The Place Promised In Our Early Days
The Place Promised in Our Early Days is a full length feature film by animator and director Makoto Shinaki, delivered to my doorstep by ADV Films. The press release I got calls him the “new Miyazaki,” mighty bold talk, and it definitely set a high bar before the DVD even entered the player. The movie doesn’t quite live up to that level of hype, but what could?
In an alternate-timeline Japan, split into northern and southern halves at the end of World War II, a giant tower looms large over the divided nation and over the lives of three friends. The Place Promised in Our Early Days turns around these lives and the connection of three everyday people to the mysterious, ominous tower.
First, the good part. There’s no denying that this is a beautiful movie. The animation is fluid and sometimes breathtaking. Sunlight is used to amazing effect. The way light moves and plays over people, the way it forms shadows that melt away, shows a level of care and detail that is seldom seen. This is the kind of movie that makes me want to be an animator, so I can draw beautiful things. I found myself watching little things, as in one scene where characters are riding a subway car, and little flickers of light come and go on the ceiling, matching the trees outside. Sure, it’s a tiny touch, but wow. In another scene, three characters talk as a thunderstorm rolls by in the background. You can see the towering black clouds-mandatory-but you can also see lightning flashing and sparking and dancing in the clouds, so much so that the thunderstorm distracts from the action on screen.
The characters just leap to life off the screen. They’re drawn in anime style, but without the exaggeration so common in anime. They look realistic and very human, expressing emotion in subtle ways, with a look or a stare or a glare. Place’s animation is like a bridge between traditional anime and the full on CG of Appleseed, and it’s absolutely gorgeous for it. Sound wise, the music is gorgeous, but the mix on it is a little loud. Ideally, music should underline and complement a scene, but it tends to dominate. I kept noticing it, especially when I was trying to follow the dialogue. The voice acting on the subtitled version is outstanding.
Unfortunately, the plot doesn’t quite live up to the hype. I hate to say it, but this feels like a movie made by an animator showing off his cool animating skills instead of worrying about the story. Miyazaki-hey, they made the comparison-makes beautiful things, but he also tells a compelling story to go with it. By the time the plot heats up at the 45 minute mark, it’s hard to rise from the apathy of very little happening and enjoy it. And when the plot does heat up, it’s tremendously sad. What starts off as a simple story about three people living their lives in this odd post-war Japan veers into bizarre science fiction around the halfway point, but the transition is handled a little too subtly. You’re lulled into relaxation by nothing happening and then, bam, bizarre alternate universe storyline is in your house, eating your chips and watching your TV. How did this happen and why? It’s impossible to say.
Fellow writer KichigaiSaru actually liked the first half of the plot, so if you’re of a temperament that can take a story about three people living their lives, this may be your thing. He’d like to add…
The Place Promised in our Early Days begins with a story of three children in rural Japan. These children are, on the whole, very typical children with huge ambitions, a carefree disposition, and devout dedication to their friends. The story is equally typical. These three children are on summer vacation from school. The two boys are building a plane, and the young girl hangs around for the company. The story at the beginning is reminiscent of some of Hemingway’s less pointed writing. There are no heroes, no villains, only people living their lives as well as they know how. It focuses on the bonds of friendship, the ambitions of youth, and the meaning of a promise. Just as this ordinary story about ordinary people started to gain some steam it ended.
Suddenly, and without warning, these children were young adults. They were no longer ordinary, but inexplicably important for national security. The story’s focus turned to the ambiguous tower, which left them in awe as children. The young girl, who before was a typical timid but curious child, was suddenly the only thing between the now ominous tower, and the end of the world. In short, the entire story that was built and the characters that you grew familiar with were replaced with an entirely new story, and an entirely new cast of characters. The only link between the first and the second half of the movie, outside of the artistic realm, was “The Promise.” Lacking an appropriate resolution, the first half was significantly less enjoyable than it might have been. Lacking appropriate development, the second half was also significantly less enjoyable than it might have been. The first half promised things that the second half simply could not deliver.
The second half lost us both. Place Promised In Our Early Days is for people who are fans of art, since it’s definitely something aspiring animators should study. Art students, animators, and the patient I’d show it to art students and animators, but if you’re looking for excitement, it’s very sparse in this film