What They Say:
From Director Makoto Shinkai (Voices of a Distant Star, 5 cm per Second) comes Children Who Chase Lost Voices!
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, it is believed, even the dead can be brought back to life. But at what cost?
The Blu-ray comes with three audio tracks: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1., Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1., and Commentary DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The commentary track is in Japanese with English subtitles. English subtitles are also provided for the Japanese and English tracks. The sound quality on each is excellent, as is the case with pretty much everything else concerning this Blu-ray.
The DVD contains the same tracks, but the English and Japanese were in Dolby Digital 5.1, and the Commentary was in Dolby Digital 2.0.
For my viewing, I watched the Blu-ray disc, which was encoded in 1080p High Definition in 16×9 aspect ratio and boy was it gorgeous. Even if the story wasn’t good, the quality of the animation is well worth the price of admission. The encoding for the DVD was 480i in 16×9 anamorphic aspect ratio.
Sentai went all out with this package. The box contains four discs with two inserted in the front and back covers and two housed in center insets. It takes up about the same amount of space as a regular DVD case.
What’s really cool, though, is that the cover is reversible. The back cover stays the same for both, but the front and the spine differ. On one side, the cover features Asuna, Shin, and Mr. Morisaki standing in Agartha. A black border surrounds it on four sides and the banner “Sentai Selects” rests above. Under the banner are all the awards the movie has won. The spine is a swirling kaleidoscope of blues, purples, reds, and whites, looking like galaxies. The movie’s title is superimposed over this background and a shot of Asuna rests on the bottom.
The front cover on the other side shows Asuna and her cat Mimi. They’re obviously on Earth and their attention is drawn to the background where a blue light glints off a rock outcropping on the side of a mountain. The spine is pure white but it has the same picture of Asuna as on the other side.
The back cover is the same for both sides and features the standard synopsis, stills from the movie, cast and crew credits and disc specifications.
The menu features Asuna, Shin, and Mr. Morisaki standing in Agartha, just like on the Blu-ray’s cover. The picture’s zoomed in and the options reside on an easy-to-see- and navigate white strip. The song “Hello Goodbye & Hello” plays on a twenty-to-thirty second loop. It’s a good design, both aesthetically pleasing and functional.
Man, if you like extras, then you are in for a treat. I’ve already mentioned the reversible cover, but there’s also a postcard-sized poster featuring the art from both sides of the cover; a full-length commentary featuring Makoto Shinkai, production staff and VA; interviews with the cast 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; and Sentai trailers.
Both the Making Of featurette and the interviews with the voice actors and staff last about an hour each, so you’re really getting your money’s worth with these extras. They do provide valuable insight into the movie, but be warned, don’t watch it until you’ve seen the film. I don’t know why you would watch these before the movie, but people are weird.
The only happiness in Asuna’s life is the stolen moments after school when she runs to her secret hideout high up in the mountains. There, she takes out her father’s crystal radio, sits with her cat Mimi, and listens to what she can find. Her father died when she was young, and her mother has to work long hours to make ends meet, so Asuna finds herself alone most of the time—doing her homework, cleaning the house, making her own food. Her only vice is listening to that radio.
And it’s a curious radio, requiring neither power nor an amplifier. And the music she hears: haunting, moving, unearthly, but strangely familiar. The radio serves as Asuna’s only connection to her father, but unbeknownst to her, it also connects her to another world far below the surface of ours.
Asuna’s predictable life changes the day a wild animal attacked her. At first it looked like a bear, but soon it became obvious that this was no animal she had ever seen. Powerful, fast, slavering, it charged her and she was only saved by the intervention of a mysterious boy wearing a blue crystal named Shun. Shun managed to defeat the beast, but Asuna was injured in the fight, so he spirited her away to safety, telling her she should avoid the woods for now on.
Well who is this boy to tell her what to do? After all, Asuna’s been traveling these woods for years. Her clubhouse is there, as is her father’s crystal radio. The next day she returns to the mountain, ready to tell the boy off for ordering her.
Rather than push back, Shun is delighted over her stubbornness and the two spend the day together. He tells her he’s from the country Agartha and he came to see the stars and find somebody. Asuna doesn’t quite understand what he’s saying, but that’s okay—she’s finally found a friend. She leaves at dusk for home, promising to return the next day. Her excitement practically radiates and even her mother notices it.
Unfortunately, soon after she left, Shun died. His corpse tumbled off the tabletop rock outcropping he and Asuna had been sitting on, and his blue crystal falls into a creek. Asuna hears the news, but refuses to believe it. Meanwhile, her teacher is replaced by a mysterious new man who reads to the class the legend of Izanagi and Izanami—the classic Japanese tale of a lover who travels to the underworld to retrieve his lost wife. The teacher, Mr. Morisaki, goes on to explain that this legend appears in different forms across cultures, and that the underworld bears many names, such as Agartha.
