Mania Grade: A+
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- Audio Rating: A
- Video Rating: A
- Packaging Rating: B
- Menus Rating: B+
- Extras Rating: A+
- Age Rating: 12 & Up
- Region: 2 - Europe
- Released By: ADV Films UK
- MSRP: £29.99
- Running time: 269
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1/1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
- Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
- Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
- Series: Voices of a Distant Star
By Bryan Morton
March 19, 2008
Release Date: September 03, 2007
What They Say
© ADV Films UK
From Makoto Shinkai, the man hailed as Japan's "new Miyazaki," come two unusual and evocative tales of love and relationships.
In Voices of a Distant Star, when a mysterious alien force begins to attack Earth, young Mikako feels compelled to join the resistance. But when she does so, she leaves behind the young man that she loves. As she flies further into deep space, the time between her messages to him becomes days, then months and finally years. While she ages a few days, he grows years older. Can love transcend time and space?
The Place Promised in Our Early Days follows the lives of three young people as they grow from middle school into adulthood. A mysterious tower provides a powerful magnet for their ambitions and dreams, but when Sayuri suddenly disappears, Hiroko and Takyua find themselves on divergent paths. It will take time and the threat of war to draw the friends back together again. But will it be too late? Or will love provide the key to conquer all?The Review!
Take two outstanding pieces of work by Makoto Shinkai, who some have been speaking of as "the next Miyazaki", and not without good reason (with the added bonus that I actually like Shinkai's work - I'm only rarely bowled over by Miyazaki's), and you get this set. Before I even get into the business of reviewing it, let me just say: you'll want this...Audio:
Both movies feature Japanese and English 5.1 surround tracks, with excellent use of the available soundstage helping to really bring the films to life.Video:
Shinkai's visual style is distinctive enough to almost be recognisable on sight, and it's a style that needs a good DVD encode to really do it justice. Fortunately, that's what we get for both films here, with the detail and vibrant colours present in both shows coming across as clearly as you could hope for. "Voices" is sadly only in 1.33:1 full-frame format (as originally produced), but "Place Promised" gets the extra benefit of a widescreen anamorphic print. Packaging:
The set comes in a double keepcase, with a rather austere front cover that features the original cover artwork for both films on a silver background. The rear has the usual promotional paragraph, screenshots & technical information, and also lists the awards the films have picked up - an impressive collection. The reverse features a cityscape taken from "Place Promised".Menu:
"Voices" menus are simple static screens, featuring stills from the movie. There are no transition animations, so it's all nice & easy to use.Extras:
There's an impressive collection of extras provided for both films here, with a total running time for the video extras listed as 115 minutes - only 5 minutes shorter than the films themselves. To start thing off, there are separate interviews with director Makoto Shinkai about both films, and a collection of interviews with the Japanese VAs from "Place Promised". There's also a collection of Japanese trailers for both films, the original production animatic for "Voices" which gives a glimpse at how the film looked in pre-production, and a 44-page glossy colour booklet with frankly scary amounts of background information on the production and stories of both films. To round it all off, there's the 'original' version of "Voices" featuring vocal performances by Shinkai and his fianceť, recorded before the film had been picked up for general release, and the short film "She and Her Cat", an earlier piece of Shinkai's work that is very different in style and tone from the work he's currently known from. On top of two 2 hours of video extras, there's enough in the booklet to keep you going for hours - this truly is an outstanding collection of extras.Content:
(please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Two stories, one review. Pay attention at the back, please...Voices of a Distant Star
is a story of young love, torn apart. Mikako and Noboru are very much in love, but when Mikako is identified as having the aptitude to pilot a space fighter, she's drafted into humanity's first mission to another star. Separated by untold miles, the two continue to communicate by text message, although thanks to the distance between them the time between the message grows ever longer - and thanks to time dilation (go read up on Einstein), Mikako remains a youthful teenager, while Noboru grows ever older.
The mission Mikako is on isn't an exploration mission - it's a search, to chase down a race known at the Tarsians, who had once lived on Mars. Eight light-years out, at Sirius, the fleet finds what may be the Tarsian homeworld, and Mikako finds herself in the middle of an interstellar war - and desparately missing Noboru. Back on Earth, with messages from Mikako so far apart as to be almost pointless, Noboru decides that he needs to be closer to his childhood love...
The first thing that grabs you about Voices
is its look - there a very clean, glossy feel to the animation which has gone on to be something of a trademark look for Shinkai's works, with plenty of bright colours and background details. Some of the animation does give away its low-budget roots (remember that this film was a one-man production, created on an Apple Mac) - panning scenes can sometimes be a little jerky - but mostly this is a joy to look at, and all the more impressive for being the work of just one man.
The story is equally engrossing. It's a love story at heart, portraying the way Mikako and Noboru are coping with being separated by so many miles that even a simple message takes years to relay. It's also an action film, with plenty of human / Tarsian interaction to keep the interest of those who aren't so keen on the mush. For such a short film - half-hour total - it manages to cover a lot of territory, and does as good a job of relaying the emotions that the two leads are feeling as any show I've seen before.
