This film is now the 4th highest grossing film in Japan and the 2nd highest grossing for animated films. Many people sing its praises. It was also available for viewing on the flight that took me back to Japan. And I watched it. Here we go.
Writer/director: Makoto Shinkai
Release date: Aug. 8, 2016
It might be just as important to ask who is this movie for as it is to ask about the quality of the movie. Of course, the downside is that is there a way to say who might enjoy a film without sounding condescending? Let’s try. If you are a Japanese teenager you probably think this film is great. Those in love with Japanese media will also be happy. If you are not in those catagories you might find yourself thinking that here is a flick with some promise and a few interesting ideas, but one that is beset by misplaced juvenile humor, handfuls of cliches, flat characters and voice work, that while decent, cannot sell the higher concepts or emotions the movie tries to deliver.
Spoilers lurk below
I’m trying to think of something really positive to say about this movie. There has to be something. But the best I can give it is that nothing about it is truly horrendous. It is all pretty much middling. Sadly, this results in a movie that is less than the sum of its parts. I’m having a hard time understanding why this movie has so much acclaim and popularity. I know it isn’t the first to really mix mundane life with fantastical elements. Is it the added layer of time travel? Really what we have is Run Freaky Friday between Strangers From Another Time on the Eve of mini-Armageddon Run. No single one of those events is really explored to good use. Shinkai just keeps taking on another layer to disguise that he doesn’t seem to know what to do with the layer before.
With better pacing that might have worked. Instead, as these lines of plot build to a critical mass, we get stale pregnant pauses jumping to pressure-is-on-running to boob jokes to hysterics to more running. It’s a roller coaster that rather than delivering a smooth ride just sort of yanks you about clumsily. For a specific example, take the first actual meeting of our two main characters. Grave danger is on the way. They are united and in awe of magic powers. Do they take action and move progress. Nope! They bicker and argue about their body uses. Because that’s how kids act when they like each other, right? Get it?
It doesn’t help that the two main actors can’t really help out delivery wise. They live up to the stereotype that is modern Japanese acting. They can shout. They can be cutesy. But presenting things in an interesting or moving way? Sorry. No, shouting louder does not count as moving. Taki, the boy, has a particular speech about his not being able to remember who the girl is. The dialogue itself is rather repetitive and this is dragged further down by the delivery really only changing in volume. What should be an emotional core is just the popping of a balloon.
The animation itself is also nothing to get excited about. Again, it isn’t bad but there is nothing special about it. Decent backgrounds with flat characters. Designs that fit the mold of anime teenagers wearing school uniforms. Virtually indistinguishable from hundreds of other anime movies and series.
The art is rather detailed, but in a way that worked against the movie as it kept reminding me of how the real world works and how the movie is cheating. But this over detailing, but missing key elements isn’t limited to the art, the story has many of these as well. For example, the story goes to great lengths to show that these characters know nothing about the lives they are waking up in. They don’t know how to get to their school, where they work, peoples names, nothing.They have to rely on phones to help get them around. And the art is so great we can tell, even without the logo, that these kids are using iPhones (for sure Take is, I can’t remember 100% about Mistuha.) But that just brings up the question: How did they unlock the phones? I shouldn’t be having that thought. But because of all the details provided that was just the logical question.
That is a small (but crucial) point. The biggest one I can think of is how he movie does not leave itself enough time to actual save anyone. The result would not change. But this is an anime movie, so it does. Off screen. Because it isn’t really important. It’s just filler to keep the audience from noticing the cracks. (And, boy, does it seem to have worked.)
Just two more points:
- Why is an older girl hanging out with high school a high school kid? What is the age difference? It’s at least two years. And can’t we have more personality for people that just stock girl character?
- I’m all for bands doing the score for a movie. But they should know that scoring a movie is different than just plugging a random pop song into a scene. Radwimps’ music detracted far more than it added.
This movie isn’t necessarily bad. It is just a cluster fudge of ideas thrown at a screen with no real skill in arranging them our artistry in performing them. Folk young enough to have never seen some of the fantastical elements at work will be intrigued, but it offers very few surprises.