The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Tag Archives: Film Reflection

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: K-On! The Movie (Eiga Keion!), A Review, Recommendation and Remarks On Serendipity At The Film’s Ten Year Anniversary

We’re buddies from here on out!
Pictures of us together,
Our matching keychains
Will shine on forever
And always, we thank you for your smile

—Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!

With its theatrical première ten years previously to this day, K-On! The Movie has aged very gracefully from both a thematic and technical standpoint. The film follows Houkago Tea Time shortly following their acceptance to university. With their time in high school drawing to a close, the girls attempt to come up with a suitable farewell gift for Azusa, who had been a vital member of their light music club. Feeling it best to be a surprise, they try to keep this from Azusa. When word nearly gets out, Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi wind up fabricating that their “secret” is a graduation trip. The girls decide on London; after arranging for their flight and accommodations, the girls arrive in London and sightsee, before performing at a Japanese pop culture fair. Upon their return home, the girls perform for their classmates and finalise their song for Asuza. Simple, sincere and honest, K-On! The Movie represented a swan song for the K-On! franchise’s animated adaptation, making the extent of Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi’s gratitude towards Azusa tangible: K-On! The Movie is a journey to say “Thank You”, and as Yui and the others discover, while their moments spent together might be finite, the treasured memories resulting from these everyday moments are infinitely valuable. Ultimately, representing the sum of these feelings is done by means of a song; music is universally regarded as being able to convey emotions, thoughts and ideas across linguistic and cultural barriers, and so, it is only appropriate that the girls decide to make a song for Azusa. However, Yui and the others initially struggle to find the right words for their song. It is serendipitous that a fib, done to keep Azusa from knowing about her graduation gift, sends the girls to London. During this trip, Azusa undertakes the role of a planner. She handles the logistics to ensure that everyone can visit their destinations of choice and on top of this, fit their travels so that they can honour a commitment to perform at a festival. At the top of her game in both keeping things organised, and looking out for Yui, Azusa is exhausted at the end of their travels. Once they agree to writing a song, Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi set about composing the lyrics for it. When they begin to draft the lyrics, they come to realise how integral Azusa has been to Houkago Tea Time, a veritable angel for the club. This is the birth of Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! (Touched by an Angel), an earnest song whose direct lyrics convey how everyone feels about Azusa. Because everyone’s spent so much time together, Azusa’s presence in Houkago Tea Time is very nearly taken for granted. It takes a trip to London for Yui and the others to discover anew what Azusa has done for everyone: from planning out the trip and fitting their itinerary to everyone’s satisfaction, to keeping an eye on the scatter-minded Yui, Azusa’s actions during the London trip act as the catalyst that reminds everyone of how her presence in the Light Music Club has helped everyone grow.

Azusa is also evidently selfless, worrying about others ahead of herself: when the others notice her slowing down in the Underground, Azusa mentions that her new shoes are somewhat uncomfortable. She insists it’s fine, but Yui figures they can buy new shoes for her. Because of Houkago Tea Time’s easygoing approach to things, this detour into an adventure of sorts at Camden. However, K-On! The Movie is not an anime about travel; sightseeing is condensed into a montage, and greater emphasis is placed on the girls’ everyday moments together. Subtle, seemingly trivial moments are given more screen time than visiting the London Eye, or David Bowie’s House, reminding viewers that Houkago Tea Time is about its members, not where they go. While it is likely that any destination would have accomplished the same, visiting London, the birthplace of many famous musicians whose style have influenced the Light Music Club’s music, proved to be an appropriate choice that also sets the stage for the girls to compose their song for Azusa, showing that London had a role in inspiring Yui and the others. With crisp animation, attention paid to details, a solid aural component and a gentle soundtrack, K-On! The Movie is executed masterfully to bring this story of gratitude to life for viewers. Its staying power and timeless quality comes from a story that is immediately relatable: many viewers have doubtlessly wondered how to best express thanks for those who have helped them through so much, and more often than not, found that simple gestures of appreciation can often be the most meaningful. Naoko Yamada mentioned in an interview that one of the challenges about K-On! The Movie was trying to scale it up to fit the silver screen. This challenge is mirrored in the film, where Yui wonders how to create a gift of appropriate scale to show everyone’s appreciation for Azusa; in the end, just as how the girls decide on a gift that is appropriately scaled, Yamada’s film ends up covering a very focused portrayal of Houkago Tea Time that works well with the silver screen: less is more, and by focusing on a single thing, the movie ends up being very clear and concise in conveying its theme. A major part of K-On!‘s original strength was instilling a sense of appreciation for the everyday, mundane things in life; the film’s success in scaling things up is from its ability to take something as simple as finding a gift to express thanks and then meticulously detailing how this gift matured over time into the final product viewers know as Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!. However, while director Naoko Yamada fills K-On! The Movie with the series’ previous sense of joy and energy, the overall aesthetic of K-On! The Movie is unlike that of its predecessors. For the past ten years, I’ve wondered why the film felt different – the film is still K-On! at heart, but there was a feeling of melancholy and sadness about the film that was absent in the TV series. For the past decade, I’ve lacked the words to express this, but here at K-On! The Movie‘s ten year anniversary, it is worthwhile to look at why the film continues to endure – since the film became available, I’ve watched K-On! The Movie once a year, every year.

While K-On! The Movie opens with Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi playing one of Death Devil’s songs to see what things would be like if their band had a different aesthetic, and then segues to the cheerful, Christmas-like Ichiban Ippai!, Yui and the others head off to discard some rubbish from the club room. As they walk through a sun-filled corridor leading into the courtyard, a contemplative piano begins playing in the background. Yui gazes out into the courtyard. The entire scene is faded out, featuring very little colour compared to when they’d been in the clubroom, and Yui opens by saying that she’s feeling that they should do something befitting of a senior. The moment’s composition was quite unlike anything else seen in K-On!; even though colour and joy do return to K-On! The Movie moments later, one cannot help but feel a lingering sense of sadness in knowing that, this is the end for K-On!. Much as how Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi know their time with Azusa is drawing to a close, viewers know that for every smile and laugh the girls share throughout this film, there is a point where things will inevitably come to an end. Moments like these return after the girls come back home from London. Whereas their travels had been filled with colour, upon returning home, the world becomes faded out and desaturated again. The music becomes slower, gentler and carry with it a sort of finality. Those feelings had been set aside among the excitement in London, but back in Japan, they return in full force. This melancholy, however, is not overwhelming at all. Instead, it adds to K-On! The Movie, emphasising the beauty of the girls’ previous experiences together, and that despite its impermanence, the friendship between Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Tsumugi and Azusa is very real. While they might part ways for the present, that it existed at all counts for something. This respect for that which is transient and fleeting creates a very unusual feeling which the Japanese describe as Mono no Aware (物の哀れ, “the pathos of things”): something is beautiful because it isn’t going to last forever. This juxtaposition and seemingly contradictory set of feelings results in a bittersweetness surrounding a given moment, and much as how viewers are aware that after the movie, Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi will part ways with Azusa, the fact is that they will hold onto and cherish the countless memories they have of one another, too. It is because of these memories that everyone is able to accept that they are moving onwards into the future. Yamada’s masterful inclusion of gently wistful musical pieces and choice of colour in K-On! The Movie speak to notions of Mono no Aware, and in this way, weaves a central piece of Japanese aesthetic into the film: nothing, not even friendships, last, but this is just a part of life. Seeing K-On! The Movie capture Mono no Aware speaks to the depth of in this film, and while K-On! might ostensibly be about a group of girls who would rather enjoy sweets and tea over practising, the series also indicates that like all things, friendships do not last forever. In spite of this, and perhaps because of this, such bonds are all the more meaningful.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This post came about because I did wish to share something at the film’s ten year anniversary, and the observant reader will note that this year is the tenth anniversary to many things, coinciding with when I started this blog and really began writing in earnest. The film opens with Yui and the others acting like Death Devil for kicks (at least, Yui, Ritsu and Tsumugi are in on it, while Mio’s just playing as herself). Once the ruse is up, the opening song, Ichiban Ippai (“Full of Number Ones”), begins playing. This song has a very Christmas-like feel to it, appropriate for the season.

  • Because this revisitation similarly comes a full ten years after K-On! The Movie first premièred, now that ten years’ worth of accumulated experience is in the books, I was hoping to share a renewed set of thoughts about this movie. I’ve previously written about K-On! The Movie on several occasions and explored some of the aspects that made it worthwhile to watch, but reading through these older posts, it feels like back then, I’d only really scratched the surface for what I wished to discuss.

  • When Yui and the others leave the club room, the lighting is diffuse, and colours are faded. In conjunction with the music, this scene spoke volumes to me about what K-On! The Movie had been attempting to accomplish. Whereas Hajime Hyakkoku, the composer for the series’ background music, had previously written joyful, bubbly pieces, the second track on the soundtrack has a more contemplative, thoughtful tone to it as Yui considers doing something worthy of being a senior.

  • It was here that I began to realise that throughout the entirety of K-On! The Movie, a feeling of gentle sadness permeated everything that is shown, even when the characters are caught up in their own antics and creating adorable moments for viewers to laugh at. While Mono no Aware is a part of K-On! The Movie, however, it never overshadows the general aesthetic and mood; there are still plenty of jokes throughout the film, such as when Yui attempts to make a break for it after cheating in the lottery to determine where their graduation trip should end up.

