Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below (星を追う子ども) — movie review
Posted on June 20, 2012 by Chris Nelson
It’s been a while since I’ve seen an anime film worth recommending, so Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below (星を追う子ども) was quite the pleasant surprise. Makoto Shinkai’s “love letter to Ghibli” is a rare case of homage film that actually feels as authentic as the media to which it pays tribute. Even more surprisingly, when compared to recent Ghibli effors, Children Who Chase Lost Voices completely eclipses them.
The basic story of Children follows a young girl’s journey from rural Japan to the mystical, subterranean world of Agartha, in an effort to return her recently-deceased friend to life — by appealing to Agartha’s gods directly.
Don’t worry, I’ll break it down a bit further (if you don’t care, just skip the next three paragraphs).
Asuna, a young girl from a single parent home, spends her afternoons home alone listening to the crystal radio her long-deceased father left behind. One day, while sitting atop a nearby cliff, the Asuna’s radio picks up a mysterious, otherworldly music. The music is so unique, she finds herself drawn to the cliff, day after day, in hopes of hearing it again.
And of course, she does. Don’t worry, I’m not spoiling anything here. The girl soon finds the source of the music in the form of a young man, Shun, who comes out of nowhere to save her from attack by an otherworldly “bear”. It turns out both the “bear” and Shun are from a subterranean world called Agartha, where the gods responsible for the earth now reside. The two strike a fast but unfortunately brief friendship, as Shun soon passes away.
Understandably distraught, Asuna mopes about until she learns of a myth concerning the gods of Agartha. Apparently, if you are courageous enough to enter their world and gain an audience with them, they can grant a single wish. Even if that wish is to return a loved one to life. Naturally, Asuna ventures forth.
I’m just going to say it up front. Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below is nothing short of amazing. And despite being non-Ghibli, it somehow feels more authentically Ghibli than anything seen in over a decade. It literally feels like the core teams behind Nausicaä, Jade Cocoon, and Princess Mononoke teamed up to make a picture incorporating all those films best elements. It’s almost like a window into an alternate universe of content Ghibli could have created, if they didn’t just settle for adapting middle-of-the-road American children’s books and lobotomized pre-schooler fare (I’m looking at you, Ponyo).
Sure, I know what you’re thinking. “This counterfeit can’t be anywhere near as good as the work of the gods!”. And granted, there are bits and pieces that aren’t quite up to Ghibli quality. One scene in particular illustrated the difference in budget and quality control. The scene features Asuna riding her bicycle next to a field, and the grasses just don’t move quite right within the image. The layers seem a bit out of sync, almost moving at different frame rates, and the animation of the bicycle pedling just isn’t that fluid. It’s not as polished as the rest of the film, and stands out like a sore thumb.
But I was willing to forgive this transgression because the remaining 99.99% of the animation WAS polished to a degree you just don’t see from rival companies these days. It’s hand animated, with only light cg-flourishes. The nature scenes are all soothingly calm and beautiful, and the characters are all classic Ghibli — warm and fuzzy cookie cutter humans and crazy-gonzo mystic creatures.
And then there’s the film’s story. Even given the impressive visual quality, the film would be nothing more than an interesting diversion without a decent story. Thankfully, Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below‘s story proves surprisingly thoughtful, moving, and engaging. There’s a lot of meat to it, from the classic Ghibli-esque tropes of environmental awareness and coming-of-age drama, to the film’s focus on coping with death and unknown futures; love and loss thereof; and the struggle to find the strength necessary to forge ahead, alone, without the ones you relied on before. It’s heavy, heavy stuff, and a welcome change from tiny Borrowers and shrieking fish girls.
But alas, I’ve gone on way too long. I meant to write no more than three paragraphs about this picture, and I’ve somehow let slip over three times that. Let me just say that Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below is the first Makoto Shinkai film I have seen, and it won’t be the last. I’m completely amazed. I hope the folks at Ghibli see this work, and congratulate him on a job well done. Great stuff.