it comes to the animation, Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo is a long way from the best work produced by the long-running Shinkai/CoMix Wave Inc. collaboration. The action sequences are pretty decent for the most part, but the characters can sometimes move in a stunted manner, almost as if there's a degree of uncertainty about how each person should act or react in a given situation. In addition to this there are several scenes where the characters seem to have irregularly proportioned bodies, and viewers may find themselves wondering why particular events leave them with the nagging feeling that something isn't right.
The theme song, "Hello, Goodbye and Hello" is a bittersweet ballad composed and performed by Anri Kumaki, and in all honesty it's a rather fitting song given the nature of the story. As for the background music, there's a rather nice mixture of placid or bittersweet orchestral tracks, light-hearted jingles and dramatic pieces, all produced by Tenmon - Shinkai's long-time compositional stalwart. Ironically, the movie excels when it comes to audio choreography, and with an array of high quality effects on offer it can sometimes feel as though more care has been given to making the feature sound good in a pretty setting, and not enough on developing the story.
The script lacks a degree of intuitive flow, and the characters can sometimes state the obvious or wax philosophical for no reason other than to add a veneer of intelligence to proceedings. It's a sad fact that the dialogue can sometimes be stunted, and lacks the nuance that many viewers might expect. While some people may believe that this is due Asuna's age and lack of knowledge, the simple fact is that it highlights more than anything else how inexperienced Shinkai is with this type of movie. That said, the more than experienced cast have rallied well, but even with their ability to project emotion and personality, there are moments when they're unable to compensate for the heavy handed script.
There's a strange dichotomy with the characters as on the one hand Asuna, Shun, Shin, and pretty much everyone else aren't really anything to write home about - especially if you've watched certain Ghibli movies. On the other hand Morisaki Ryuji is a very interesting person indeed, and is reminiscent in many ways of a more humane Ikari Gendou. Unfortunately he also suffers from the same problem in that he isn't given enough back-story to support his actions and decisions, but then, that's pretty much the tale of Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo in a nutshell. Although there is some development for the lead roles, it's often sporadic as the focus seems to be more on the journey itself.
Shinkai Makoto has made it no secret that the inspiration for this movie came from a story he read in elementary school, but it was during his sojourn in England in 2008 that the idea for the anime finally coalesced into something more concrete.
Which, strangely enough, explains rather a lot.
There's a childishness to the movie that doesn't quite fit with the major themes of the plot, and in many ways it feels more like Shinkai was testing the waters and his determination, which isn't actually surprising when one considers that Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo is also his attempt to prove that he isn't a one-trick pony. While there are some positives that can be taken away from the feature, there are far too many things that have been "borrowed" from other films, and these make it difficult to see the movie as little more than an homage. In all honesty it would have been nice if Shinkai had the courage of his convictions and relied more on his own style (like he did with "5 cm Per Second" and "The Place Promised In Our Early Days"), instead of trying to piggyback on that of another studio.
That said, Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo is a fairly easy movie to watch as long as the viewer doesn't delve too deeply, and it has a much lighter and more adventurous tone that Shinkai's previous offerings. In addition to this, if one considers it an experiment with a new type of story then it doesn't just become a reasonably entertaining feature, but also a glimpse into the mind of Makoto Shinkai, and that is a much more rewarding experience than the movie itself.
If you are familiar with Shinkai Makoto's work, Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo shares many elements common to his previous films. His tendency to use comparatively flat characters set in a stunningly rendered world; a story about the ephemeral connections between humans; and a gentle, non-invasive, soundtrack are all well represented here. The level of polish in this film seems evident of Shinkai's maturing talent as a story-teller in the medium of animation, and reminds me of some of the best works from Ghibli.
In particular, I was encouraged that in comparison to his last two films (Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Bashou and Byousoku 5 Centimeter), Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo does not rely on narration as a means of expressing the thoughts and feelings of his protagonists. As much as I enjoyed those films, it is difficult in the best of circumstances to properly translate feelings into one language. Their re-translation into english left me thinking that I was listening to particularly emo livejournal entries at times. The only place I felt this failed him was in establishing the depth of the relationship between Asuna and Morisaki.