  • On writing about K-On! The Movie in full for the first time in a few years, I’ve come to pick up a few things that I missed earlier, and in conjunction with a keener eye for subtleties, this post is the result; my conclusion about the film’s central theme is a little more specific now, with a focus on Yui and the others crafting a memorable farewell gift for Azusa in gratitude for her participation in Houkago Tea Time. My earlier reviews focused on friendship at a much higher level, and looking back, I think that this review captures the reason for why I enjoyed the movie a shade more effectively than the earlier reviews.

  • Gratitude is the first and foremost theme in K-On! The Movie, with everything else being an ancillary aspect that augments the film’s strengths. The movie, then, succeeds in conveying the sort of scale that Naoko Yamada desired for viewers, showing the extent of everyone’s appreciation towards Azusa. This underlines Azusa’s impact on Houkago Tea Time, and so, when one returns to the televised series, all of those subtle moments suddenly become more meaningful, and more valuable.

  • Mio gives in to her happiness and makes no attempt to hide it when it turns out London is their chosen destination. The movie’s original première on December 3, 2011 is now a distant memory. I vaguely recall concluding my introductory Japanese class and finalising my term paper on the role of a protein in iron transport for bacteria. At the time, I was focused on simply surviving that semester and save my GPA, which had taken a dive after my second year, and for most of the winter term, I was similarly focused on maintaining passable grades in biochemistry and and cell and molecular biology. I exited that term on a stronger note, and with my final exams in the books, I learned that the movie would release on July 18.

  • I still remember when this film became available to watch: it had been a gorgeous July day, and the high reached 26°C. At this point in my summer, I’d spent almost two and a half months studying for the MCAT. The course was under my belt, and I’d been going through practise exam after practise exam. When I did my first exam, I scored a 22 (equivalent to today’s 496). However, a summer of giving up research and hanging out had an appreciable impact on my performance, and by the time K-On! The Movie came out, I was consistently scoring 30s (510 in today’s scoring system).

  • For reference, a good MCAT score is 508 (29 in 2012). I had been worried if watching and reviewing K-On! The Movie would’ve had an impact on my MCAT scores, but in the end, the movie presented no trouble in that area, and I ended up watching the film after a day spent going through a practise exam. Back then, this blog was still relatively new, and I never wrote extensive articles here. Instead, I published my first review to my old Webs.com site: over the course of two days, I wrote out a review that was comparable to the average post here. This never did interfere with the MCAT, and indeed, having the chance to watch K-On! The Movie contributed to helping me relax.

  • I had decided to take the MCAT earlier that year, and this represented a major commitment from my part. From the film’s home release announcement to the day of release, time passed in the blink of an eye. The movie’s first forty minutes are still in Japan, and it provided plenty of time to establish the witherto’s and whyfor’s of how Houkago Tea Time end up travelling to London; here, Ui helps Yui to pack, and their mother can be seen in the background. Until now, Mister and Missus Hirasawa have never been shown on screen in the animated adaptation.

  • The manga would end up doing so in its fourth volume, but since K-On!! had no such equivalent (the events of the anime diverge somewhat from the events in the manga towards the end), Yamada decided to slot Yui and Ui’s parents in as Yui heads off to the airport. The manga suggests that the Hirawasas are a happy family, although the parents are very fond of travelling, accounting for why they were never seen in the TV series.

  • With its slow pacing, K-On! The Movie is very relaxing: as it turns out, Houkago Tea Time ends up overhearing classmates discuss a graduation trip and then, while focused on their own goal of gifting something special for Azusa, hide their plans by saying they’re also doing a graduation trip. This turn of events is precisely the way things Houkago Tea Time rolls, although it is notable that even while planning for the trip takes precedence, Yui’s mind never strays far from their original goal of figuring out how they can give Azusa a memorable gift.

  • In an interview with Yamada, she explains that the biggest challenge the movie format posed by K-On! The Movie was how to scale the series up to fit the silver screen. This challenge ended up being mentioned in film itself, when Yui wonders how they’d make a suitable gift for Azusa that captures all of their gratitude. In the end, much as how Yamada succeeds with K-On! The Movie by being true to the original series’ style, Yui and the others found that a gift for Azusa would mean the most so long as it had heart. The journey to London thus becomes a bit of a sideshow, demonstrating how regardless of where in the world Houkago Tea Time go, they’re still themselves.

  • K-On! The Movie is at its most energetic while the girls are on their travels. The London segment of K-On! The Movie only occupies a third of the movie, but it is here that some of the franchise’s most unique moments are shown. It is the first time anyone is seen heading to the airport and travelling on an aircraft –until now, K-On! had been set entirely in Japan, so having Houkago Tea Time set foot on a plane and becoming, as Yui puts it, a part of the international community, was a monumental occasion for K-On! in showing that the series had taken one giant leap forwards.

  • For the most part, K-On! The Movie was very well-received, with praises being given towards the direction, sincerity and ability of the film to remain true to the atmosphere in the TV series, while at the same time, capitalising on the movie format to do something that could not have been done in a TV series. Criticisms of the film are very rare – I can count the number of the film’s detractors on one hand, and most of the gripes centred on the film’s relatively limited focus on travel, portrayal of London citizens and gripes that the film was protracted in presenting its story. It is with satisfaction that I note the most vocal of these critics, Reckoner and Sorrow-kun of the elitist Nihon Review and Behind The Nihon Review blogs, are no longer around because both blogs’ domains have expired. Reckoner had been a particularly fierce critic of K-On!, but his assertions were unfounded and poorly argued, while Sorrow-kun had written numerous articles claiming K-On! was “objectively” a poor series.

  • As of now, both Nihon Review and Behind The Nihon Review have gone offline: after their owner finally stopped paying the hosting fees, their hosts suspended both sites, resulting in all of Sorrow-kun’s posts becoming removed. In particular, Sorrow-kun had believed Behind The Nihon Review’s goals were to “enlighten” fans on why anime was only worthwhile if it contained philosophical or academic merit, so seeing some of the internet’s most invalid opinions of K-On! become lost forever is something worth smiling about. The comparatively short amount of time spent in London is not a detriment to the film – K-On! The Movie is not a travel show, and London was only an aside, a consequence of a fib to keep Azusa’s gift hidden. With this in mind, it wasn’t particularly surprising that London would be secondary to figuring out what kind of song they should write for Azusa. Throughout the film, Yui’s determination to figure out something and efforts to maintain secrecy lead Azusa to wonder if something is amiss. If she did suspect something, things are quickly shunted aside when the girls’ plan to visit London become realised.

  • Upon arriving in London, the girls enjoy the sights over Hounslow, a district in West London immediately east of Heathrow Airport. It’s been a while since I’ve boarded a plane: the last time I flew was back in 2019, when I attended F8 2019. The last time I was on a plane for leisure would’ve been back in 2017 on a particularly memorable trip to Japan. No matter where I go in the world, there is always a joy about flying over a city and wondering to myself, what are the folks down below doing in their day-to-day lives? Of course, when I’m on the ground and looking up at an aircraft, I find myself thinking of where people might be headed.

  • The flight leaves Yui excited to finally become part of the international community, and she begins bouncing while riding the moving walkway. In this frame, the girls’ hands look quite small; in a cast interview, Yamada mentioned that she wanted K-On! The Movie to appeal to as many people as possible, and to this end, modified the characters’ appearances slightly from the style seen in K-On!!. The end result leaves the characters more expressive than they’d been in K-On! and K-On!! – simple things like facial expressions are able to speak volumes here in the film, whereas in the TV series, such nuances were not conveyed through such a subtle manner. After exiting the plane and entering the terminal, Azusa remarks that they’re going to have to clear customs.

  • Yui and the others are able to get through without any issue, although Yui’s weaker English leads her to mispronounce “sight-seeing” as “side business”, leading to some confusion from the customs official: I’m not sure what the laws in the United Kingdom are, but here in Canada, doing something business-related requires a visa. Fortunately, this mispronunciation doesn’t result in any complications, and all five clear customs without any trouble. The joys and drawbacks of travelling are presented in K-On! The Movie to the girls: while K-On! has long favoured gentle escapism, the movie adds an additional dimension of realism to its story through linguistic differences and challenges associated with travelling, such as the girls trying to figure out which Hotel Ibis their booking was for, or when Mio’s luggage is seemingly misplaced.

  • In the end, Mio’s luggage was placed off to the side, and she tearfully reunites with it, while developing a mistrust for revolving things in the process. Once outside in the brisk London air, the girls set off to find a taxi that will take them to their accommodations. Excitement sets in, and Mio begins taking photographs of everything Yui points at, including this Airline lounge sign for Air Canada patrons. I am Canadian, so seeing mention of Canada in the film put a smile on my face: Air Canada is the largest airline company in Canada and runs numerous flights to London. Even from my home town, there are five direct flight to Londons every week, and the average duration is around nine hours.

