The creator of Voices of a Distant Star returns to adolescence but with a serious twist.
The adolescents in question — two boys and a girl — are caught in an emotional and political tug of war set in an alternate history where Japan following World War II was split into two parts, Hokkaido and the rest, with the main island still being run by the Americans.
It is now “present day.” The Hokkaido based “Union” is building a gigantic tower that apparently harbors within itself the ability to alter space-time to open portals to alternate dimensions. The American run government suspects that the Union is up to no good and is planning to use the tower as a weapon in a war that everyone knows will take place.
So far so good. What sounds like a “standard” mind-bending anime sci-fi epic, though, turns out to be a somber and artistic look at the relationships of the three main characters as they develop over the years and as they become involved in the tense and at times violent events that are unfolding around them. Yes, there are a computers, tanks, gunfire, and technology, but these elements are forced into the background by the director’s focus on the characters and on the presentation of artistic and painterly interpretations of countryside nature and mundane urban transportation settings.
Just watch the views of the inside of the passenger compartments of the trains that are a prominent feature in the film. Seemingly minor details such as sunlight and moving reflections give an other-worldly quality to what is really just a standard train ride. This heightened sense of “realism” abounds through this film which at times appears more interested in being artistic than in being real. Most interesting is the deserted nature of most of the frames in this film. We know how crowded Japan is but this Japan is sparsely populated having not, apparently, experienced a post war population boom.
Another theme of great centrality to the plot is dreaming. This is handled well. Where other directors might have posed the question to the audience, “I dare you to figure out early on what is a dream and what is reality,” Makoto Shinkai incorporates that element in a clever way.
If your taste runs to action, this film may not be for you. If you like thoughtful and dramatic plots that take time to unfold, this may be your cup of tea.