I won't be providing a synopsis. I am a firm believer that the story is far less important than how it is told. I will say that in contrast to what I expected, this is very much in the genre of adventure movies. The themes of love and loss are still present, but their emphasis in the film overall was far more subtle than I had anticipated. While I think that it made the film more entertaining than his previous works, I must admit that upon reaching the end of Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo I did not feel the emotional rawness that Shinkai's previous works have left me with, and I find that I miss it.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices is another movie by Makoto Shinkai and thus I went into it expecting good things, and I’m glad to say the movie doesn’t disappointed, but then that also depends a lot on the viewer.
The story is set around a young girl who goes by the name of Asuna, who has recently suffered the loss of her father and has grown up quickly because of it. When not at school or doing a few chores around the house Asuna can be found at her clubhouse on the nearby mountain with her odd cat like creature, Mimi. One day Asuna comes across an odd boy called Shun who explains he’s from a different country which goes by the name of Agartha, unknown to Asuna at the time, she would be seeing a lot of Agartha in the coming future. As the story goes on we see the death of Shun which leads Asuna to get talking to a substitute teacher at her school who seems to know a lot about Agartha. He explains that Agartha is a world far under the ground; the world of life and death and that he, Ryuji, has his own reasons for going to this world. As the story continues Asuna meets Shun’s brother, Shin, and along with Ryuji, and Mimi the cat she ends up in Agartha heading towards the door of life and death so Ryuji can bring his dead wife back to life. As the story goes on the group suffers losses, fun and sad times, but overall it’s a colourful and pretty adventure, if not hinting towards a darker undertone that not everyone will pick up on.
You could argue that in terms of animation the movie is a joy to watch, but that isn’t completely true. Children Who Chase Lost Voices only seems to come into its own once Asuna reaches Agartha, which is such a pretty and vibrant world to look at. It’s the kind of place our younger selves dream of and wish to live in. While Children Who Chase Lost Voices is lovely throughout for its animation, it really does jump to new heights once we reach Agartha. That said, the movie doesn’t actually have much of an art style of its own, and anyone who has ever watched a few Studio Ghibli movies in the past will quickly realize that Children Who Chase Lost Voices doesn’t look all that different, even in its character designs. That said, while I would have liked to have seen it do its own thing, I don’t mind all that much that it went for a Studio Ghibli style because it pulls it off almost perfectly.
As far as the movie’s soundtrack goes, I can’t honestly fault it. Every piece of music seems to fit the scene, but that said, the more cheerful tracks to the movie sit better than the dramatics. But then, that seems to be the movie full stop; the more light hearted stuff is more powerful than the dramatics.
In terms of the characters themselves some are very much likeable and show real growth as the story goes on, and some just don’t. Sadly, Asuna falls into the latter comment. While Ryuji seems to grow throughout this trip (and quickly becomes somewhat of a father figure to Asuna), Asuna seems nothing more than just someone for us to view the whole adventure through. There really doesn’t seem to be much emotion to her and she seems to just get on with things, even when Shun dies, it’s a long time before we see any real emotion over the event. The rest of the characters, however, are strong enough to more than make up for Asuna.
The movie really does seem to rely on the theme of life and death running through it more than it does anything else. The viewer must decide if the actions of Ryuji are correct, and if you’d act the same put in his shoes. Personally though, I feel like the movie also teaches an important lesson for anyone who has every lost a loved one, in that you can’t get consumed by the fact you’ll never see them again. You have to move on and find happiness in other ways, always remember them, but always keep on living too. Even if you could obtain the power to bring someone back from the dead, it isn’t to say that is the correct path.
When it comes down to it, how much you care for Children Who Chase Lost Voices will depend on how much you yourself have been through in life. Those who have never lost anyone they care about likely won’t read much into the plot, but those that have will find a much deeper meaning under the surface. It’s an enjoyable enough movie either way, but some will pass it off as not being deep enough because it can seem like a very light-hearted story if you don’t read too much into it.