  • I am interested in checking out London for myself at some point in the future – aside from minor linguistic differences between Canadian and British English, I could readily do a free-for-all visit without a tour group and navigate on my own well enough. Aside from iconic spots like the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, I would like to walk the River Thames and visit the same spots in Earl’s Court as the girls of K-On! do. Such a vacation could be done for within four thousand dollars, and in the past, I have considered the logistics of such a trip.

  • After spotting a taxi, the girls board with enthusiasm – the driver asks if they’re going to London City, to which Ritsu answers with a yes. While Azusa has done her reading to ensure the trip was a success, not everything can be planned for ahead of time, and for the girls, the fact that London is broken up into smaller districts is not something that crosses their mind. This bit of miscommunication leads to the girls ending up at the wrong Hotel Ibis, and here, even Tsumugi is unable to keep up with the English.

  • For the most part, my travels have never put me at a linguistic disadvantage because I can get by well enough with English, Cantonese and Mandarin in the places I visit. When I visited Laval in France for the first time for a conference, I had trouble getting around because I could not speak a word of French. Seeing Mugi and Azusa struggle with English might’ve been amusing when I first watched this, but after the humbling experience in France, I took on a newfound appreciation for all of the languages around the world. When the girls reach London City’s Hotel Ibis, it is thanks to Mio who is able to interpret things and set the girls on track for their hotel in Earls Court.

  • Skyfall was screened in November 2012, a few months after K-On! The Movie’s home release and nearly a year after its original screening in Japan. The only commonalities the two films share are that they have scenes set in London, including the Underground. While Yui and the others use the Underground to reach Earls Court, Skyfall saw James Bond pursue Raoul Silva through the Underground after he escapes MI6 custody.

  • On their first day in London, Yui and the others have a busy one as they try to make their way to their hotel. It’s misadventure after misadventure, but in spite of these inconveniences, everyone takes things in stride, going to Camden to buy Azusa new shoes, casually enjoying the Underground and, when trying to grab dinner, end up playing an impromptu performance on account of being mistaken for a band.

  • In spite of their surprise at being asked to perform, Houkago Tea Time’s showing is impressive. While it seems a little strange the girls travel with their instruments, the last several times I boarded a plane, it was with a laptop or iPad in tow, as I was either set to give a conference presentation or be involved in work. Carrying additional gear while travelling is a pain when one is alone, but with others, it’s much easier – one can simply ask their companions to look after their belongings.

  • K-On! The Movie has several moments where Kyoto Animation was able to showcase their craft at the movie level, and clever use of camera angles really brought the performances to life. Aside from the opening, inset and ending songs, there are no new Houkago Tea Time songs in the film: all of the performances in the movie are done with existing songs, and at the sushi restaurant, the girls perform Curry Nochi Rice after Yui spots an East Indian man in the crowd. Back in 2011, I wasn’t too big of a fan of raw fish, but I imagine that my openness to try it began after watching Survivorman‘s Arctic Tundra episode. A few weeks ago, when my office did a sushi lunch, I decided to participate and greatly enjoyed the nigiri: there’s a special flavour about raw fish that makes it delicious, and it goes especially well with a dash of soy sauce.

  • Movies typically are scaled-up TV episodes, with superior visuals and music accompanying it; K-On! The Movie is no different, feeling distinctly like an extended episode. I particularly loved the soundtrack, which features both the motifs of the TV series and new incidental pieces that gave a bit of atmosphere to where Houkago Tea Time was while at the same time, reminding viewers that it’s still K-On!. Here, Ritsu runs into Love Crisis, another Japanese band that was supposed to be performing at the sushi restaurant.

  • K-On! The Movie depicts London with incredible faithfulness, and perusing the official movie artbook, the precise locations of where the girls visit are given. Abbey Crossing, David Bowie’s House, West Brompton, and many other areas are on the list of places that Yui and the others visit. Their travels are set to the upbeat, energetic Unmei wa Endless! (Fate is Endless!) in a montage that highlights the girls enjoying themselves in London in their own unique manner. Throughout the trip, Azusa takes on the role of a tour guide, planning and coordinating itineraries for the others, who end up having a wonderful time.

  • The montage in K-On! The Movie is ideal for showing that while in London, Yui and the others have an amazing time sightseeing: the tempo would suggest that the girls’ experience is very dream like, hectic and dynamic, reminder viewers that when they are having fun, time flies. Vacations often seem to go by in a blur, and so, a montage is a very visceral way to capture this feeling. In condensing out the travel and sightseeing, the montage creates the impression that K-On! The Movie is not about London, but at the same time, it also allows the focus to remain on the girls’ aim of working out their gift for Azusa.

  • London, Japan and Hong Kong share the commonality in that they have left-hand traffic, an artefact dating back to the Roman Empire; right-hand traffic is the result of French standardisation, while Americans used right-hand traffic out of convenience for wagon operators. For Yui and the others, traffic in London would be identical to that of Japan’s, but when they encounter a “Look Right” labels on the road, they conform. These labels are also found in Hong Kong, as well: for folks like myself, they are very useful, since I instinctively look left before crossing most streets.

  • I’ve long held that the best way to truly experience a culture is to experience their food, and so, when I was in Japan, having the chance to enjoy snow crab, Kobe beef, okonomiyakiomurice and ramen was high on the highlights of my trip. In K-On! The Movie, the girls end up stopping at The Troubadour on 263–267 Old Brompton Road in Earls Court. Opened in 1954, The Troubador was a coffeehouse that has since become a café, bar and restaurant. Catching Yui’s eye early in their tour of London, the girls have breakfast here. Their Eggs Benedict is shown: it costs £9.95 (roughly 16.88 CAD with exchange rates).

  • Earlier this year, I did a special tour of London using the Oculus Quest to show how faithful the film had been to details; the real-world locations are portrayed faithfully in K-On! The Movie, although here, I will remark again that London’s skyline has changed quite a bit in the past decade. K-On! The Movie shows The Shard as being under construction, and it was opened in 2013. Some of the areas still remain as they once were. Earl’s Court, for instance, still looks much as it did in 2011, while downtown London is quite different; folks looking to visit K-On! locations in central London now will be hard-pressed to find some locations since they’ve changed so much – the Harper’s Coffee has since been replaced by a Costa Coffee, for instance.

  • After Yui gets her hand stuck in a receptacle for dog waste, the girls set off to find a bathroom and wind up at the British Museum. Here, they take the London Underground’s Central line from the Kensington Gardens: during the day, the Underground is nowhere near as busy as it was when Yui and the others first arrived, and certainly not as crowded as it had been in Skyfall, when 007 pursued Silva through the London Underground after the latter managed to escape MI6 custody.

  • While they’d intended to only stop by for a quick bathroom break, Mio, Tsumugi, Yui, Ritsu and Azusa end up checking out the British Museum’s exhibits, including the original Rosetta Stone. The girls recognise this as the replacement tombstone they’d borrowed from the Occult Club back during the events of K-On!!, when they found Juliet’s headstone was misplaced. The Rosetta Stone replica ended up being a suitable replacement, and the class play of Romeo and Juliet went off without a hitch. To see the Rosetta Stone again shows the kind of care that Yamada put into the film, giving Yui and the others a chance to see the world beyond Japan.

  • Here, Ritsu, Mio, Yui, Tsumugi and Azusa run down the stairs on the Westminster Bridge’s south banks: the location was not hard to find, since the girls end up at the London Eye moments later. There’s a doorway underneath the South Bank Lion sculpture on the left of this image, and this was used as a secret entrance to MI6’s new digs in Skyfall after Silva bombed the SIS Building. One of the joys about K-On! The Movie was that so many locations seen in this movie were also featured in Skyfall, and I myself wondered if the SIS Building would make an appearance. While this never occurred, it was a contrast to see Yui and the others have fun in the same places where Bond was on duty.

  • Mio’s fear of rotating things kicks in when the others suggest boarding the London Eye to gain a better vantage point over central London; she decides to stay on the ground and let the others have a good time. To this, Yui and Ritsu decide to haul Mio off anyways. A longstanding joke in K-On! stems from Mio’s various phobias, although it is typically the case that once Mio is pushed out of her comfort zone, she is able to live in the moment with the others.

  • As such, despite her initial reservations about all things with angular velocity, Mio is convinced to go on the London Eye. With a height of 135 metres, it is more than double the size of Hong Kong’s Observation Wheel and during K-On! The Movie, was the highest public viewing point in London. Since the movie’s release in 2011 (and the home release in 2012), The Shard opened and now offers London’s highest observation deck.

  • The girls rest here near The Royal Menagerie on the west end of the Tower of London, a major landmark that has variously been used as a mint, armoury and presently, the home of the Crown Jewels. Adjacent to the Tower of London is a modern office block and fish and chips shops. While it would be a tight schedule, the girls’ tour is possible to carry out within the course of a day. To really take in the sights and sounds, however, I would allocate at least seven days for the entire trip London, which leaves five full days to explore.

  • One aspect in K-On! The Movie that I enjoyed was that smaller details about travel were presented; most travel shows only highlight attractions and the best eats of a given trip. Conversely, K-On! The Movie portrays the smaller, more awkward moments that result when people are far from home. After their day’s worth of adventure, the group return to Ibis Earl’s Court, and almost immediately, Yui and Azusa end up missing one another often enough to the point where they wonder where the other’s gone. Yui’s just scatter-brained, but Azusa is genuinely tired from having spent the day putting an itinerary together that allows everyone to see as much as they could.

