The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004)
Horrendous title, decent effort.
The Place Promised in Our Early Days takes place in an alternate post-WWII Japan that finds itself on the verge of civil war between the American North and the “Union” South territories dividing the country. The story follows two High School friends that start repairing an old plane in their free time with the intention of flying it to a giant, mysterious tower that’s centered over the border and out of their reach. Soon after, their duo turns into a trio when they let a girl from their class in on the plan, they make a pact to all fly over to the tower, but then she disappears and the two friends part ways, leaving the plane to collect rust and one of the kids to figure out what ever happened to that girl they used to hang out with.
I’m sure the number of people who know about this movie are slim to none, and up until a couple weeks ago when I saw that it was one of the few selections in the anime section of Netflix Instant Streaming that I either hadn’t seen or wasn’t a Ghost in the Shell spin-off, I was in the same boat. But the main reason I even watched this in the first place is because it’s been a while since I’ve taken a chance on a movie that I know little to nothing about. There are only five reviews on Rotten Tomatoes for it, four of which are freakin’ glowing, so I eventually found myself hankering for an anime fix, bypassed the hundreds of other movies that are clogging up my queue and went for it.
It’s all written, directed and illustrated by one Makoto Shinkai, an individual who put himself on the map by singlehandedly making a 25-minute anime short on his laptop called Voices of a Distant Star, but I didn’t know about that until after the fact either, so, again, don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of it. In terms of just being ouright impressed at how one can make a movie like this by themselves, the dude gets a lot of points, but in terms of how everything works in the long run, it’s a bit of shaky road.
The thing he does best that’ll be immediately apparent to anyone watching is that the scenery and background artwork is effing gorgeous. The characters themselves aren’t all that outstanding in comparison to something you might find on Adult Swim, but so much of the eye candy plays into the surroundings rather than our three protagonists that it becomes pretty easy to ignore the familiar and focus on the sprawling world around them.
Then there’s the story, and I’m still not really sure what to make of the story. Japanese film makers love their post-apocalypses and alternate realities, and since I do too, I dug that aspect of it and I was interested right away. But when it comes to the actual telling of the story, it feels like something was lost in translation. Maybe I was tired and just wasn’t listening hard enough, but it was hard as hell to figure out what on Earth was going on with the plot when it wasn’t just spelled out for me. It eventually gets involved with dreams and alternate realities and all that nonsense, none of which is explained very clearly, and it’s around this time that my brain started swelling as it worked to make heads and tails out of what the hell was happening.
Takes away from the emotional weight of the story, because I think some of those scenes are pretty emotional, but that stuff went right over my head.
And the dialogue is pretty weak, too. One of the biggest reasons I had a lot of trouble caring about the characters and what they were doing or thinking was because everything they said sounded totally canned instead of human. It’s hard to explain without hearing it for yourself, but if I had my eyes closed, I could have been listening to one of many anime TV shows that all sound exactly the same and are sadly stereotypical of the genre. Makes the whole thing feel unoriginal and I really kind of hate it when anime characters start talking like Speed Racer.
The Place Promised in Our Early Days is wonderfully simple in some ways and horribly muddled in others, and part of that might be ’cause it’s been a while since I’ve seen a talking heads anime movie, but then again, Grave of the Fireflies was a talking heads anime movie and that just might be the best anime movie ever made. When I sat down to watch this, I was really hoping I’d be able to churn out a super-positive review about how I discovered this movie you’ve never heard of and you need to see it because you don’t know what you’re missing, but, alas, my expectations got the best of me. Single tear.
From the few other reviews I’ve read, some folks out there really like this movie, so I could just be missing something, but check it out if you’ve made it this far. At the very least, it is quite pretty.