Young talented Japanese director Makoto Shinkai is back with this new film supposed to be slightly different from his previous contemplative-slice of life-almost pointless anime. Here, Shinkai wants to share an original universal story, taking the audience on an adventurous journey into the legendary world of Agartha. Promising?
A young & independent girl likes to listen to the strange music coming from the crystal radio left by her father, leading her to an adventure into the hidden world.
To create this universal story, Shinkai is using mythology from around the world. Helping him to build a clear narrative structure as well as creating the fantasy world of Agartha. Basically, mythology is a great tool offering elements that ring true with everyone, it also provides a clear structure for the journey – facing one’s fear, understanding the meaning of one’s quest… To give you some examples, during Children Who Chase…, you can notice some literal “leap of faith” with characters jumping into the unknown, or crossing thresholds.
More generally, the director is finding inspiration in many myths, starting with the story of Orpheus which is clearly mentioned at some point. The journey to Agartha is just like going to Hell, hoping to rescue a loved one. Myths can also be found elsewhere in the film; the Gods, the Guardians, or these strange monsters living in Darkness & fearing Light – as an old man said, “they are part of the structure that maintains
this world in its current state”. Aside from these points, some places have mythological names, for example, Finis Terra, meaning “where the land ends“, which is where alchemists go to find star dust… Obviously, Shinkai worked hard to think this world, using some major ideas to these type of universal stories, like duality.
Where’s mythology, there’s fantasy, an open door to imagination. The journey allows Shinkai to explore this visually stunning world, so between some action-scenes, he’s inviting the audience to enjoy the great majestic scenery. As usual with Shinkai, it’s beautifully drawn, with special care to small details, nice colors – blue-orange skys, aurora borealis. You can discover a giant ruined city, an original foreign city, or the simple beauty of a small countryside town.
Children Who Chase… moves quite slowly & smoothly to the fantasy world, and successfully mixes well-paced action-scenes with slow drama-comedy-contemplative scenes. Where most of the time, characters are seen in the middle of an amazing & giant environment. It’s a nice way to remind how little they are compared to this great world full of surprises. Incidentally, these beautiful shots may reflect the director’s intent. And that’s maybe part of the disappointment.
There’s everything to build something epic, yet, Shinkai seems to be too shy. And he tends to give every answers even before the beginning of the Journey – the scene at the teacher’s house. There are too many explanatory dialogues resolving almost everything. Instead of using the power of adventure to slowly show these answers. Before the first hour is finished, there’s already nothing to look for. Quite problematic.
One can guess, either mythology & universality are more like pretexts to discover the gorgeous & original world of Agartha. Or, Makoto Shinkai is just reluctant to embrace all these universal symbols, to fully trust them. Which is kind of strange coming from this director, who has created minimalist films with very few dialogues, relying on the power of cinema – pictures are emotions. And who stated in this interview that, “creating something universal isn’t just about pictures, but about the story“. Here, he only offers flat characters & stunning but soulless visuals.
Thematically, Children Who Chase… deals about grief, lost, loneliness… but it doesn’t explore these ideas through nice, yet, not completely interesting characters. The overall approach lacks of emotional intensity, even when these characters are facing their doubts-fears – the meaning of the quest – it’s just cold, flat. The narrative feels a bit mechanical, with all the key-scenes but no emotion to glue them together. And every time there’s something interesting, Shinkai just finds an easy way to explain it, and moves on – the past of Agartha, the characters’ difficult choices… Despite all the possibilities, there’s nothing. Frustrating? Yes.
ADVENTURE WITHOUT ADVENTURE
With Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below, young indie director Makoto Shinkai was trying something different, using mythology to amplify the power of his story, to create a work that brings people together. In fact, the film is a half-successful mix of various myths, lacking of unity. The director seems to be reluctant to rely on mythology, using it as a pretext to create a contemplative journey. It’s gorgeous, it’s simple, but it’s void. It will be interesting to see what Shinkai will continue in this direction -5/10.