  • In the end, the pair end up running into one another in Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi’s room. Such moments typify the sort of humour present in K-On! as a whole; it’s not over-the-top, and instead, acts to create gentler moments that elicit a smile. Some folks consider K-On! to be a comedy, but this is, strictly speaking, incorrect: K-On! might’ve had origins as a 4-koma manga driven by punchlines, but Yamada’s interpretation of the series allows for more meaningful learnings to be presented; themes like appreciation and mindfulness are more important in K-On! than making viewers laugh.

  • With this being said, comedy does crop up from time to time as a result of everyday occurrences; here, Yui slips after rushing to meet Azusa after wandering off to the Brompton Cemetery whilst considering what the song for Azusa should entail. One small visual aspect in K-On! The Movie that did stand out was the fact that all of the folks in London are uncommonly tall relative to Azusa and the others. While Azusa is stated as being only 4’11”, a quick glance at this image finds that the average Londoner would be around eight feet in height. I imagine this was a deliberate choice to show how small everyone is compared to the world.

  • After Ritsu and the others run into Love Crisis following their performance at the sushi restaurant, they are invited to perform at a Japanese Culture Fair. The girls agree to the performance even though the timing will be a bit tight, and when Azusa hesitates, the others reassure her that it’ll be fine. Because they are to be performing in front of an English audience, Yui and the others feel it might be useful to translate some of their songs to English. Strictly speaking, preserving the meaning is of a lesser challenge than finding the words with the correct syllables to match the melody.

  • The Ibis at Earl’s Court, while being a bit more dated, has attentive staff and is situated in a good location, being close to public transit. By comparison, the Ibis London City is located a stone’s throw to the London city centre and the Tower of London. The choice to have the girls book lodgings at Earl’s Court, in a comparatively quieter part of London, allows the film to also show Yui and the others spending downtime together while not sightseeing. Here, they begin working on translating their songs for their performance at the Japanese culture fair.

  • The performance itself is set at the Jubilee Gardens adjacent to the River Thames and London Eye. The introduction into the culture festival features a sweeping panorama over the area, taking viewers through the spokes on the London Eye. It’s one of the more impressive visuals in K-On! The Movie and really shows that this is no mere extended episode: I’m particularly fond of movies because they provide the opportunity to use visuals not seen in TV series. Here, the girls react in surprise that Sawako has shown up.

  • During their performance, Yui is spurred on by a baby in the crowd and plays with more energy as the concert progresses, even improvising lyrics into Gohan wa Okazu. Whether or not Houkago Teatime plays for the people they know or not, this has very little bearing on the enthusiasm and energy the girls put into their song. Personal or not, each performance is spirited conveys that Houkago Tea Time’s music is universally moving, whether they are playing for a crowd of folks in London, or for Azusa as a thank you gift.

  • It turns out that as a place to have a graduation trip, there is no better option than London, England: Houkago Tea Time’s style draws inspiration from British artists, and the songs produced for K-On! have a mass appeal for their simplicity, earnest and charm found from the saccharine nature of the lyrics. Even now, whenever I see images and footage of London, K-On! The Movie is the first thing that comes to mind; the film had done a phenomenal job of bringing the city to life, and while melancholy gently permeates the whole of the film, the thirty minutes spent in London are K-On! The Movie‘s most cheerful, energetic moments.

  • After the concert draws to a close, the girls depart for Japan; owing to their timing, things are really close by the time Yui and the others have to return to the airport and board their flight back home. In general, it is recommended that one arrives at least three hours before their scheduled departure when flying internationally. This is so one can make it through customs and security checks, which can take a while, and because some airlines require one to check in an hour before their flight. Accepting a concert on the same day they were heading back would be cutting it close, especially in a city as large as London.

  • Fortunately, some elements can be abstracted away, and the girls’ ride over to Heathrow is uneventful, with Azusa falling asleep immediately from exhaustion. A snowfall begins in London, bringing the girls’ trip to a peaceful close, and here, the soundtrack takes on a much slower, gentler tenour. The track that accompanies this scene has a very wistful, reflective mood about it and is appropriately titled “Winter night in a warm room”.

  • Back in Japan, Ritsu and the others attempt to convince Sawako to give them permission to host a farewell concert for their classmates. To her colleagues and other students, Sawako presents herself as professional and caring, attempting to distance herself from her Death Devil days, but in front of Houkago Tea Time, she’s less motivated and occasionally partakes in actions that are of dubious legality. At the end of the day, however, Sawako does care deeply for her students, and so, decides to allow the concert.

  • One of the other teachers is opposed to the idea of a concert and on the morning things kick off, Sawako does her utmost to keep him from finding out. While unsuccessful, this instructor does not seem to mind Houkago Tea Time quite as much, suggesting that Sawako’s Death Devil band were rowdier back in the day to the point of being a nuisance. During this in-school concert, the song Sumidare Love is performed: the song had been on the vocal collections, but until now, had not been played in the series proper.

  • Compared to the more colourful segments in K-On! The Movie, the final segments depicting the girls drafting out their song for Azusa are much more faded, almost melancholy, in nature, hinting that all things must come to an end. Kyoto Animation has long utilised colour to make the emotional tenour of a scene clear in their drama series; from CLANNAD to Violet Evergarden, time of day, saturation and the choice of palette are all used to great effect. Traditionally, comedies have seen a lesser dependence on colour and lighting, so for these effects to appear in K-On! show that the series has matured.

  • Despite having drawn blanks while in London, Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi manage to begin their song once they’re back home; it was Azusa’s actions throughout the trip that really led everyone to see anew how much they’d come to rely on their junior. While this should be a joyous moment, K-On! The Movie reminds viewers that this moment is also steeped in a sort of finality: once they finish their song and deliver it, they will have to part ways with Azusa.

  • The K-On! The Movie‘s home release was only twenty four days from the day of my MCAT, and one of the dangers about this was that reviewing the movie so close to the MCAT might’ve taken my focus from the exam. In the end, watching the movie and writing about it was very cathartic, and I found myself lost in each moment: seeing Mio and the others sprint across the school rooftop with a carefree spirit was a light moment that really captured what K-On! was about. The movie helped me relax, and in conjunction with support from friends, some time management skills and the usual efforts of studying, I ended up finishing the exam strong.

  • Audiences thus come to learn how Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! came about: K-On! had preferred to focus on the girls’ experience together, and things like songwriting were often set aside in favour of having everyone enjoy tea together. This did lead to the impression that Houkago Tea Time were unqualified. However, K-On! did show that Mio spent some of her free time writing lyrics to songs, and to reinforce the idea that Houkago Tea Time’s success is well-deserved, K-On! The Movie opts to show the song-writing process behind Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!.

  • This song had appeared to come out of the blue in K-On!!, but the film shows the process behind how the song the lyrics and heart that went into the song came from seeing how much of an impact Azusa had on the light music club. However, Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! was not written overnight, and because of the timeframes, I would estimate that the film is set over the course of three weeks – the first third of the movie would’ve taken place over the course of a few days as the girls figure out they’d like to do a song for Azusa, and then book a last-minute trip over to London as a graduation trip. The London trip itself is explicitly mentioned as taking five days, and then after returning, some time would’ve been needed to put the song together.

  • While this seems excessive, we recall that in K-On!!, there had been quite a gap between exams and graduation – when Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi head off to write their entrance exams for the women’s college, it would’ve been shortly after Valentines’ day, and graduation itself was in March. This in-between period was never covered in K-On!!, and Yamada expertly used this time as when Yui and the othes came to write out Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! ahead of graduation for Azusa. Through K-On! The Movie, it is shown that the in-betweens in an anime can also have a story to tell. Non Non Biyori Repeat adapted this concept for the entire second season, showing that anime only shows the best moments that impact the narrative.

  • Consequently, while Yui and the others might appear to be pulling songs out of nowhere, and performing like experts without much apparent practise, the reality is that the anime and manga tend to show us viewers moments when Houkago Tea Time are slacking off, but once the chips are down, and the girls get their motivation, they’re quite determined and capable. As such, this is the one criticism of K-On! I can dismiss immediately – folks who hold this against the series have fundamentally misunderstood that anime only show milestone moments, and more mundane details are deliberately omitted for a reason.

  • Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! is the song that got me into K-On!, and after I became curious to know how the series reached its culmination, I stepped back and watched everything from episode one.  With this modernised talk on K-On! The Movie very nearly finished, I note that it was very enjoyable to go back and re-watch this film under different circumstances, then write about it with a new perspective and style. Even a full decade later, the song remains every bit as enjoyable as it had been when I first went through K-On!.

  • Like a good wine, K-On! The Movie improved with age. My original score for the movie was a nine of ten, an A grade. However, revisiting the movie and seeing all of the subtleties in the film, coupled with recalling watching the film to unwind from studying for the MCAT, led me to realise that this film had a very tangible positive impact on me. Consequently, I am going to return now and give the film a perfect ten of ten, a masterpiece: for a story of pure joy that was successful in helping me regroup, and for being every bit as enjoyable as it was ten years ago, K-On! The Movie had a tangible, positive impact on me.

