What They Say:
When she hears a strange song from a crystal radio, Asuna tunes into more than just a magical stream of music. Soon, she is transported to a mysterious world where mythical beasts roam and brave warriors fight for their lives. Agartha is a land of breathtaking beauty and unimaginable danger – a place where, if believed, even the dead can be brought back to life. But at what cost? Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a spellbinding new work from Japanese visionary Makoto Shinkai, who amazed audiences the world over with Voices of A Distant Star and 5 Centimeters Per Second. Now, with Children, Shinkai affirms his place as one of animation’s most original voices.
The English and Japanese audio tracks came through just fine with no problems here. The Japanese commentary track (with accompanying subtitles) was pretty educational as well.
The movie was originally released theatrically in 2011, and the video converted here for DVD release looks gorgeous. The video quality here is very nice and crisp. The subtitles are yellow with black detail for good reading as needed.
The front contains the three protagonists of the movie with the title in simple white text. The back shows several images from the film with awards prominently displayed and a synopsis feature listings below. Pretty reasonable presentation of what audiences can expect from what’s inside.
The menu is rather simple with the three leads on a picture with the options listed off to the lower thirds in bright white text. The extras disc menu has options on the lower right. Decent work here.
The extra videos are very lengthy and give a very good accounting of Makoto Shinkai’s mindset when he was making this movie and how much research he actually put into it. There’s a text interview to scroll and read through, as well as a video interview where we learn Shinkai no longer works from home due to having a child now, but rented a few studios to do work instead. He also researched Kojiki, which focuses on tales of gods & deities and origins of the wqorld and Japanese people. There’s also a ‘making of’ documentary showing the film’s prememire screening in May 2011, and another equally informative but rather lengthy video containing interviews with Shinkai and seiyuu cast. We get to learn for example the lead actress was nervous first time she watched movie since it was her first leading role and that the entire cast was affected emotionally after watching finished product.
A teenage girl goes through town to her special private spot where she can get a good view of the surrounding countryside. She listens to a radio crystal transceiver given by her father and finds an odd song coming from somewhere. Eventually, we come to learn her name is Asuna as she goes about her day of school and chores with her cat Mimi following everywhere. Asuna lives with her widowed mother who works long hours as a nurse, so she practically maintains house and has become rather self-sufficient.
The next day, Asuna heads to school and finds got the best score on a test again. Her very pregnant teacher warns the kids of a strange animal in area like a bear or something. Asuna decides to head back to her spot after school. While following the train tracks en route she runs into a terrifying, monstrous creature who comes straight at her. However, a mysterious boy comes to help and the creature is killed just as a train comes.
He introduces himself as Shun, and tells Asuna to leave the area and not return. Later, however, she does so looking for the boy who saved her life and finds Shun expecting her. Asuna treats his battle wounds and they listen to her radio and talk for a while. Shun says he comes from a far off land called Agartha to find something. As a blessing of his culture, he gives Asuna a kiss (her first one) on the forehead, which prompts her to run off nervously.
Some time passes and Asuna finds her class has a substitute teacher named Mr. Morisaki reading from and lecturing about a book which focuses on concepts surrounding death. Upon hearing mentions of Agartha, Asuna becomes very interested and follows him home to learn a little more. However, after telling her some things about humans and guardians who went underground as well as beings known as the Quetzalcoatls, Morisaki abruptly kicks her off home. Instead, she returns to her private spot where she finds a mysterious boy who looks very similar to Shun…
What follows is an adventure the likes of which you may have seen in some fantasy anime, but not entirely. It’s an incredible journey for people looking for a way to deal with their pain from the loss of a loved one. Some of what’s shown has these characters struggling through those emotions in different ways and not necessarily in healthy ways at all as their true objectives come to light. The journey itself is an incredible rollercoaster ride weaving together drama, action, humor, joy and sadness into one of the most effective screenplays of this anime decade. To help illustrate how it plays out, the movie feels like a cross between Hayao Myazaki’s ‘Castle In The Sky Laputa’ and the literary classic Dante’s Inferno. That doesn’t entirely do the movie justice though on how powerful this work by writer / director Makoto Shinkai (‘Voices of A Distant Star’) truly is, even though he actually admitted Dante’s Inferno was a partial inspiration for it during an interview.
I first saw this film at Otakon 2011 two months after it premiered in Japan. In a very large room full of movie fans, I could see I wasn’t alone in feeling incredibly emotional by the time the movie was over. In over 20 years of collecting anime, no film had done this to me. Subsequently I’d often wind up talking about whether Isao Takahata’s ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ could’ve had the same effect due to its sad storyline. The thing about anime such as that one or Shinkai’s ‘5cm Per Second’ or similar fare is that they drill into you about how depressing life can be, and the end result tends to pummel the viewer into submission emotionally.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices (From Deep Below) does something even more hard hitting: it points out that there is a joy to life as well in seeing what possibilities and wonders the world can have to offer, especially when time in the world is shared with a loved one. There’s an input of positive energy that is wonderful to look forward to. The death of someone close means the permanent loss of that energy, save for memories, which is why such a loss is painful for the living. The 1980 Oscar winning movie ‘Ordinary People’ touched on this concept a bit, but ‘Children’ truly expands on it in a beautiful way, as Shinkai notes on the extras disc; “Death is something we don’t normally deal with everyday.”
The beauty is in part due to the lovely backdrops and scenery that Shikai and his team have drawn here, which are every bit as artistic and corporeal as those shown in Studio Ghibli movies. They feel like an art museum come to life and act as an extra character at times for Asuna and others to deal with. Shinkai explained his style pretty well in the txt interview on the extras disc. ‘There’s a lot of 3d animation going on. That’s the mainstream. But my work is more the traditional 2d animation, essentially a lot of fixed cuts that are sewn together. Because of that, one of the first things I think of is the importance of the beauty of each cut as a still picture. Even though there’s motion there, I think there needs to be a beauty there akin to that of a picture or still drawing.”
The characters themselves are equally interesting to see developed here. Asuna’s exploits are fun to watch as she deals with growing up normally (though with a bit of isolation). She’s bright and capable, and having to grow up faster than the kids around her. The late Gene Siskel once talked about how he knew an animated movie had hooked him emotionally, when he came to care about what happens to the people on screen as opposed to thinking of them as drawings. That’s pretty much the case here as the film progresses for her and everyone concerned. I had the privilege of seeing a pre-screening of the dub at Anime Weekend Atlanta 2012 and Hilary Haag still made Asuna a compelling character to root for just as her Japanese counterpart did. This was also true in the cases of David Matranga as Mr. Morisaki and Leraldo Anzaldua as Shun. Although the title was shortened a bit on the title card for this release (likely for marketing concerns), I have to say Sentai Filmworks did an overall nice job on this release.
With the passing of anime director Satoshi Kon, and looming twilight for the careers of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, there’s a need to find great anime filmmakers for the future generations to enjoy. Although he has done decent works prior to this, Children Who Chase Who Chase Lost Voices (From Deep Below) establishes that Makoto Shinkai can truly be the current generation’s leading anime filmmaker. As you might imagine, this movie gets a very high recommendation here and will likely be on my favorite anime list for a good while to come.
Features (Secondary DVD):
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Full-Length Commentary featuring Makoto Shinkai, Production Staff, and Voice Actors; Interviews with the Staff & Cast; The Making of ‘Children Who Chase Lost Voices’; Japanese Promotional Video; Japanese Teasers; A Brief Interview with Makoto Shinkai; The Works of Makoto Shinkai
Content Grade: A+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: A+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: November 13, 2012
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Panasonic 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Marantz stereo receiver