You could pick a little, if you were so inclined - does Mikako really never change her clothes or leave the cockpit of her Tracer, or is that just a shortcut to save the effort of designing & rendering new environments? Just what mobile phone network can provide coverage to 4 light-years out when I have trouble getting a signal in my backyard? That's missing the point, though - enjoy the action, focus on the characters, and enjoy the show.
The film doesn't have an entirely conclusive ending, sadly. Shinkai did pen a short epilogue story to cover what happened next, including Mikako and Noboru's eventual reunion (where Mikako is still an teenage girl, but thanks to time dilation Noboru's now in his 30's) - there had been a translation posted to the internet some time ago, but even Google can't seem to find it at the moment. If you can track it down, it's well worth reading. Even if you can't, though, this is one movie that's a must for any collection.The Place Promised in our Early Years
, meanwhile, takes us to an alternate world where, following the Second World War, the north of Japan was ceded to the Union while the rest of the country remained under US occupation. The island of Ezo (formerly Hokkaido) became enemy territory, visible across the Tsugaru Strait but apparently forever untouchable. There, the Union built an enormous tower, clearly visible for hundreds of miles around and with an unknown purpose.
On Honshu, two boys - Takuya Shirakawa and Hiroki Fujisawa - have a dream of building an aircraft of their own and visiting the Tower, a dream Hirko shares with his classmate Sayuri Sawatari, the object of his affections. They've both taken part-time jobs with a company that assembles military equipment for the US military, which gives them access to money and a lot of the parts they need to build the Bella Ciela - the name they've given their aircraft. Sayuri's just as keen to go to the Tower as they are, partly because her grandfather lives on Ezo, and so the tower becomes a place of promise between Hiroki and Sayuri. That summer, though, Sayuri begins to show signs of a strange illness - a form of narcolepsy, where her sleep pattern becomes longer and longer until she's finally permanently asleep. To sleep, perchance to dream - of the Tower, which seems to be the source of her illness, something that eventually catches the attention of the military. To the boys, it seems as though Sayuri simply disappears - an event that's enough of a shock to them that it leads to them stopping work on their plane.
Three years later, and Takuya has moved on to working for the US military, where he's uncovered evidence that the Tower is a link to parallel universes - six of them that they can detect, although there's a lot of work that needs to be done before they can access them as well as the Union's Tower seems to be able to. For Hiroki, life hasn't gone so well - he's moved on to college, but with no-one on his mind other than Sayuri, who he hasn't seen for three years now, his life's like a constant battle with heartache. But when he receives a very delayed letter from Sayuri explaining why she "disappeared", he realises there's a connection between his thoughts and Sayuri's dreams, and finds a new determination to complete his airplane in the hope of being able to see her again. When Takuya finally learns the truth, he returns home, but helping Hiroki isn't on his mind - he's here to present Hiroki with a choice: save Sayuri, or save the world.
As with Voices
before it, The Place Promised in our Early Years
is essentially a love story at heart. Takuya starts off looking like the star of the show, but it's not long before the focus of events moves firmly on to Hiroki and Sayuri - Takuya can facilitate their dreams, but that's about it. The Tower becomes this almost mythical object in the background - it's not even really seen properly until the final scenes - that has a level of control over events but never really gets directly involved.
The relationship between Hiroki and Sayuri isn't even a happy one for most of the movie - thanks to Sayuri's illness, they're separated, searching for each other and, at least until Hiroki figures out what's going on, have no way of meeting with each other. That makes a lot of the early part of the film a bit of an exercise in frustration, as teenage angst comes to the fore a little, but once things begin to fall into place Shinkai once again proves himself a master at manipulating the emotions of the audience. It's what VoaDS was all about, and this follows firmly in its footsteps.
But while sticking with what he's good at can be seen as a good thing, it's also Shinkai's weakness, as in a lot of ways The Place Promised
is simply the same story as VoaDS
, only in a different setting. The feature-length format gives some opportunities for stretching things out and really fleshing out the setting, but there's definitely a case of deja vu here that maybe does spoil the impact a little. That said, this is still an anime classic - there are very few movies or series out there that can tug on the hearstrings in quite the same way or are as beautifully presented, and that makes this another essential title.In summary:
Put both titles in one low-price set, and you really can't say no - they're both outstanding films, even if they also cover similar territory. I'm hugely looking forward to Shinkai's next work, an anthology of short movies under the name of 9mm per Second
, but this release will certainly tide me over in the meantime. Essential for any collection.
Japanese Language 5.1,English Language 5.1,English Subtitles,"She and Her Cat" Animated Short,Interviews with Makoto Shinkai,Director's Cut of "Voices" with Alternate Vocals,Original Production Animatic for "Voices",Original Japanese Trailer Collections,44-Page Booklet with Background Information,Video Interviews with "Place Promised" Japanese Cast
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.