K-On! The Movie remains as relevant today as it did when it first premièred a decade earlier; even for those who have never seen K-On!‘s televised series, the movie is self-contained and the themes stand independently of a priori knowledge. After all this time, I have no difficulty in recommending K-On! The Movie to interested viewers; the film is every bit as enjoyable and meaningful as it was ten years previously. Because of how Yamada conveys Mono no Aware, as it relates to friendship, it becomes clear that K-On! The Movie was intended to be the final act for Kyoto Animation’s adaptation – author Kakifly had written two sequels, K-On! College and K-On! High School, which respectively cover Yui’s life at university and Azusa’s efforts to keep the light music club going. K-On! College was published in September 2012, and a month later, K-On! High School became available. Precedence would have suggested that adapting both of these volumes into an anime could’ve produced a two-cour season with twenty-four full episodes, but this would stand contrary to the aesthetic in K-On! The Movie. At the time, K-On!‘s anime adaptation had exceeded expectations in promoting the manga – the anime had been intended to promote the manga, and in this role, it has certainly succeeded. The manga itself concludes in a fashion that is consistent with the Mono no Aware aesthetic. K-On! College has Yui settling in to life at university and even makes rivals out of Akira, a serious musician whose skill is enough to get her noticed by professional producers, while K-On! High School has Azusa wondering what fun things the future will bring. However, this diverges from the feeling that K-On! The Movie originally concluded with; to bring K-On! back in the present would undermine what the film had accomplished ten years earlier. Six years earlier, I did walk through whether or not a continuation was possible, and back then, I had concluded that such a project would have been welcomed. After all, there had been enough materials to do so, and K-On! would’ve still been relatively fresh in the viewers’ minds. This answer has changed since then – a full decade later, it is safe to say that it is unlikely that Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Tsumugi and Azusa’s stories will be expanded upon. While Kakifly’s spin-off series, K-On! Shuffle, is set in the same universe and built around a similar premise (protagonist Yukari Sakuma is inspired to take up drumming after watching Ritsu perform), K-On!‘s success had largely come from the fact that it had been so groundbreaking at the time. The concept is no longer novel, and as such, adapting K-On! Shuffle is similarly unlikely in the foreseeable future. With this in mind, I imagine that this is the last time I will be writing about K-On! The Movie – as enjoyable as the series is, I do feel that I’ve said everything that needs to be said for a film that has aged very gracefully and certainly stands of its own merits, during the past decade that I’ve been active as an anime blogger.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below: A Review and Full Recommendation on Makoto Shinkai’s 2011 Film At the Ten Year Anniversary

“Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.” –Haruki Murakami

Ever since her father passed away, Asuna Watase spends her free time looking after the house while her mother works, and listening to music emanating from a mysterious radio that once belonged to her father with her cat, Mimi. One day, she encounters a boy named Shun after running into a Quetzalcoatl, a beast from the ancient world. After tending to Shun’s wounds, Asuna befriends him, but he falls to his death from the cliff ledge. The next day, Asuna is surprised that their new substitute instructor, Ryūji Morisaki, gives a lesson on the legend of Agartha, a world inhabited by the dead, and ends up speaking to him to learn more. Upon returning to her secret spot, Asuna is surprised to find another boy, Shin, there. It turns out he’s here to recover the Clavis fragment Shun had dropped, but the pair are cornered by Archangel, a paramilitary group searching for Agartha. Shin and Asuna manage to escape underground, with Archangel in pursuit. It turns out that Ryūji is leading the operation, and after a confrontation, Ryūji secures Asuna’s Clavis, giving him access to Agartha: Ryūji had been longing to resurrect his deceased wife. Upon arriving in Agartha, Ryūji and Asuna set off for the Gate of Life and Death, while Shin returns to the village and learns that his assignment had been unsuccessful, since Asuna possessed a Clavis fragment of her own. When Asuna is captured by the Izoku, monsters that fear the light, she encounters a little girl named Manna. Shin rescues them, but after Ryūji locates the two, Asuna persuades Ryūji to allow Shin to accompany them. In the village, the elder reluctantly allows Asuna and Ryūji to stay the night as repayment for having saved Manna, but warns that outsiders have always been an ill-omen in Agartha. The next morning, Asuna and Ryūji continue with their journey, while Mimi stays behind and passes away peacefully. After Manna offers Mimi’s corpse to a Quetzalcoatl, Shin notices the village’s soldiers riding out to intercept Asuna and Ryūji. He sets off after them with the aim of saving Asuna, but is promptly defeated in combat. The commander notes he’s betrayed Agartha and leave him to die, while Asuna and Ryūji arrive at the Gate of Life and Death. Unable to carry on, Asuna sets off and makes her way back to the surface, leaving Ryūji to climb to the bottom of the pit alone. As night falls, Asuna is tailed by a horde of Izoku, and laments having accepted this journey because she’d been feeling abandoned. Before the Izoku can kill her, Shin arrives and save her. They grieve Shun’s loss together and return to the Gate of Life at Death. Here, they encounter the Quetzalcoatl who’d accepted Mimi’s corpse, and learn it too is dying. Before it dies, it sings a song and offers to carry the pair down to the Gate of Life and Death. Upon crossing the barrier, they find Ryūji preparing to make his wish of bringing his wife back. However, the cost of resurrecting those from the dead is immense, and Ryūji loses his right eye, while Asuna is sacrificed to act as a vessel for his wife’s soul. Shin manages to destroy the Clavis and stop the process, saving Asuna but leaving Ryūji inconsolable. However, Shin notes that all living things come to an end and implores Ryūji to continue living for his wife’s sake. The pair accompany Asuna back to the portal leading to the surface and bid her farewell: Ryūji’s decided to remain behind in Agartha. Later, Asuna glances at the cliff where she first met Shin and Shun, before heading off to school with a smile on her face. This is Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below (Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo, literally “Children Who Chase Stars”, and from here on out, Children Who Chase Lost Voices for brevity), Makoto Shinkai’s 2011 film that remains his longest work and treads on territory that is is explored nowhere else amongst his repertoire.

At its core, Children Who Chase Lost Voices represents a bold new direction for Makoto Shinkai: although distance and separation still figures in the film’s central themes, as it had in his previous works, Children Who Chase Lost Voices deals predominantly in death and moving on. The film opens with Asuna, whose days are peaceful but lonely. When she encounters Shun one day, only for their time together to be cut short after Shun dies, she finds herself longing for a world where she could be together with those important to her again. That Ryūji appears as a substitute instructor shortly after is no coincidence, and more so than Asuna, Ryūji is seeking out what appears to be impossible, in locating a way to Agartha, the underworld, and its supposed means of bringing the dead back to life. This meeting sends Asuna on a journey into the fantastical realm that had hitherto been the stuff of legends, and through this adventure, Asuna comes to terms with her own desires. Meeting Shun had temporarily stemmed her feelings of loneliness, a consequence of living lengthy days without her father, who passed away when she’d been younger, and her mother, who works long days at a local clinic as a nurse, so it was natural that Asuna had desired more concrete relationships with people. Travelling through Agartha, and speaking to the underworld’s inhabitants, helps Asuna to accept that death and departure is a natural part of life, not to be lamented or feared, but accepted. Indeed, when Asuna leaves Mimi behind, she shows that she is able to let go of attachments in life. Conversely, Ryūji is unable to achieve the same, and his single-minded determination to reach Agartha and resurrect his deceased wife is a tale of tragedy. While he is knowledgeable and measured, he is also obsessed, and this obsession binds him to what should be obvious: that wishes contradicting the natural order will exact a heavy toll. He alone is able to reach the Gate of Life and Death to issue his wish, but the process leaves him disfigured and very nearly costs Asuna her life. Because Asuna is able to do what Ryūji could not, Children Who Chase Lost Voices indicates that our impressions of life and death are shaped early on, and while children may not be fully aware of the ramifications surrounding things like loss, they are also more open-minded and are more perceptive than adults believe. As such, when children ask about things like death, it is important to answer difficult questions truthfully and to the best of one’s knowledge, while at the same time, allowing children to also draw their own conclusions.

