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Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below
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by Jay Seaver

"A new animated masterpiece by a new master."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Makoto Shinkai has occasionally been described as "the new Miyazaki", which is tremendously unfair, both for how Hayao Miyazaki is almost universally beloved for a large body of work and for how it diminishes Shinkai's own distinct gifts. With his latest, the comparisons seem more apt; "Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below" has the mythic feel of Studio Ghibli's more ambitious classics even while having Shinkai's denser plotting and focus on separation and loss.

Asuna Watase (voice of Hisako Kanemoto) is a smart, independent girl, getting top marks in her classes and looking after herself while her widowed mother works long hours at the hospital. She's made herself a little hide-out at the top of a nearby cliff, where she tunes into all manner of broadcasts with a homemade crystal radio. One day, she hears an especially strange song; that night, she sees a new light from her bedroom window. And when she meets the boy who made it (voice of Miyu Irino), it's only the first step into a world that is bigger and stranger than she could imagine.

And what a phenomenally grand world it is! Shinkai starts with the story of Izanagi and Izanami, a Japanese version of the Orpheus myth, adds a paramilitary secret society, monsters, magic, and an unknown underworld. Then the film fleshes that new world out. And then there's more. Every time that it seems like Shinkai has reached the point where it might be time to just play out what he's already built, he comes up with another wonder. Even the horrors - and make no mistake, there are some creepy, nasty things to be found here - are kind of awe-inspiring. This is a truly amazing example of world-building, with each facet both stunning to behold and a logical piece of the whole.

Compared to the sheer scale of the world, the cast of characters is relatively small, but it too grows as the film goes along - there's Asuna, of course, and Shun, the boy she meets. Then there's her new teacher (voice of Kazuhiko Inoue); Shun's brother Shin; and Mana, a girl she rescues after... Oh, and Mimi, the cat who follows her around. It's a small enough group to give plenty of time to each, but large enough that it's never just about Asuna. The character designs by Takayo Nishimura are surprisingly robust, too - note how Asuna seems to become more mature as the film goes on without any easily pinpointed changes, how Shin and Shun share appearance but become distinct, as do Mana and a younger Asuna. Everything feels connected, with each individual part worth the audience's attention.

Put them together, and you've got an impressive story, too. Shinkai gives the impression of a leisurely set-up by spending time on things like watching Mimi, but he's actually getting set to upend things in fairly short order, setting up the first big action set piece, which sets the stage for the rest of the movie by both being a visual treat and surprisingly intense. Though it features a young heroine and is made in part for a young audience, parents might want to watch it themselves before showing their kids; it's got some downright scary monsters and never shies away from its central theme of dealing with mortality. That's part of what makes the whole thing hold together so well - although the film changes direction radically a couple of times, and in the last act must fiddle around a bit to get characters where they need to be at a given moment, what is going on at the center is never lost. There's a reason that the film points out that every culture has a myth like that of Izanagi and Izanami, and the universality of that material lends the movie some of its power.

The film is also top-notch from a technical perspective. Shinkai is still very hands-on - his name appears a lot in the credits, including as writer, director, producer, cinematographer, and editor - but his support staff has clearly increased since "Voices of a Distant Star" and The Place Promised in Our Early Days, allowing free reign to be given to his imagination. The music by Tenmon and sometimes overpowering sound design are impressive as well, and despite there being a number of very different elements, nothing ever seems out of place. The editing, especially, is crisp and often more ambitious than is typical for an animated feature.

Shinkai's reputation may never match the masters he is often compared to, but it truthfully should be fairly lofty on its own. "Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below" is his most visually stunning movie yet, but contains the same impressive heart as his previous work, and is a must-see for fans of animation, mythology, and fantasy.

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originally posted: 07/21/12 17:19:36
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.

User Comments

3/04/20 Christy Cahill Beautiful movie, made me cry not gonna lie 4 stars
2/26/13 Guaporense One of the greatest animated films ever made. 5 stars
7/24/12 Mick Gillies Absolutely brilliant anime - a must see 5 stars
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Directed by
  Makoto Shinkai

Written by
  Makoto Shinkai

  Hisako Kanemoto
  Kazuhiko Inoue
  Miyu Irino

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