Starring: Hisako Kanemoto, Kazuhiko Inoue, Miyu Irino
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Running Time: 116 mins
Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a Japanese film about a schoolgirl who follows a mysterious piece of music left behind by her late father into an incredible underworld, however she soon discovers others may disrupt her journey with their own motives.
This is an absolutely brilliant film. Clever, unpredictable and stunningly beautiful, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is an exceptionally memorable and emotionally powerful watch, made all the better by Makoto Shinkai’s expert direction. Save for a brief period of awkward transition, this is the best I’ve seen from Shinkai, and gives great weight to his road to becoming the successor to Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki.
Before I get into what makes this film so good, I want to start off by explaining the one chink in its form. As we’ve seen on numerous occasions, Makoto Shinkai’s films transcend genre. Never wanting to stick to one concept over the course of an entire runtime, his films often evolve dramatically by the end.
That’s something that has to be admired and cherished, because it’s something so few directors are willing to risk. However, as bold and impressive as it is, there is one thing about it that makes Shinkai’s films at times frustrating. In the case of this film, we move from a personal story about loss and loneliness to a plot that, whilst centring on the same themes, is set in a far wider context, and a fantasy world beneath the Earth.
By the end of the film, it works fantastically well, as I’ll get onto in a minute, but what Shinkai doesn’t achieve so well is a smooth transition between the two genres. A dramatic change it may want to be, but the change feels far more jarring than it should be, and for the best part of half an hour afterwards, it’s not so easy to be as fully invested as you would like, because it feels like starting an entirely different film.
It’s a frustrating issue, but it’s thankfully one that’s forgotten by the end of this excellent movie, which is mostly thanks to the ingenious story. Reminiscent of films like Castle In The Sky and Spirited Away in its ideas, the way that this film develops so dramatically into a powerfully moving story about personal loss and grief is quite spectacular.
Never holding back with thought-provoking portrayals of the afterlife, my lasting impression from Children Who Chase Lost Voices is that it’s an anime that’s not just entertaining and exciting, but genuinely intriguing and emotional. I was brought close to tears on two occasions, and fascinated by the world we follow our protagonists through on many more, whilst the film’s final sequence is utterly astonishing to witness, pulling punches you couldn’t see coming in a million years, making for a truly enthralling experience.
Whenever the film’s really rolling, and there’s pace, action and drama in abundance (including some incredibly intimidating villains), it’s impossible not to be fully invested. What makes that even more powerful and engrossing is the stunningly beautiful animation throughout.
The crisp animation of the characters is always a pleasure to see, but the real visual draw of this film, like so many other Shinkai anime, the astonishing landscapes and backgrounds that the story is set against. On Earth, there are some beautiful panoramas of the countryside scenery, but what’s most spectacular is the gorgeous views of the Northern Lights-esque sky in the underworld, as well as some terrifyingly dark but still entrancing images of the terrain’s roughest areas.
Overall, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a hugely impressive film. Without its awkward principal transition about a third of the way in, it would be even better, but even so, the film’s boundless capacity for intelligent, thought-provoking ideas, exciting and entertaining action and adventure, and astonishingly beautiful animation makes it an enthralling and memorable experience, which is why I’m giving it an 8.2.