Happy New Year, readers!
Feels like it's been a while since my last post but very busy with my full time job these days. You will find me Tweeting more on Twitter since it's quick and short compared to lengthy articles like these.
Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo is about a young girl named Asuna creates a small radio and goes up to a cliff. Using a memento her father left her to complete the circuit, she manages to catch some kind of song which wasn't something from one of the local radio stations. She was mesmerised by the happy and at the same time sad feelings that it conveyed. Not long later, there were reports that perhaps a wild bear was on the rampage in the forest but Asuna soon learns it was an alien creature. Fortunately, she is saved by the young man Shun and soon learns a secret organisation "Arch Angels" was seeking the secret underground world he came from for its powers to grant any wish. Asuna had the key to open the entrance. From there, Asuna goes on a journey in the world of Agartha to learn more about where this song came from.
Hence the Engrishy name, "Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below". I say Engrishy because it's not exactly a great title for marketing ^^;
As you'll know from my 5cm posts, I wasn't really impressed by Shinkai's first two movies so I was pretty cautious when Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo, his latest work, was announced. At the same time, I was expecting it to be better than 5cm because with every new movie released, his direction seemed better. After watching a "preview" of it, I decided to go ahead and import the collector's edition.
There's still a long way to go before Shinkai's work will be one of those that sell out on day one but he'll get there I'm sure.
And yes, it contains English subtitles (and Simplified Chinese)!
So first up inside the blu-ray case are the two discs - the movie itself and a bonus disc which only comes with the collector's edition.
And it looks like I got a shot of the opening scene with Tenmon's name (the music composer) on it and the cat Mimi!
Much better than the random shot of Takaki I got with my 5cm boxset! =D
As for the booklet itself, Shinkai (or the production staff) decided to take a break from the norm. You no longer have the pages showing how Shinkai creates and renders his movies in Adobe Photoshop and After Effects like previous releases. Instead, you have a quick guide to the movie and a fairly short transcript of the interview that you'll find on the bonus disc.
A good change I'm sure since his techniques hasn't really changed.
You do get a generous 64 pages of image boards used for this movie though.
Anyone interested in the way Shinkai produces his animation can also have a look at the other goods available purchasing the official guide book to the movie and can also order a branded USB flash drive containing 5 PSD files for this movie!
As for the sample Manga itself, half of it is the Manganised version of the movie drawn by Tomoko Mitani.
The sample is actually made up of two Mangas. If you flip it over...
You'll find a spin off story centred around the brothers from Agartha, Shin and Shun. Presumably it takes place before the movie.
To be honest, I'd much prefer the collector's goods were an OST and a set of short stories like with 5cm.
Speaking of 5cm, there is a small advert that books containing all the storyboards used during production will be released separately some time next year. Not sure I'd get it... I'm more interested in the fully rendered scenery than pencil sketches ^^;
English and Simplified Chinese Subtitles
Other than that, you will find that both the Blu-ray and DVD contains English/Simplified Chinese subtitles. That includes the normal editions so you don't have to pay an arm and a leg to import... or not as much at least. Note that only the movie contains translated subtitles. The bonus material such as the trailers and interviews do not.
Also, be very careful which region you're in. If your blu-ray player is locked within Europe, you won't be able to play this although I had no problems playing back the blu-ray on my PS3.
I'd say about 95% of the English translations were good but there are a few hiccups here and there such as grammar, spelling mistakes and uncommon phrases. I laughed when a drenched Asuna came home and her mother said, "You are sopping wet!" Here in Scotland we just say "soaking wet".
The movie disc itself contains...
- Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo movie - English/Simplified Chinese subtitles.
- 3 trailers.
- Short interview with the cast and director.
- Makoto Shinkai filmography.
Bonus collector's disc contains...
- "Hello, Goodbye and Hello" theme song music video. A selection of scenes from the movie put together. One bonus scene at the end.
- Long interview with the cast and director.
"Making of" documentary
Right, lets get the obvious things out of the way first. If you're a Ghibli fan or watch a lot of their movies you'll probably recognise a lot of the scenes remind you of their work - in particular Laputa. I was worried this was going to be a Laputa rip-off.