Beyond exploring a new theme in a novel setting, Children Who Chase Lost Voices also acted as a trailblazer for Shinkai; in his older works, The Place Promised in Our Early Days and Five Centimetres Per Second, the female leads were ethereal and delicate. Sayuri and Akari wound up being abstractions rather than full-fledged characters in order to facilitate Hiroki and Takaki’s growth. Conversely, Asuna has a much larger role in Children Who Chase Lost Voices compared to her predecessors; although she’s accompanying Ryūji, Asuna is shown as being very energetic and cheerful, even taking the initiative to do what she feels is right in a given moment. When they first arrive, Asuna heads off and finds sweet potatoes for herself and Ryūji. Later, she tries to rescue Manna when the Izoku begin appearing, and she is the first to accept that saying “goodbye” is a part of life, when she parts ways with Mimi. This is significant, marking a return to female characters with strength and agency. Asuna isn’t swept away by her circumstances, but instead, takes charge in making her own decisions, and for this reason, is able to find the answers she’d sought by visiting Agartha. This is in complete contrast with Sayuri, who falls into a coma and serves as Hiroki’s reason to fly up to the tower, or Akari, whose feelings for Takaki remain unanswered when she and her parents end up moving. Giving Asuna agency changes how Children Who Chase Lost Voices feels compared to its predecessors, and indeed, Shinkai would apply these lessons into the future: The Garden of Words‘ Yukari, Your Name‘s Mitsuha and Weathering With You‘s Hina each demonstrate the same autonomy and seize on a chance to change their situation, and even though circumstance steers them towards trouble, everyone winds up finding their own path anew. This creates more variety in Shinkai’s films, and indeed, having a female lead capable of making her own decisions and judgement would leave Shinkai’s works stronger than before. They’re no longer about separation and distance, but instead, depict the incredible lengths people go to make the most of things. While Children Who Chase Lost Voices might be among Shinkai’s lesser known works, especially when it stands in the shadows of The Garden of Words, Your Name and Weathering With You, this film remains highly significant and opened Shinkai up for more uplifting, optimistic stories about how people can take charge even when a situation appears to prohibit any sort of agency.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Today marks the ten year anniversary to when Children Who Chase Lost Voices released to BD: back then, I was an undergraduate student, and I remember that term particularly well. After a brutal semester the year before, I came into the new year filled with resolve. Children Who Chase Lost Voices would’ve come late in the semester, just a few weeks before exams were set to begin, and I still remember writing about it at my old site, as well as sharing a handful of screenshots showcasing the incredible landscapes in what was then Makoto Shinkai’s latest movie.

  • Whereas most of Shinkai’s works are set in an urban area, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is completely rural; the movie opens with a day in Asuna Watase’s life, and although her days are quite lonely, she definitely has her game together, looking after the housework while her mother is at work. Par the course for a Shinkai movie, the visuals in this film are stunning, and ten years later, the artwork hasn’t aged a day. There’s a sense of coziness in the Watase residence as Asuna collects the laundry by evening; I’ve always had a fondness for this aesthetic, and there’s a certain romance about sleeping with an open window.

  • My area only allows for this about three months of the year, although when it does get that nice, it is downright pleasant. It’s now been ten days since I took possession of my new home, and during the past weekend, I spent both afternoons cleaning out every square inch of the place. It’ll be a while yet before we can move in, since there’s the matter of buying the furniture; it’s been remarkably fun to browse through catalogues and see what’s available. After the move, one thing I am looking forwards to will be spending more time honing my craft in cooking: I can cook well enough to get by, but it will be exciting to try out recipes I see in anime and films (the pan-fried fish and Japanese rolled omelettes Asuna is enjoying here look quite good, for instance).

  • Having tried out some outrageous recipes on occasion (my favourite being a double burger topped with caramelised onions, mushrooms, cheddar cheese, bacon and a fried egg), I am getting old enough to feel that an afternoon doing housework or spent making something tasty is much more relaxing than trying to unlock weapons and attachments in hacker-filled multiplayer servers. A decade earlier, I had the reflexes to keep up with gamers, but nowadays, single player games are the only games I’ll seriously consider; they allow me to play at my own pace, and I can put the brakes on at any time to go anything else, whether it’s housework or go get some exercise.

  • Asuna’s days of solitude come to a quick end when she encounters a beast on the bridge leading to her hideout. Fortunately, a young man, Shun, shows up and saves her. Although Shun has no intention of harming this beast, it turns out that said beast is in pain, so Shun shifts gears and decides to put it out of its misery. In the aftermath, Shun and Asuna become fast friends, with Shun being especially interested in the radio that Asuna is rocking. It turns out that, since Asuna’s radio uses a special crystal, it picks up broadcasts from another world, one that Shun is familiar with.

  • Being able to appreciate the music means that a connection forms between Asuna and Shun. The events of Children Who Chase Lost Voices, in a bit of irony, mirror that year: I met the person I’d come to fall in love with in Japanese class, and things began in a similarly unexpected manner, when I showed up in Japanese class wearing a full suit after giving a presentation at the university’s undergraduate symposium. We subsequently paired up on a project, and while rehearsing for the presentation, some of my classmates from health science wondered if I’d met someone special because they’d spotted us on break, and watching this movie together on my iPad.

  • At the time, I replied ‘no’ to my health science classmates; we’d been a great team and did well enough on the project, but we were merely classmates in Japanese at the time. Thus, we parted ways after term ended. However, as fate would have it, after the year ended, and I began studying for the MCAT, that this individual came back to my life – she’d started several summer courses, and I was wrapped up in studying for an exam far tougher than any I’d previously faced, so we supported one another through those busy times, getting to know one another better in the process. In Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Asuna’s time with Shun ends up being even shorter; he came up to the surface to seek out something, but falls off the cliff edge and dies in the process.

  • The encounter with Shun might’ve been short, but the ‘blessing’ he provides for Asuna causes her heart to flutter. Timing is irrelevant in a romance, and people can indeed fall in love very quickly. At the opposite end of the spectrum, falling in love can sometimes occur only after a lengthy period of rediscovery and patience. Naturally, there’s no right or wrong approach; here, Asuna’s mother has returned home from her shift and is curious to know why Asuna appears to be preparing two servings of lunch. Asuna’s conversation with her mother suggests that despite spending little time together, the two remain quite close.

  • Because she’s unaware of Shun’s death, Asuna ends up waiting for him, to no avail. Mirroring Asuna’s uncertainty, it is raining quite hard; from The Place Promised In Our Early Days onwards, Shinkai begins making extensive use of lighting and weather to convey a certain atmosphere and aesthetic. This is most apparent in Five Centimetres per Second, where snowfall comes to denote longing and separation. By The Garden of Words, however, Shinkai suggests that there is a romance surrounding light rain; it is only on rainy days where Takao meets Yukari at Shunjuku Koen. Being set before The Garden of Words, the rainfall in Children Who Chase Lost Voices is used in a more conventional manner.

  • I remember seeing this scene in an early trailer for the film in late 2010, and altogether, the trailer had been remarkably captivating. Back then, Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer had just become available, and I was still a complete novice to anime movies. Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer had actually been the exception to the rule in that, while the anime movie had premièred in Japan in September, the home release became available just three months later, in December. Children Who Chase Lost Voices followed a much more conventional pattern: the film was premièred in May 2011 and hit the shelves a mere six months later.

  • The length between a theatrical première and home release has steadily increased over the past decade, going from an average of six months to eight months. More popular movies, such as Shinkai’s more recent movies, Violet Evergarden, Girls und Panzer: Das FinaleHai-Furi and SaeKano: Fine, had waits exceeding eleven months. Beyond being a bit of an annoyance, and something I’m fond of vociferously griping about, the gap actually has no bearing on my excitement about a given film; I’ve found that being able to watch a film at my own pace is really all that matters.

  • As it turns out, Asuna’s father had died when she’d been young. Back then, she hadn’t quite been able to grasp the enormity of such an event, beyond the fact that her father wasn’t going to return. Shinkai chooses to set things during the winter, both to provide a vivid contrast to the warm weather of the present, as well as to show the extent of despair and sorrow in the moment. When Asuna’s mother explains that Shun had died, denial immediately sets in; Asuna’s certain that Shun is fine even though there’d been reports of a corpse found earlier.

  • With Asuna’s original instructor preparing to head off on maternity leave, her class receives a substitute teacher in the form of Ryūji Morisaki, who provides a lesson about the world of the dead in Japanese folklore. Folklore and literature becomes an integral part of each of Shinkai’s subsequent works: after Children Who Chase Lost VoicesThe Garden of WordsYour Name and Weathering With You each incorporate elements of classical Japanese mythology into details of his own creation. This creates a much more intricate, immersive world, and suggests that for Shinkai, his belief is that while things are always advancing, there are some traditions and values that shouldn’t be forgotten, either.

  • The topic of an underworld from which the dead can be revived intrigues Asuna, who begins to believe there might be a way to see Shun again. She heads over to the library in pursuit of more knowledge, and although today, the consensus is that the planet’s interior is solid, composed of a rocky mantle and metallic core rather than being hollow, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a story; fiction represents a space to explore what could happen if our wishes were realised, and more often than not, it turns out that having the power to do things like returning the dead to the world of the living often exacts a terrible cost.

  • After classes end, Ryūji speaks with Asuna’s instructor and learns that Asuna is a focused, well-behaved student. Meanwhile, Asuna’s classmate suggests that Ryūji’s wife had died long ago when Asuna remarks that she has a few questions for Ryūji surrounding the day’s lessons. Although the conversation is incomplete to viewers, it solidifies the idea that Asuna’s life is a lonely one; Children Who Chase Lost Voices is an excellent example of a film where things are slowly laid out for viewers to follow, providing enough depth to be compelling, but at the same time, does not demand that the viewer have a solid background in Japanese folklore and beliefs.

  • The precedence that Children Who Chase Lost Voices set carry forwards into Shinkai’s later works – Ryūji has been chasing the myth of Agartha since his wife had died. Delving through countless scrolls, tomes and commonplace books, he learnt that there were patterns throughout history to suggest Agartha was indeed real – originally, ancient beings known as Quetzalcoatl guided humanity, but humanity eventually reached a point where it could fend for itself, so the remaining Quetzalcoatl retreated underground and a few humans accompanied them.

