I was at Anime Expo 2013 and you get marvelous opportunities to see films…provided you could get in. This one presented itself and the line for it was short, so I grabbed it.
Now, the official title of this is “Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below” (although in some places, it is also known as “Journey to Agartha”. The ORIGINAL title is “Children Who Chase Stars”. For me, this is a sign of trouble. Can you pick a title?) This is brought to you by the same folks who did “5 Centimeters per Second”. This has been out for a while, but is just getting to us here.
Asuna Watase is a girl who is mostly by herself. Dad is dead and mom works long hours as a nurse, so she is left to her own devices. This includes spending a lot of time at her secret cave, listening to whatever radio signals she can get on her cat’s-whisker radio and hears a song she has never encountered before. At school, she hears tales of a bear being seen in the hills where her cave is. Defying the people, as she knows the mountains well, she goes up the hill and sees the ‘bear’, but it is some kind of horrible monster, bent on killing her.
Out of nowhere, a boy appears and uses a crystal around his neck to defeat this beast. Calling himself Shun, they spend a pleasant afternoon together atop her pinnacle, watching the sun go down. The next day, Asuna learns that the body of a young man was found at the base of the mountain. At the same time, her substitute teacher, Ryuji Morisaki, relates a tale about a trip to the Underworld. As I listened to it, it was the Orpheus legend, but he never mentioned it as such, preferring to stick to the Japanese version.
She goes to see him after school to learn about the guardians of the underworld lands, called Quetzal Coatl. (Yes, it is spelled in this manner and I always thought that was the flying serpent of Mexican legends). Armed with this information, she goes to the mountaintop and is shocked to see Shun there. But it’s not really Shun; this person is gruff, less supportive and angry all the time. Suddenly, an MIB group (they call themselves Arch Angel) descends on them, both from a helicopter and ground forces. Fleeing, the mystery man has no choice but to take Asuna into the Underworld to escape the ‘top-dwellers’.
Opening a door with the crystal (which he calls a ‘clavis’), they are about to pass through when three members of Arch Angel show up…one of them being Mr. Morisaki. Closing the door on the other members of his party, it now is only him, her and the Shun-clone in the Deep Below. They now go on a perilous trek to try and bring back from the dead those whom they love, which means they must go to the Gate of Life and Death. However, Shun (as we later learn, is his twin brother Shin) has new orders from the Elders to wrest from Asuna her clavis, which is the odd stone she uses to power her radio. Shin is told to do whatever it takes to get that stone back, even if he has to kill them to do so.
So, initially, it is a journey movie, to discover what you want, what you desire and what you really need and also having to understand the difference between what you want and what you need. But then, the worm turns.
It started out OK, but it fell into a lot of traps. The thing is that I have seen this story before, not only as Orpheus, but as “What Dreams May Come”. Also, they are trying to look and feel like a Miyazaki film. If I wanted Miyazaki, I would hunt it down Miyazaki myself and not be given a weak Miyazaki substitute. The scenery is gorgeous but the script suffers greatly as they are not really certain what they wanted to do with it and how they wished to tell the story. And my gut feeling as to what was going to be the outcome played out almost exactly as I had surmised, so it was a real let-down at the end.
I also felt that both Shin and Morisaki seemed to be angry all the time about one thing or another. I assume Shin is upset that he had to retrieve Shun’s clavis (and Shun dying didn’t help things) and then having this new task put upon him. Mr. Morisaki is angry, as he will do whatever it takes to bring his dead wife back with him. Then we have some real script-bender premises. Mr. Morisaki had been looking for this portal for 10 years. He moves to the town and find it in two days? Really? And some scenes were played out to make you feel sad as to the turn of events. You can really see the manipulation of things here and that irritated me as well.
Although I am glad to be given the chance to see this film, I just cannot give it high marks. Things could have been done better, but they weren’t, and the payoff was slight indeed. This one thing bothered me greatly and badly colored my view of the film. In the opening scenes, where Asuna goes to her cave, we see that it was a gun placement location for WWII. The weapon is now overgrown with plants and is rusting away, but we do nothing with it. Are we making commentary about the nature of the world? Is there any reason to have it, except to explain the cave that is there? Will it serve a greater purpose?
This is problematic with the movie: you set up things but do not follow through, which makes us wonder why it was there to begin with, both the cannon and subsequent set-ups.
I give this 2 ½ stars out of four.
And remember, it’s first run until you see it. Who you callin’ a top-dweller?