The Place Promised in Our Early Days (PP) is Makoto Shinkai’s first full length movie. Shinkai, a one man band creator who won awards for Voices of a Distant Star, his first anime, has teamed with others for his second production. The result is a visually stunning movie with the pacing and plotting of an art house flick. PP is the type of film that leaves its audience either saying “Genius!” or “Bor-ing!” Its own awards were mainly in the field of technical excellence, and it’s not hard to see why. So far this is the first anime I’ve seen that reminds me of Miyazaki’s depth and ability with color.
(This is the SPOILERS look at this movie, so if you haven’t seen it and want no hints? Go no farther.)
In PP we follow a dreamlike plot where a tower soaring into the heavens, its height unknown, dominates the thoughts and actions of our protagonists. If you check out reviews of this movie on-line, you’ll find a lot of confusion as to when, where and why this story is happening. I lean toward the alternative world view where a Japan-like country is partitioned (much like Korea) after a great war, its “cold war” concentrating on keeping the ocean between the two islands open and empty. The northern tower intrigues several youngsters in the southern country, enough so that the two boys decide they wish to refurbish an old plane and fly to the tower. How this will happen, when war is clearly creeping up on the countries and their silent faceoff, we aren’t told, but they put their spare time and money into parts for the small craft.
Somewhere along the line, one of the boys reveals the secret of their hope to a classmate they both have a crush on, a sweet, fragile girl who thinks of both of them as friends. They let her see what they are doing, and even allow her to accompany them to the weapons plant where they work. Their summer is spent earning parts from the manager of the small plant, and rebuilding the plane, while the young girl practices her music and daydreams of the tower – a tower her grandfather, trapped in the north during the partition, helped to build.
But her daydreams carry disturbing overtones, as if she is seeing something real, but from another time…or another place. And as time goes on, as one boy heads to Tokyo to attend school while the other is tapped to work on a secret project, as the young girl disappears and is later revealed to be in a coma, we discover that the tower is apparently a weapon – a weapon that is slowly changing the reality of the tower itself and the land around it. A weapon that is swapping pieces of reality with alternative universes.
Our heroine’s dream state and attempts at waking coincide with major waves of change from the tower. Slowly, the scientists become convinced that she is dreaming of the various worlds the northern group is attempting to create – and that the worlds are barren, devoid of people, the sign of an experiment run amok and capable of destroying the known universe. As her friends finally discover what happened to her — even as she reaches out through time and space, looking for them, hoping they can find her and finally fly her to that tower she longs to reach – the scientists become convinced that she must remain asleep. In the end, the sharp-edged political climate smothering one young man and the sun-drenched dreams of the other as he attempts to find his youthful crush are both of minor import. The reality that has shaken all of them to the core is that one young woman’s dreaming may be all that is holding back the war they all fear and see on the horizon. One girl’s dreaming may be all that can save the world.
The beauty and intricacy of this movie can carry the viewer along in its wake, content to wait for answers to the plot hints, the character hints – folding the audience into a world where there is no idea who is a good guy and who is not, no idea if one of the boys will betray both friends and early ideals or hold true to former beliefs and friendship – no idea whether attempting to save their friend might destroy the world.
Your only spoiler is that many of these questions may not be satisfactorily settled for you. The movie lacks focus and a steady drive toward the finale, and there is little action for adrenaline junkies. Some will be fascinated by this movie, and feel that enough is revealed to justify renting PP to see this up and coming artist. Others will agree that it’s lovely, but what is all the fuss about?
Worth viewing as an artistic mood piece, if nothing else, but I recommend renting before buying. See if this story of first love, friendship and changing futures speaks to you. The film has some violence, and shows alcohol and tobacco use – the battles are not graphic, but there is an ominous atmosphere that permeates the movie and tinges the tale with melancholy and regrets. Call it PG, a simple tale layered with complex questions and concepts.