  • Ryūji deduces that Asuna had been the one who encountered Shun, and believes that Asuna’s interest in Agartha similarly stems from a desire to bring someone back from the dead. The visual clutter in Ryūji’s apartment shows the extent of his interest in the underworld; the interior is filled with books, maps and charts. Of note is a confidential report whose contents are rendered entirely in English. After his radio lights up, Ryūji sends Asuna home and asks her to not take any detours, but on her way back, Mimi appears, and Asuna heads off in pursuit. She spots a glint from her hideout and rushes up here, where she encounters a young man no older than herself.

  • As it turns out, this is Shin, Shun’s younger brother. Their encounter is interrupted when an AH-1 Cobra shows up. The extent of Ryūji’s obsession with Agartha is such that he leads a paramilitary outfit known as Archangel to search for its entrance, and the fact that they possess a Cobra speaks to the extent of their resources – one could suppose that Archangel has investors who are curious about the wealth that Agartha possesses. When I first watched Children Who Chase Lost Voices, I initially thought that this was an AH-64 Apache, but the Cobra lacks the Apache’s distinct T700 turboshaft engines and single-barrel M230 30mm chain gun. Instead, one can spot the AH-1’s chin-mounted M197 20mm electric cannon.

  • Members of Archangel corner Asuna and Shin at the cliff’s edge: two soldiers accompanying Ryūji are armed with the Uzi. Even now, I can’t readily identify the sidearm that Ryūji himself is carrying, but I remain impressed with the acrobatics Shin is capable of: surprising the soldiers, he carries Asuna and leaps down into the forests below in an attempt to shake Archangel and return to Agartha’s entrance. However, his actions also lead Archangel straight to said entrance: the AH-1 Cobra follows in pursuit and quickly determines where the pair ended up.

  • The Clavis allows Agartha’s residents to carry out feats of superhuman strength and agility; with its magical properties, Shin moves a massive boulder to block off the entrance, before squaring off against a Quetzalcoatl he refers to as the Gatekeeper. This Quetzalcoatl was originally a guardian meant to keep outsiders from entering Agartha, but the Gatekeeper’s age means its senses are no longer as acute as they once were – it attacks Shin, forcing Shin to defend himself. However, using the Cobra’s 20 mm rounds, Archangel destroys the boulder with ease and enter the cave. Ryūji’s two soldiers then execute the Gatekeeper, and Ryūji identifies himself for Shin and Asuna’s benefit.

  • While Shin had been intending to fight Ryūji and his soldiers, once Ryūji explains that he’s here to seek out the Gate of Life and Death to resurrect his wife, Shin relents and lets Ryūji and Asuna be – outsiders had previously came to Agartha to plunder its treasures, but Ryūji’s wish is something for Agartha’s gods to pass judgement on. Moreover, Shin’s original assignment had simply been to retrieve Shun’s Clavis fragment. After Shin leaves, Ryūji gives Asuna the choice to turn back or accompany him. Having come this far, Asuna makes the choice to follow Ryūji, yearning to bring Shun back to life and see what lies beyond.

  • Ryūji leads Asuna onwards into the barrier separating the surface from Agartha: the Interstitial Sea. According to the legends, Agartha lies beneath this sea, which is composed of a fluid called aquavita, which is curious because aquavitae is the name for distilled spirits in reality. In Children Who Chase Lost Voices, this fluid possesses properties that allow for liquid breathing, and once Asuna adjusts to the unusual sensation, she and Ryūji follow a path that leads deep into the planet. The sheer scale of the constructs underground far surpass anything that modern humans have the capacity to construct, suggesting that ancient humans and the Quetzalcoatl would’ve worked together to make their underground realm.

  • Asuna reawakens and is surprised that Mimi had accompanied them through the Interstitial Sea to Agartha. They find a Quetzalcoatl guarding the front entrance into Agartha, and Ryūji prepares to shoot it, but Mimi manages to convince the Quetzalcoatl that they’re visitors. As Ryūji and Asuna gaze upon Agartha’s landscape, the music crescendos majestically. The incidental music in Children Who Chase Lost Voices is composed by Atsushi Shirakawa (better known as Tenmon), who had previously worked with Shinkai on all of his films. Children Who Chase Lost Voices marks the last time Tenmon scores the music to Shinkai’s films, and to match the scope and scale of this film, the music has a much richer sound.

  • Although Agartha is doubtlessly wonderous, the choice to have the entrance set in the open plains also serves to emphasise how vast and empty the underworld is. This disconnect creates a sense of melancholy: while Asuna and Ryūji might’ve arrived in Agartha, this land might not hold the answers to the questions they possess. In the skies above, the Shakuna Vimana passes by. These vessels originate from Hindu texts, and as Ryūji notes, they’re the chariot of the Gods. The fact that Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below draws from so much mythology would suggest that the world’s myths, at least in this universe, have a common origin in Agartha.

  • While Shinkai’s previous films had been gorgeously animated, and his latest films surpass all expectations when it comes to visual detail, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is unique because it marks the first film set in a completely different world. This allows Shinkai and his animators to really explore landscapes and scenery from a fantastical world. In this regard, I do wish that Shinkai and his team would take a chance on settings beyond Tokyo: The Garden of WordsYour Name and Weathering With You feature Tokyo as its main setting, and as intricate as Tokyo appears, it would be interesting to see how Shinkai and his team’s advancing craft might portray other parts of the world, or other worlds.

  • After reaching some stone ruins, Ryūji sets down and consults his notes to determine their next destination, while Asuna ends up going exploring and finds Agarthan potatoes that end up being surprisingly tasty; it turns out that Asuna was able to find some salt in the stone ruins. Surprised with Asuna’s high spirits, Ryūji asks about how she’s feeling, and she replies that she’d been feeling amped since their arrival because there’s something she’s seeking out. Viewers can conclude that a part of Asuna still yearns to reunite with Shun, and the excitement she’s feeling comes from this possibility.

  • Back in a temple, Shin is debriefed by the elders; his original assignment had been to retrieve the Clavis that Shun had brought to the surface with him, and although he’d been successful here, the fact that is that Asuna and Ryūji have entered their world with another Clavis fragment in hand is worrying, suggesting that outsiders may yet interfere with things in Agartha and bring more troubles with them. To this end, the elders set Shin with recovering the Clavis fragment that Ryūji and Asuna possess. It turns out that Shun always been the preferred sibling for his powers, but possessed a desire to see the surface, which is what led him to Asuna. While Shin lacks the same power, he attempts to carry out his duties as best as he can.

  • While Shin had been set the goal of recovering the Clavis in Ryūji and Asuna’s possession by any means necessary, and remarks to another girl in the village, Seri, that if required, he’d consider lethal force, the reality is that Shin is torn between doing his duties, and doing what’s right. Their conversation supposes that exposure to the surface accelerates any illnesses one may have, and that both Shun and Shin are orphans who were raised by the village. His loyalty to them is a result of wishing to pay back the village’s kindness, although these loyalties do begin shifting.

  • Meanwhile, Ryūji and Asuna have taken refuge underneath a boulder to escape a rainfall. When Asuna makes an offhand comment about how Ryūji has come to be a father figure, Ryūji later dreams about the events that led them to Agartha. It turns out that his wife had died before he returned from his tour of duty during a war, and despite his efforts otherwise, Ryūji never moved on from his loss. The exact war is not known: while it would appear that Ryūji is fighting in the European Theatre during World War Two, he’s armed with an M4 Carbine with a Close Quarter Barrel Receiver. The M4 entered service in 1994, which complicates identifying which war Ryūji would’ve fought in, although since this is a dream, the smaller details would be secondary to the idea that Ryūji greatly misses his late wife.

  • When Asuna falls asleep, she ends up being taken by the Izoku, enigmatic monsters who can only travel through solid surfaces in the shadows while there is light (but when it is dark, they can roam freely). These beings are a part of the natural order in Agartha, although for the purposes of Children Who Chase Lost Voices, they exist to act as a reminder that life in Agartha has its own challenges. When Asuna comes to in the stone ruins, she finds another girl, Manna, here. The pair attempt to escape, but to no avail; the area is sealed off, and the nearest exit is too high to reach.

  • Fortunately, Shin arrives at the last possible second to save both Asuna and Manna. They manage to escape the ruins, but with the Izoku closing rapidly, Shin orders Asuna to jump into the river below; the Izoku have an aversion to water and will not traverse where water flows. The determined and plucky traits seen in Asuna bring to mind the likes of female leads from Studio Ghibli’s movies, marking a welcome new direction for Shinkai’s movies. Until now, I’d found that in his earlier films, the female leads were more passive, and lacked agency.

  • Conversely, in Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Asuna is driven and takes the initiative to make her own decisions. These traits carry over to The Garden of WordsYour Name and Weathering With You; a part of why these films are so successful is because female leads are impacting the story to a greater extent. Here, Asuna attempts to prevent Shin from being swept away in the river’s fierce currents, but Shin ends up taking an Izoku’s claw to the back and is swept off. Asuna leaps off after them in an attempt to rescue the pair, but the currents end up overcoming her, too.

