Genre: Romance, Drama, Science Fiction
Creator: Makoto Shinkai
Studio: CoMix Wave
Length: 90 minutes
Highlights: Romance, parallel universes, and dazzling animation and music
In 1974, Japan was split in two in “The Separation”: the southern islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu were occupied by the United States, while the northern island of Hokkaido (or Ezo, the old name that is used in the film) comes under the control of the Soviet Union. In the same year, The Soviet Union begins construction of a massive tower in the center of Ezo. The tower eventually reaches so tall that it can be seen from Tokyo, over 700 miles away.
Fast forward to the late 1990s, and our story begins with three friends living in the shadow of the Tower: Hiroki, Takuya, and Sayuri. Hiroki and Takuya, both child geniuses, have been working to build their own airplane from the wreckage of a crashed military drone. Their dream is to finish the plane so they can fly to the Tower, with which they have always been fascinated. After becoming friends with Sayuri, they agree to bring her along as well; however, she mysteriously disappears before they can finish the plane. Years pass and the two friends drift apart; Takuya becomes a researcher investigating parallel universes and gets involved with a terrorist group intent on reunifying Japan. As the specter of war looms across the country, events conspire to reunify him with Hiroki. Little do they know that all of the mysteries concerning the parallel universes and the Tower lead back to their lost friend, Sayuri.
The Place Promised in Our Early Days combines all of Makoto Shinkai’s trademarks. To start, the film is absolutely beautifully animated. As this was the first time Shinkai had a studio backing him, The Place Promised was the first time he was able to really cut loose with visuals; this is the film that really established his reputation for dazzling animation. It also includes magnificent music which always plays at just right the moment. Although piano music most frequently appears in Shinkai’s works, this time violin takes center stage.
Like all of Shinkai’s works, The Place Promised in Our Early Days is partly a love story; however, for his feature film debut he decided to combine the romance elements with science fiction themes. The idea of parallel universes plays a major role in the story, but the film does not focus at all on the actual science and physics. Rather, it looks at the concept from a philosophical and human perspective. In addition, the themes of love, dreams, and promises are all vital to the story, and they interweave with the alternate dimension ideas to create a highly personal and human science fiction story.
The fusion of science fiction, romance, exquisite music, and magnificent animation creates a film which is at once otherworldly and deeply personable. It manages to tackle big science fiction themes with a delicate touch, keeping its big ideas firmly grounded in believable and compelling characters. Finally, it is a joy to both watch and listen to, thanks to CoMix Wave’s amazing visual and audio work. While his subsequent film 5 Centimeters Per Second surpassed it, The Place Promised in Our Early Days is one of the best anime films of the previous decade. Once again, it is a showpiece of Makoto Shinkai’s mastery of filmmaking.