Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Review - Journey to Agartha (2011 - Dir. Makoto Shinkai)

What a completely dull title. It's so dull, it wouldn't even show the reflection of Liberace's teeth. The original title of Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a lot better. They should have stuck with that.

This is Makoto Shinkai's love letter to Hayao Miyazaki. Well, it's a bit more than a love letter actually. It's a sidle up to him on the settee, drape an arm round his shoulders and give him a cheeky kiss on the lips kind of affair. The general idea of a mysterious hidden land, populated with strange guardians will be familiar to any of Miyazaki's fans. The designs also feel strangely familiar too. See what you think of the story:

Asuna is a young girl who, due to circumstances, has been forced to develop a lot of independence. She uses a mysterious crystal radio device to try to find a signal. One day she does. She hears some strange music and her interest is piqued. She gets attacked by a huge creature on a bridge and is subsequently saved by a young fellow called Shun. He tells her that he is from Agartha, a hidden land. Amazingly enough, Asuna wants to find Agartha, and so sets off on a journey.

Journey to Agartha deals with such issues as love, death and the aforementioned independence and as such it is fairly adult in tone although it looks as though it's aimed at a younger market. The look is definitely more childlike than either of Shinkai's previous works, The Place Promised in Our Early Days and 5 Centimeters Per Second. Despite dealing with more adult themes, I found it quite dull. It took me a fair few watchings to get through it because I kept nodding off. Now this could be due to tiredness but I think it's more that not very much happens in the film. Looking back on it a couple of days after I've seen it I can't really remember many memorable moments.

The story has the feeling of having been adapted from a book that isn't really that suitable for being adapted. On investigation, it turns out that it's an original story written by Shinkai himself. The action scenes are beautifully shot but way too short. And seeing as though it spends a lot of time dealing with the death of loved ones it is a surprisingly unemotional experience (apart from one unexpected incident, which I won't spoil). Oblivion Island also deals with loss, albeit in a shallower form, but it is a lot more fun and entertaining than this.

Despite this my overall feeling about the film is how gorgeous it looks. You could randomly freeze frame it with eyes closed and you'd be rewarded with a stunning image. There are so many lovingly drawn details (again something that makes it feel like a book adaptation). Disney have moved on to 3D animation but this shows the evolution of 2D animation and how great it can look. 

One example, and one of the few memorable moments, is a scene toward the end involving God. Being anime, and being based in a hidden world, God doesn't float in on a white cloud and have lovely white hair and a fluffy beard. In fact, this God is more of a Transformer. Cool. It's one of the only times when the story and the images gel together perfectly.

It's a film that I'd like to watch again (and probably fall asleep to again) as it's not an unpleasant experience. My review score may actually increase with repeat viewings. But if Shinkai really wants to snuggle up with Miyazaki he's going to have to lift his story writing to bring it up to par with his beautiful visuals. 

If you like this you could also try:
Oblivion Island, Princess Mononoke, Laputa: Castle in the Sky.


  1. Haven't seen this one.
    I agree Makoto Shinkai is a director who has a firmer grasp on animation than great storytelling.
    I did really enjoy 5 Centimeters Per Second, though, for the tranquil feeling it gave me.

    1. This has a very tranquil feel to it too so it may be worth giving it a try.