Tuesday, 25 October 2011

London Film Festival Review of 'Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below'

Let me start by saying how long winded the title is, for doubtless the true Japanese name got lost in translation and we end up with something rather misleading because a) there is only one child that 'chases' the voices and b) the said voices are not really 'lost'? Unless I totes didn't get that from the film and missed something integral - which was a recurring feeling throughout this vividly beautiful but heavily complex animated film (which means the title is actually sort of a reflection of the content).

While it is rather safe to assume that this is child's tale, with our main gal, Asuna being no older than 11 (methinks), the story is rather heavy handed and grave. I enjoyed the opening of the film; we see the landscape that Asuna lives in and it's just stunning; the detailing is astounding and each frame is nothing short of a masterpiece - it leaves one rather wide eyed with awe at the arduous production process behind it all. But pretty pictures alone do not a great film make.

And as such, Makoto Shinkai, the director behind the film, does not quite measure up to Miyazaki, who is often compared to. This film is more Spirited Away than Princess Mononoke, though there are some clear nods to the latter film. *SPOILER ALERT* It takes awhile for our heroine to visit this underworld dimension, one that mixes several mythologies (with lots of Latin terms and references) but uses the Japanese Shintoist legend of Izanagi and Izanami at its heart. What I found odd about Asuna's motivation to go to this underworld where a human can resurrect a lost one, was that she follows a pull exerted by the mysterious appearance (and disappearance) of the boy Shun. Early on, we understand Asuna's father passed away when she was very little and a few references and flashbacks led one to think something about the father's passing or past would be relevant, not least because the special 'clavis' crystal that Asuna comes  to have came from him. Yet that was not relevant; the story danced about endlessly and though there was a definitive structure of a 'journey there and back', it got lost in the various layers and became a needlessly extended version of 'Let's understand the meaning of farewell.' I was waiting for the moment I, as a viewer, could get a grip and take hold on this journey and I'm not sure that came about.

There were plenty of poignant character moments but they lost their punch amongst the overly symbolic visuals and heavy, burdening story (which one could argue is the intended effect if the narrative is to deal with death and life). I just think I would have preferred it a smidge better if the heroine was a little older.

The soundtrack was a little too dramatic and in contrast to saturated symbolism, there were some really obvious 'on the nose' moments (light spilling through the frame when the hero character, Shin, comes to the rescue). In the end it needed to be reigned back to something a little more straightforward.

VERDICT: 6/10.

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