Otakon2011: "Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below" Review
It’s impressive that after only five films Makoto Shinkai has become so renowned within the animation community. His work certainly deserves it, often touching on difficult subjects relating to human communication, and is executed with few flaws and beautiful animation. His films are also notable for the way they stray from the typical ‘safe’ ending where everything turns out alright, and he instead often opts for endings that tend to realistically depict human relationships. This results in a level of reflection for the viewer and a finer appreciation for a film willing to push him or her to that point. Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below takes Shinkai’s past work and builds on them, albeit in a different manner. The movie is far from perfect, having a number of flaws that could easily be fixed, but Shinkai is definitely capable of crafting a world for the viewer to enjoy.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below tells the story of Asuna, a young girl who has been forced to grow up very quickly due to the loss of her father. While walking home one evening Asuna encounters a strange, fearsome monster (later known as Quetzal Coatl) that attacks her, and is subsequently saved by a mysterious boy by the name of Shun. Shun carries a crystal similar to Asuna’s and manages to save her through its power. Asuna later finds out from Shun that he is not from her world, but instead the world beneath them, Agartha. Asuna quickly grows attached to Shun but he is found dead soon after their meeting, leaving Asuna in disbelief. Asuna’s life quickly spirals out of control when she encounters another boy from Agartha. After a series of events involving an organization bent on finding Agartha (due the various powers it has), Asuna winds up in Agartha with her substitute teacher, Mr. Morisaki, a man who wishes to bring his wife back to life through the power of Agartha. Mr. Morisaki and Asuna travel together as they explore the world of Agartha and ultimately must decide what their purpose for being there really is. For Mr. Morisaki it is clear: his wife. For Asuna, however, the answer is not so clear.
The plot of Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below sounds somewhat complicated, but really it is just a new re-telling of Izanagi and Izanami (or Orpheus and Eurydice). The movie itself acknowledges this in-story when Mr. Morisaki teaches the class the story of Izanagi and his journey to retrieve his younger sister from the underworld. The story starts off slow, with Asuna wandering around doing miscellaneous tasks and no clear plot in sight. Some of it is necessary, to depict the type of character Asuna is, but other parts seem as though they are merely there to show off the rich world Shinkai has crafted. Showing off gorgeous design and animation isn’t awful, but when the rest of the movie already does it so well it is unnecessary.
The plot begins to take off when Shun’s younger brother, Shin, is introduced, and Asuna journeys into Agartha. Even then, the story as a whole suffers from pacing problems, with Asuna and Mr. Morisaki wandering through Agartha camping. This is in part due to the fact that there is very little action in Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below. There are moments here and there, like when Asuna is kidnapped by creepy creatures known as Izoku and risks being devoured, but as a whole they are squashed due to the sheer construction of the world around them. Since it is a re-telling of a past tale the ending is predictable, but suited for the characters and the journey they have gone on.
The heart of this story comes with Asuna and Mr. Morisaki. Despite the tough front Asuna puts on she is still a young girl, a young girl who lost her father at a young age and was forced to grow up before she was ready. She is seen by herself a lot of the time, and when Shun enters the picture it is (seemingly) the first time she has become close to someone so quickly. His death alienates her yet again. Unlike Mr. Morisaki, Asuna does not know why she is in Agartha and the journey for her consists in discovering this. The end result is somewhat disappointing and a bit superficial, but the emotion could definitely be felt at the climax of Asuna’s character development. Mr. Morisaki isn’t quite like Asuna, being driven by grief and his inability to live without his wife. He is not a bad person per se, but his goals needed to be reevaluated. At the end, Morisaki stays true to his character and goals, something Shinkai should be applauded for since far too many shows/movies have characters that have a change of heart too easily.
Shun and Shin have their positives and negatives. On one hand, Shun acted as a catalyst for Asuna’s character. On the other, he does very little, and since he dies his character is never really explored and leaves a few questions lingering regarding his intentions. Shin gets attached to Asuna too quickly, essentially abandoning his people’s ideals for a girl he just met. It is hard to buy into that when Agartha is in ruin and the people have been tormented and massacred by people from ‘the top.’ His resolve at the end becomes hard to accept and gives off a ‘cheesy’ vibe that all of Shinkai’s other works avoid.
But Shinkai should again be applauded due to the sheer depth, beauty and detail that has gone into constructing the setting of Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below. There is not a single moment where the viewer isn’t in sheer awe of what they are seeing, ranging from the details in the grass and the mountains to the colorful skies and sunsets. It is truly a testament to his abilities and really shows just how far animation has come in this day and age. Agartha’s depiction is also a nice change of pace from what the viewer is used to when dealing with the world below. Instead of being cold, dark and dreary it is stunning, with powerful guardians at its side and creepy creatures residing within it. The score is something else to marvel at, with the various piano and string pieces adding so much emotion and excitement to each and every scene. Not a single beat is missed technically, and in a way it makes some of the flaws forgivable since the film is so pleasing to the eye and ear.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below is a story that struggles with pacing problems, an issue that could have been fixed by tightening up some of the scenes and ultimately shortening the movie just a bit. It makes up for it by presenting a protagonist anyone can cheer on and depicting a subject that is difficult to touch on sensitively: death. Overcoming loss and dealing with it are constantly at the center of human life, so to be able to craft such a striking story from it is what sets Shinkai above the rest. It is obvious that he will continue to grow as a filmmaker and produce thought-provoking stories that deserve to be watched.