Saturday, October 10, 2009

雲のむこう、約束の場所 or Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho or The Place Promised in Our Early Days (Review)

     Back in the day, watching anime meant a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a video tape and a photocopied script that were mailed around together, so it was really something when computers reached the point of being able to process video in a reasonable amount of time and dedicated fans could translate and subtitle anime themselves.  Of course, you still could end up with a copy of a copy of a copy.  The accessibility of the internet and the fears connected to file sharing seem to have destroyed most of the tight knit communities of fan subtitleers, and the advent of DVDs just makes the whole process seem archaic and not really worth the effort anymore.  Ah, memories.  I've seen a lot of anime and, as a student of Sociology, studied the Japanese culture, a bit, so, a lot of the stuff in anime doesn't shock or confuse me anymore.  I had to say that so you could understand the full gravity of the statement I am about to make.  "Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho" is the most confusing, yet beautiful, anime, that I have ever seen.  In the end, though, I think that the beauty of it was the point, and the not understanding of how and why is intentional.

     The less you know about "Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho," the better.  It takes place in a slightly altered present day Japan, however, the movie's revelation of those alterations, as well as the revelation of other plot and story elements, is integral to the story as a whole, so, to review this movie properly, I will need to completely destroy the experience you will have in watching the movie.  Before I do that, I will say that "Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho" has elements of a coming of age story, a tragic love story, and is a very complex tale where the experience of the story is more important than the scientific analysis of the 'universe' that the story takes place in.  To enjoy this film, you need to experience it and not try to analyze the sci-fi-ish aspects of it, you need to allow the film to reveal its secrets to you and not try to guess them ahead of time, (your guesses will almost always be wrong) and you need to be ready for a story that is far deeper and more complex that most.  Characters first, augmented by story and animation, and setting becomes almost irrelevant.  (...if you're wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts, just repeat to yourself, "It's just a show.  I should really just relax...")

     Also, as an essential side note, never watch anime in English.  You lose all the emotion and feeling of the characters.  If you are not willing to read subtitles, then maybe this movie, and anime, in general, just isn't for you.  (Don't be one of those people who puts down reading.  It only makes you look ignorant.) 

     Now on to the complete destruction of the experience I was just talking about.  Really, if you think you might watch "Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho," don't read any further.  Just watch it.

     "Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho" is a story about three childhood friends who share a dream and the eventual reconciling of that dream with the realities of adult life.  In the, slightly altered, present day world, Japan is separated into northern and southern countries.  When and how is not so important, but it does seem to mirror other split countries, like Korea, once Vietnam, and even the once split city of Berlin.  The northern half of the country has built a huge, mysterious tower that the southern half, as well as the US, thinks might be some kind of weapon.  Our three main characters, a year or two before high school, maybe, are building an airplane, so they can fly to the tower and see it for themselves.  (These are bright, motivated kids)  Takuya Shirakawa and Hiroki Fujisawa, voiced by Masato Hagiwara and Hidetaka Yoshioka are building the plane while mutual love, Sayuri Sawatari, voiced by Yuka Nanri, keeps them company and dreams of flight.  Sayuri is also having prophetic dreams, which are, at first, innocent, but turn darker.  Sayuri disappears and the two industrious friends are separated by attending different high schools and work on the plane stops, but the dream and the childhood promise they made to each other remains in each of their lives, which all, eventually reconnect in the realization of that 'promise', made in their 'early days.'

     There is a duality going on throughout the film between the circumstances of Sayuri's disappearance and Hiroki and Sayuri's love for each other, between the dream world that Sayuri is inhabiting and the harsh realities that Hiroki must face, between the dreams of childhood, and the realities of love, and between the mysteries of the universe, and the mysteries of love its self.  This is why I think that the complete understanding of the more sci- fi aspects of the film are not only irrelevant, but also intentionally vague.  The mysteries of the science are not explained fully, but neither are the mysteries of love, dreams, what you felt as a child, and what happens to those feelings as an adult.  Life is never fully understood, and the alternate reality and dream like worlds are mirroring aspects of life, so they cant be fully understood either.  However, we do revel in the beauty and joy of life, and when those moments are experienced or mirrored by other realities in the film, the animation does a superb job of showing you that beauty and joy.  "Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho" is about living those experiences, not the understanding of them, the confusion you feel about the scientific parts of the movie is the confusion the characters feel about life and love, and the beauty of the animation is the joy of life.

      In the end, "Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho" is a beautiful, well made, and compelling story about life and love.  I highly recommend it to anyone who is up to the challenge of viewing it. 

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