Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a 2011 film created and directed by Makoto Shinkai, who is well known for that beautiful and heart-wrenching anime film 5 Centimeters Per Second, as well as that touching short film Hoshi no Koe (Voices from a Distant Star). Shinkai is well known for bringing sadness and despair (albeit in a good, artistic way) to his viewers, and has received immense praise for his brilliant works. However, he described Children Who Chase Lost Voices as a “lively” film. This… coming from the man who gave me depression for a whole day with 5 cm/s; I can’t help but suspect his sincerity. Or he just had a different idea of “liveliness” from everyone else. In any case, being a work of the great Shinkai, this movie is simply worth checking out.
Plot: 8/10 (Warning: possible spoilers ahead)
As expected, Shinkai’s idea of “liveliness” is so, so detached from convention. I don’t hold this against him, though. It’s just that he may have been so accustomed to his style of story-making that a part of that style still rubbed off on his supposedly cheerful creation. Again, I don’t blame him for that. Not one bit.
Asuna Watase stands at the center of the story. She is a student who lives alone with her mother (her father died a long time ago). She also has a hobby of just hanging around at her makeshift clubhouse, listening to a mysterious music from the crystal radio she received from her father in the past. While not exactly happy with her life (her mother barely has time for her because of work), Asuna’s life is more or less an ordinary one. That is, until she came across a random, ancient-looking monster while walking on the bridge. Asuna was saved from certain death by a mysterious boy named Shun, and a friendship between the two immediately bloomed. Everything from that point started to change Asuna’s life, as she got entangled in a string of tragedies and hardships as she inadvertently made her way to the hidden, mystical place called Agartha, which was only thought to be nothing more than a legend in the movie. To let out more little details about the movie would kill pretty much of its charm, so I’ll just proceed with examining the film’s plot structure.
The central theme of Children Who Chase Lost Voices is somewhat disheartening yet inspiring at the same time; letting go of things and achieving happiness through contentment. Throughout the film, we see the main character Asuna tagging along with Mr. Morisaki, her companion towards the land of Agartha. Yet the show doesn’t really give us a clue as to why Asuna agreed to travel to Agartha in the first place; she wasn’t actually coerced to do so. She came by her own will. Of course, a most probable reason that could be deduced early in the film would be pure curiosity innate to most children. However, having an idea on how Makoto Shinkai works on his stories, I was willing to suspend my judgment until the show actually unravels the reasoning behind everything. And when it did so, it seems that what actually pervades the aura of the film is something much simpler, but something elegant, haunting and beautiful at the same time, which is especially fitting to characters like Asuna and Mr. Morisaki; loneliness.
The show portrays this to be the common denominator between the two major characters of the story; what binds them is that empty feeling of being alone in this world. We have Asuna, seemingly tired of being forced to mature quickly after her father died, without getting much attention from her mother, and Mr. Morisaki, who is deeply resentful of the tragedies in his past, and is willing to do anything to change it. And then we have Agartha, which ironically symbolizes their loneliness, with its solitary beauty and utter lack of a vibrant civilization and population. The central theme of the story is highlighted towards the end of the movie, where Asuna comes into terms with her feelings, and where Mr. Morisaki finally confronts the object of his obsessions in his desperate mission to regain his happiness. Another character later in the movie, Shin, also becomes an important personification of the movie’s theme as he got ostracized by his fellowmen for doing what thought was right. They don’t really get what we consider the best thing in the end (that is so like Shinkai), but an air of tranquility and contentment; a touch of happiness, is present as the movie draws into a close. The characters eventually learn to reconcile their happiness with what reality could offer them; and that to me, while not exactly “lively,” is a pretty nice closure for a movie with such a theme.
Not everything in this movie is praiseworthy, however. Children Who Chase Lost Voices is Shinkai’s longest work so far, but I don’t think that’s a good thing in this case. That’s because it affected the pacing of the story; there was a constant feeling that the story was somewhat dragging. There were several “dead scenes” in the course of the movie, which aren’t really memorable and unnecessarily stalled the important events that were to happen in the story. This also resulted to a couple of bland dialogues as those scenes dragged along. I’m also disappointed with how disconnected the Arch Angels (dubious soldiers who are searching for Agartha) are from the rest of the story. Portrayed as a dark, sinister organization, I was sincerely expecting the Arch Angels to be more involved in the story, especially since a major character is heavily tied to this organization; but Shinkai decided to just stop having anything to do with this particular plot device he himself used, leading to an awkward void in the film’s ending; what happened to the soldiers? While I maintain that I find the ending pretty nice, it doesn’t mean that everything in it is nice. Get my drift?
Despite these flaws, Children Who Chase Lost Voices remains an interesting film, plot-wise. It invites you to reflect upon yourself and think things through; are you, like the characters in the movie, lonely as well? What are you going to do about it?
Character Setup: 7/10
Character development in this movie wasn’t the best, but it’s not bad either. The developments were subtle, but we see Asuna losing more and more of her luster from the beginning of the movie in the course of the story, as she seemingly gets closer and closer to the reason why she came with Morisaki to Agartha out of her own will. Asuna’s regaining of her spirit at the end of the film is also noteworthy. Morisaki, meanwhile, didn’t amount to much in terms of personality. He felt a little one-dimensional. We actually don’t get to see much from Morisaki until the latter part of the show, and I still felt it’s lacking. Finally, we have Shin, who is your typical hot-headed but strong-willed character, which is a very common stereotype in anime shows. While Shin’s personage doesn’t really offer something new on the table, his presence makes up for what Morisaki lacks in terms of character development and impact.
The creators must have gotten inspiration from Studio Ghibli for making such wonderful art. The backgrounds are wonderful and pleasing to look at, the lighting is great, the characters are well-drawn and have a realistic feel… everything in this film is an eye-candy. Good job!
The music used in the film is also praiseworthy. The musical scores are arranged in such a way that they won’t disrupt the scenes in the film by becoming too conspicuous. However, at the same time, they are stimulating enough to reinforce the emotions that may be felt in the course of the movie. What takes the cake is the movie’s ending song, “Hello, Goodbye & Hello” by Anri Kumaki. This is a very fitting song, as the entire movie can be summed up this way; saying hello to a new world, bidding farewell to that world, and greeting the world you came back to.
Replayable? Not really.
What makes this movie a little hard to re-watch is its tendency to drag on due to its length. Had the movie been shorter, the movie would have been much better in terms of pacing, making it more “replayable.”
This is not Shinkai’s best work, not if you compare this to 5 Centimeters Per Second, but Children Who Chase Lost Voices has its distinct charm. Its beautiful art, good music, and heartwarming themes make it worth watching. While not as “lively” or “cheerful” as one would expect, this is certainly one of Shinkai’s happier works, and that’s saying something.