20 July 2012 | alisonc-1
A Beautiful Story, Gorgeously Told
Every culture has a story about the Underworld, where the souls of the dead reside and where, sometimes, the living can find their way in hopes of bringing a loved one back to life. In "Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below," Agartha is the name of that Underworld, and when young Asuna (voiced by Hisako Kanemoto) finds herself interacting with a boy from Agartha, Shun (voiced by Miyu Irino), her whole world is changed. Shun saves her from a frightening creature, but then he himself is killed. In the meantime, the substitute teacher taking over for the regular teacher of Asuna's class, Mr. Morisaki (voiced by Kazuhiko Inoue), is all-too-familiar with stories from and about Agartha, and he is determined to get there in order to bring his wife, dead 10 years, back to the world of the living. But the balance of all the worlds depends on such things not happening, and there are many forces arrayed against Mr. Morisaki and young Asuna who has willingly joined him in his quest, for she hopes to find a living Shun. Instead she finds Shun's younger brother, Shin (also voiced by Miyu Irino), whose loyalties and desires are not perhaps favourable to Asuna....
Anime is Japan's version of "cartoons," although they tend to be much more complex and beautiful than Hanna-Barbera ever thought of, and this is one very beautiful piece of work. The images are exquisite and the colours are wonderful, the underworld of Agartha is just as real as the everyday world Asuna initially inhabits. And the storyline, essentially a meditation on letting go of the past while still being free to mourn lost loved ones, is much more resonant for adults than for kids. The writer and director, Makoto Shinkai, has been compared with the great anime master, Hayao Miyazaki, and while those are mighty shoes indeed to fill, Shinkai's work has the same kind of gentleness and beauty; he is surely a talent to watch for in the coming years. A beautiful film, and well worth seeking out.