Starring: Hidetaka Yoshiaka, Masato Hagiwara, Yûka Nanri
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Running Time: 90 mins
The Place Promised In Our Early Days is a Japanese film about an alternate postwar Japan, in which the country is divided between the Union-controlled North and the US-controlled South.
This is the first feature film from Makoto Shinkai, and as excellent and proficient a director as he’s become since, it’s clear that even the greats can’t avoid a few teething problems. Whilst The Place Promised In Our Early Days is an exceptionally beautiful film to look at, it misses the mark when delivering an emotionally enthralling story, getting bogged down in excessively complicated sci-fi jargon. It’s not a bad film, but I felt frustrated at times as it failed to bring across the emotion that it was going for.
However, let’s start on the bright side, with Shinkai’s direction. As with all his films, this is a visually dazzling watch from start to finish. Complete with his trademark pinky-blue skies and crisp close-ups, the film is just as much of a painting as any other anime you’ll ever see. What’s more is that the animation is the most effective tool in this film when telling the story. That’s a bit of a slight on the screenplay, but it’s also telling of how good the directing is here, as such concepts as the ominous tower that reaches up to infinity really hit you in a way the screenplay doesn’t.
Although the screenplay isn’t always the most effective, I do have to praise its imagination and originality. As a sci-fi setting, the alternate postwar timeline makes for some very interesting questions, and some of the more complex ideas also bring an extra level of depth and intelligence to the story, which all fits in well with the space-age animation style.
That said, I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the way the story is carried out here. At its base, I think there’s a really good and emotionally riveting story here, but this film doesn’t quite manage to achieve that. Although starting well with a sweet and nostalgic romance set within a sci-fi environment, the film then goes all-out with some insanely complicated ideas that stretch beyond even the bounds of its sci-fi setting.
It’s a shame to say it, because the film starts so promisingly, however I can’t help but feel that a somewhat over-emphasis on scientific and technical jargon really took away from the characters and their story.
Despite that, there’s something about this film that feels remarkably similar to Shinkai’s biggest hit, Your Name. The story’s alternate history setting, young lovers being divided, and even some visually identical motifs, all point towards some strong similarities between the two films. It might not be deliberately so, but Your Name feels to me like a far more impressive and emotionally stirring remake of The Place Promised In Our Early Days, so that’s the one to watch if you’re ever choosing between the two.
Overall, however, I won’t say that The Place Promised In Our Early Days is a bad film at all. Its animation and direction are utterly beautiful, as always with Makoto Shinkai, and it also has some interesting and imaginative original ideas. However, it doesn’t always bring across its ideas in the most coherent manner, nor does it provide such an emotionally riveting story as it intends, which left me a little frustrated throughout, and that’s why I’m giving this a 7.2.