Castle in the Sky Laputa:
- Magical shining blues stones called "Clavis" (Latin for key)
- Morisaki threatening to shoot Shin if Asuna didn't hand over the stone.
- Mad researcher that leaves his men behind once he found the entrance to Agartha.
- The one armed Quetzal Coatl resembling the robot from Laputa.
My Neighbour Totoro:
- Morisaki sitting by the window documenting his research surrounded by documents and breeze blowing gently through the window.
- Decapitated arm Shun had during Asuna's nightmare.
The documentary however, doesn't mention anything about Ghibli - not even the fact that Laputa (1986) was Shinkai's favourite movie although I can understand why.
Instead, Shinkai mentions how Hoshi actually sparked off when he had a sinking feeling during his 2 year stay in London. The longer he stayed there, the more he felt buried deep in a foreign world where he could discover something. It was then he remembered a children's book named, "Pyramid Boushi yo, Sayonara [Oh Pyramid Hat, Farewell]"(published back in 1981) which also features a young boy traveling into the legendary underground world of Agartha and felt it could have ended better. Apparently Agartha is another well known legend used by other fictional works.
Well, if Ghibli can base their movies off books, why can't Shinkai.
Furthermore, the theme this time was how people have to face difficulties in life such as in this case, accept and get over the passing away of people around you. The tag line, "On a journey to say goodbye" is pretty fitting. There was a small recurring theme of distance when Asuna was listening to that distant song. Whereas on the other hand, Laputa dealt with man seeking power and bringing chaos with the new generation bringing back peace, Hoshi deals with moving on once again letting the characters accept death.
So I guess you could say this isn't a total rip-off to call it "Laputa 2".
It's also interesting how Shinkai makes use of real world stories such as the tale of Izanagi and the "Hollow Earth" theory as a setting which allows some room for the audience to relate to.
Ignoring the blatant hommage to Ghibli movies, I thought the direction was a step up from his previous work once again. The tempo and build up was a lot better than Placed Promised. All partly thanks to some help from the editor. One particular touching scene was towards the end of the movie when Asuna stayed in the water, trying to run away from the Izokus as they followed her.
Visuals are nothing short of breath-taking although probably a lot more than previous works with every new overlook of Agartha. You will probably want to watch this in 1080p Full HD on a minimum 42" HDTV to enjoy the details the team has put in the surreal locations.
As usual, Shinkai (or the newly named "Shinkai Creative Team") likes to re-use a lot of assets created from his previous works - very much like the way game developers work. Maybe it's because he worked at one of my favourite game companies, Falcom. If you watch the scene where Asuna's coming through the door, the lighting and setup looks awfully similar to Gathering of the Cats short in AniKuri 15. Also, the bird flying through the golden sky was probably the same one from 5cm.
It felt like Shinkai's trip to the Middle East had more influence in this movie than his time in London.
I didn't like the over-used blushing Asuna had which appears to be becoming common in Japan's growing "Moe Culture" - Basically any character that makes you want to hug them immediately. Only Ghibli appears to be immune to creating and designing visuals to please the fans. I mean really... a big drooling monster is about to eat Asuna and she stands there blushing looking cute? Only Moe does that.
Voice acting was excellent and you'll see why if you watch the documentaries. I got the impression they spent a lot of time perfecting the way lines or even a single word was delivered. The number of times Hisako Kanemoto (Asuna) had to redo the gasping sound reminded me of Toy Story when Tom Hanks said he had to practice different ways of saying "no".
I pretty much burst out laughing when I learned the boat paddling sound effects were created sweeping a wooden plank in a tub of water though. Won't be watching those scenes the same way again!
Tenmon keeps his style and good to see a proper orchestra was hired to perform the tracks instead of synthesised music. Shame we don't see Tenmon in the documentary... only the back of his head! Theme song matches the movie's theme well. If anyone can tell me the name of the Scottish song used at the school, do leave a comment please!
In the end, despite all the Ghibli hommage, Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo was a very enjoyable movie.