Wanting to learn more, Asuna questions Mr. Morisaki later about Agartha and he tells her that some believe the place is real, and what’s more, some believe that it is a realm where wishes can be granted, including wishing for the dead to return to life.
Asuna returns to the woods once more and encounters a boy who looks and sounds almost identical to Shun. His name is Shin and he comes searching for the blue crystal left behind by Shun. Asuna, convinced that this is Shun, follows the boy, and the two are attacked by a paramilitary group named Archangel.
Archangel desires to open the gate to Agartha, but that can only be accomplished with the aid of the blue crystal—called the clavis. Shin takes Asuna deep into the Earth, straight to the gate, but Archangel agents corner them and take the clavis. With key in hand, the leader of the operation removes his mask, revealing himself to be Mr. Morisaki. He pulls a gun on the other Archangel commandos, telling them that he just used them so he could get to Agartha. Asuna and Shin manage to get through the gate before it closes, and Mr. Morisaki tosses his gun away, saying he’s no longer their enemy. All he wants is to have his wish granted. All he wants is to be reunited with his wife.
Shin could care less. He leaves the two and returns to Agartha, and Asuna faces the decision whether to turn back or go with Mr. Morisaki to this strange other world.
Obviously she goes, and she embarks on a journey full of mystery, awe, wonder, and terror. Agartha proves to be a wonderful place, but also sad. Conquerors from the top world since time immemorial have invaded the land to steal its riches and plunder its sciences and sorceries, leaving a world of ruins, a world full of dying people living through the twilight of their civilization. This is the world Asuna enters, but even she couldn’t say why. Not until the very end.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices is simply magical. There’s no other word for it. It enchants you from the first minute and doesn’t let you go until the very end (if at that). Makoto Shinkai plays with very deep and primal myths here, making this feel like an old story that we heard long ago, but forgot as we grew older. The movie is full of action and adventure, but also great character moments and a rich premise surrounding the folly of trying to bring the dead back to life.
Agartha feels like a real place, and one can see the myriad of different cultures Makoto Shinkai drew from to create its look. There’s a definite Tibetan aesthetic going on here, but one can also see shades of Central and South American cultures, Middle Eastern cultures, and Japanese as well. The movie melds these disparate cultures together into something that creates a strong sense of verisimilitude: simply put, Agartha feels real and it feels ancient.
The same care and attention went into the characters as well. This is really a story about youth, about childhood and growing up and about death. The three main characters, Asuna, Shin, and Mr. Morisaki have all been touched by death, and all deal with it in their own way. Asuna subsumes her grief, hiding behind a smile. Shin hides behind his duty, letting it take away the burden of thought and choice. Mr. Morisaki simply denies it. Despite his wife’s plea for him to live his life after she died, the best he could do was embark on this insane mission. The interesting wrinkle is Morisaki may not actually believe it’s possible, but the search is all he has to keep him going. The three characters play off each other well and find ways of problematizing and interrogating each’s coping strategies.
And by God is this anime beautiful. Makoto Shinkai has always produced amazing anime full of color and beauty and gorgeous fluid movement, but I really think he and the animators outdid themselves here. This is a movie you could watch on mute and just enjoy the visuals.
However, as much as I loved this movie, I do find it problematic. Although we have three main characters here, Asuna is the one introduced first, and because of that stands as the main protagonist in my mind. Unfortunately, she’s a largely passive and reactive protagonist. Her decisions hardly ever affect the plot—instead the plot affects her decisions. This removes any sense of agency on her part and, to make matters worse, she’s always being saved by a man. Shun saves her, then Shin, then Mr. Morisaki, and so on and so forth. The movie presents very traditional gender roles and that just doesn’t fly with me anymore. As much as I like Shin, and as much as I thought Mr. Morisaki was an interesting, multi-faceted character, I wanted Asuna to take more of an active role in her own adventure and to save herself.
So that’s the thorn that sticks in my paw. It certainly didn’t ruin the movie for me, but it does mar it to some degree. I had a wonderful time watching this, and I will watch it many times again, but that niggling little thorn will be there no matter what, as much as I don’t want it to.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a wonderful film well deserving of the many awards and accolades it’s earned. However, it suffers from traditional gender roles and presents us with a very passive protagonist. That’s not enough to ruin the movie for me, but it’s disappointing considering what this could have been. Dr. Josh gives this an…
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A+
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: A
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: July 19th, 2016
Running Time: 116 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080i (Blu-ray); 480p (DVD)
Aspect Ratio: 16×9 (Blu-ray); 16×9 anamorphic widescreen (DVD)
Panasonic Viera TH42PX50U 42” Plasma HDTV, Sony BPD-S3050 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection