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Place Promised in Our Early Days, The

ADV Films // Unrated // July 12, 2005
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted July 25, 2005 | E-mail the Author
Movie: One of the biggest misconceptions people have about anime is that it is all alike. When fans talk of anime, non-believers seem to automatically think of the usual Saturday morning cartoon style shows, regardless of the fact that anime is only a way to tell a story (whatever story) without the use of live action. You can find mysteries, horror, comedies, science fiction and pretty much every other genre addressed by the animated form, with varying levels of quality among them. Today's review is on a nice little piece of eye candy released by ADV Films called The Place Promised in Our Early Days (called Kumo No Muko, Yakusoku No Basho in Japan, literally translating to "Beyond the Clouds, The Promised Place"). The story is set in an alternative world where Japan is substantially different than it is now, divided into two halves, one aligned with the mighty USA and the other a rustic place where little threat exists. The story focuses on three children with a dream, Sayuri, Takuya, and Hiroki, of flying to a huge tower on the horizon with a mysterious purpose not disclosed to the general public.

Takuya and Hiroki, two ambitious boys, dream of building an airplane with scrounged parts from whatever sources they can find. As the story developed, the boys grew closer until a fateful day when their gal pal Sayuri fell into a coma. The world they know is always under the threat of military intervention due to the cold war that has existed for decades and the boys eventually grow apart only to be pulled back together as the world eventually prepares for another great war. What is the tower, what does it represent, and how does the bond between the three play a role in the coming conflict are but a few of the questions the movie raises, and eventually answers, in this simplistic movie. Here's what the ADV website said about the movie:

"Set in an alternate universe, this sci-fi story centers around three teenagers, a rip in the space-time continuum, and the perseverance to keep a promise against all odds. The film captures slice-of-life beauty between three friends, while epic events threaten to drive them apart."

Okay, the movie looked and sounded terrific, as expected given director Makoto Shinkai's previous work but what about the content you ask? Well, that's the weak part of the movie. Any time you hear the term "slice of life" you can pretty much expect the plot to be thin and the characters to meander about aimlessly. In short, the movie was eye (and ear) candy. If you can stand the narration that takes away from the dramatic elements far too often, you may like it on that fluff level alone but the replay value is somewhat limited. I long for the day when Makoto Shinkai gets his teeth into a series or movie with more substance than this one but I'd be misleading you if I said it wasn't enjoyable to me the first time I watched it. To me, that means it was worth a rating of Rent It since all the high end quality of picture and audio don't make a movie a hit but I'm guessing a number of you will be impressed enough to think my rating a bit cheap. Give it a look (and listen) and you'll see what I mean when I say that it was a fun ride but wore thin pretty quickly.

Picture: The Place Promised in Our Early Days was presented in a gloriously attractive 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen color befitting the talent of director Makoto Shinkai. The colors, backgrounds, characters, and pretty much every other visual aspect of this movie was as good looking as I could imagine, dwarfing some of my favorite studios and production teams in terms of the many detailed aspects it covered. The use of shadows, lighting effects, and other minute details was beyond almost anything I've seen in an anime release, lending itself to showcasing some of the finest artwork you'll see in such a release.

Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround original Japanese track (with English subtitles) or a very pleasing English language dub. The vocals on each track were different enough that I enjoyed each of them pretty much equally (in different ways) but the music score was exceptional by any standards. This is one of those titles I consider a prime candidate for a separate music CD release due to the inherent quality it possessed. In overall terms, the production quality of the picture and sound meshed very nicely together in a manner a weekly series simply can't do because of time constraints.

Extras: The extras were much better this time with lengthy video interviews of Masato Hagiwara, Yuka Nanri, Hidetaka Yoshioka, (the three lead characters of the movie) and director Makoto Shinkai. Each was given between 10 and 13 minutes to discuss their role with the production of the movie and some personal anecdotes. If any of you is left with questions about the movie, its themes, or any other aspect of the movie, you need only watch these interviews to be set straight. The other extras on the DVD were some trailers (some of them were varying length trailers of the movie itself) and some DVD credits. Inside the DVD case was a paper insert that explained some of the director's history and a poem. Lastly, there was a double sided DVD case with prose reminding me of the classic Our Town in terms of how it looked at memories of the past.

Final Thoughts: The Place Promised in Our Early Days showed that director Makoto Shinkai was no one hit wonder for his previous one man show release of Voices of a Distant Star but like so many in the field, he needs the right material to fully exploit his genius and this wasn't it. To me, the sum of the parts needs to outweigh the individual components and while this was a nice anime to showcase your home theatre set up; it lacked the depth and replay value I need to get truly excited about a movie. Give it a shot though and you may find the quality of the production values enough to sustain your interest for multiple viewings. In time, I suspect Makoto Shinkai will become the next big player in anime but he'll need the support of fans as well as a high end project to make it happen.

If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003 and Best Of Anime 2004 article or regular column Anime Talk

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