  • The currents end up washing everyone downstream, where Ryūji finds them. Ryūji is relieved that Asuna is okay, but when Shin comes to and confronts Ryūji for the Clavis, he gets pistol-whipped. Disappointed with how Ryūji treats Shin, Asuna declares that they’ll bring Shin with them. Ryūji does not object, and upon arrival, their presence is almost immediately noted. The presence of outsiders prompt the local armed forces to appear; Agartha’s residents are deeply mistrustful of people from the surface, and here, a little more information is also provided regarding Manna: she’s mute as a result of having witnessed her mother’s death.

  • The commanding soldier initially turns Ryūji and Asuna back; the outsiders are treated as an ill omen in Agartha, and despite Asuna’s requests to get Shin looked at, the soldiers stand firm. Ryūji has no quarrel with the people of Agartha and makes to comply, but the village’s master, who also happens to be Manna’s grandfather, requests that the group be allowed to rest for one evening as recompense for having saved his granddaughter. The soldiers leave, and the elderly man bring them back to his home, where Shin is looked over and allowed to rest. As it turns out, Manna’s mother was from Agartha, and her father was from the surface; this is why the soldiers refer to Manna as “defiled”.

  • Speaking with the village’s master provides vital exposition that fills in remaining gaps about Agartha, and he explains that the antipathy for outsiders stems from a history where outsiders had arrived in Agartha to pillage and burn. Amongst historical figures who have done this include Julius Caeser, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin; it is implied that it was through the wealth of treasure and knowledge from Agartha that they were able to amass the resources to rule the world, but their expeditions also caused a great deal of harm and suffering to Agartha’s people. To prevent outsiders from returning, Agartha’s remaining residents sealed the gates that were once opened.

  • The fact that people from the surface brought death and destruction with them, enough to annihilate Agartha’s once-great civilisation, explains why there is so much hostility towards outsiders, and why ruins litter Agartha. With their birthrate declining, Agartha’s once-mighty people are now scattered in a vast, empty land. The village Master is surprised that Mimi (technically a Yadoriko rather than a cat), is so friendly with Asuna. These beings are said to accompany humans while they live, and then return to the Quetzalcoatl in death. This revelation does seem to reinforce the idea that Asuna’s father had a connection with Agartha. Here, Asuna is surprised to be offered a bath, and the sharp-eyed viewer will have noted that Asuna’s not really had the comforts of home since arriving in Agartha.

  • Being able to immerse herself in warm water and rest would seem like an unbelievable luxury after the trek she’d been on. Floral baths aren’t unique to Agartha, nor are the flowers present just for show. It turns out that taking a floral bath has some health benefits, and depending on the flowers used, different effects can be enjoyed, from improving circulation and skin hydration. Such a setup does look remarkably comfortable, although I’ve always been more of a shower person owing to the fact that a quick shower conserves water. After finishing up, Asuna gets dressed in an Agarthan-style outfit, and runs into Ryūji, who says the clothes don’t suit her, causing Asuna to pout.

  • Agartha’s cuisine appears to have an East Asian influence: Asuna had been seen peeling a daikon earlier, and they use chopsticks. Dinner proves delicious, and Asuna spends it savouring every bite. Over their meal, Ryūji asks the Master about his desire to resurrect the dead; he reasons that while this act is verboten in Agartha, that it is prohibited must imply there is a way to do so. The Master’s attempts to turn Ryūji from his desires to no avail, and is unable to convince Ryūji that life and death are a part of the natural world. I imagine that Ryūji does end up getting some answers, but this is not shown: the Master asks Asuna to look after Shin, who’s awake now and becomes worked up after Asuna mentions Shun.

  • The Master rightly notes that people who come to Agartha do so because of a great loss, and that a great many misunderstandings could have been avoided if said people had someone to talk to. This is true of Ryūji, and certainly true of Asuna. Through Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Shinkai aims to show how “adventure” is really just another way to say that after sustaining a loss, people wander. Without guidance and support, people can become lost in their own thoughts and venture down a path they might come to regret. As such, it becomes important to be compassionate and empathetic towards those who do suffer loss in their lives, while at the same time, giving them the space they need to recover.

  • The next morning, Ryūji and Asuna prepare to head off by boat, but to Asuna’s surprise, Mimi stays behind. This is shocking because Mimi had remained faithfully by Asuna’s side all this time, and as such, the unexpected change in behaviour is a result of Mimi preparing for death. For Asuna, being able to say goodbye to Mimi and part ways is a turning point in her character; she’s able to make peace with the fact that she won’t be with Mimi forever, and this sets the precedence for letting go of Shun, as well. Ryūji and Asuna travel under a gorgeous sunrise, and this moment captures the peaceful atmosphere within Agartha, as well as the fact that it is a world in decline: a massive ruin can be seen in this distance.

  • Mimi passes away, and after the Master reassures Manna it’ll be okay, the Master takes Manna out to a vast field, where Mimi’s remains are offered to a Quetzalcoatl. The one that arrives is an ancient one; one of its arms are blown off, although it accepts the offering and consumes Mimi. The Master notes that this is how Mimi returns to the world, and given the way things work in Agartha, one can suppose that here, the secret to immortality is simple enough: life is still finite, but what lingers after death, is what confers immortality.

  • The vastness of the field where Manna returns Mimi to the world is a visual metaphor for life and death itself; Shinkai indicates that the openness of such a space allows one to see great distances, and in this way, being out here corresponds to one accepting that what lies beyond life is not something to be feared. While Manna cries for the loss of Mimi’s life, Shin speaks with the Master and wonders if Asuna is able to accept life and death as two halves of a whole. The idea that death is not something to be tampered with is a theme that has long permeated fiction, and authors generally agree that those who attempt to raise new life from the dead or cheat death itself will face inevitable punishment.

  • The stakes increase when the village soldiers set off at full tilt for the same destination that Ryūji and Asuna are headed towards. The Master feels that their intention is to stop Ryūji and Asuna from reaching the Gate of Life and Death at all costs, even if it means killing them: Shin has spotted that the soldiers are carrying firearms, a sign that they mean business. When Ryūji spots them, he opens fire with his Uzi, but Shin uses his own dagger to knock the submachine gun from Ryūji’s hands before he can land any shots.

  • Noting that he’s acting to save Ryūji and Asuna, freeing himself from the debt he’d owed them, Shun now faces off against the soldiers in combat. Going from the single-shot weapons the soldiers are carrying, they would be easily bested by anyone carrying repeating firearms; repeaters first appeared in 1630 with the development of the Kalthoff repeater, and by the 1800s, revolvers and lever-action rifles had become commonplace. Since reloading presumably takes a while, the soldiers switch over to their swords and duel Shin one-to-one. Shin’s prowess impresses the commander, but he is ultimately beaten back.

  • The opening Shin creates allows Ryūji and Asuna to reach Finis Terra, a massive pit housing the Gate of Life and Death at its bottom. When Asuna glances over the ledge, the pit’s depth is such that the bottom cannot even be seen. This location likely was what inspired Your Name‘s scenery, when Taki and Mitsuha were finally able to meet one another during evening. However, Finis Terra (literally “end of the land”) possesses none of the warmth: it is raining here, and the skies are rapidly darkening as the sun sets. Tenmon uses an unearthly choir to convey the otherworldly feeling at this spot, which is easily the most unsettling place in the whole of Agartha.

  • As Asuna attempts to climb down what is a vertical cliff shear, a current rushes upwards and threatens to dislodge her; the effort proves too much, and Asuna decides to turn around and return to the village at Ryūji’s suggestion. The moment had been quite unnerving, and viewers get the sense that whatever lies at the bottom of the cliff does not want any surface-dwellers present. Even ten years later, this part of Children Who Chase Lost Voices remains quite tense, speaking to the incredible effort that went into the aesthetics for this film. While many things in my world have changed in the past decade, that anime films can still elicit the same response speaks to their staying power.

  • The extent of the changes to my world became clear earlier today, when I participated in a virtual panel to discuss career paths for alumni of my major. Joining me were my old program head, programme coordinator and two other panelists. While answering questions the students posed, I was sent down memory lane, recalling iconic health science moments, such as joining the lab that ended up being the basis for my graduate work, the various research symposiums I attended (and their free pizza), and the exams I studied for with my classmates. I was surprised to learn that there had been a question directed at me specifically, inquiring how I ended up as a mobile developer despite having started in health science.

  • The answer I gave was simple enough: while health sciences is about medical science and health policy, the inquiry and analytical skills students cultivate are versatile enough to be utilised in other disciplines, and health science has always encouraged the multidisciplinary approach towards problem solving. Coupled with the fact that I already had basic understanding of programming and software development, the transition wasn’t as abrupt as one might imagine. It did come as a bit of a surprise to me that the other panelists had a similar career progression, but as the department head stated, it’s okay not to know of one’s destination early in the game.

  • For Asuna, she set out for Agartha with a similar lack of destination in mind, and only vaguely knew that she wanted to speak with Shun once more. However, when the final leg of her journey becomes too much, she isn’t able to continue and turns back around. While this decision nearly costs Asuna her life, it also shows that Asuna is able to spot when things aren’t working. This is something that, during the panel, I mentioned as being an important thing to know – forcing ahead with something, as Ryūji does, can prove to be detrimental. However, Asuna’s journey is not meaningless, and her time in Agartha does prove instrumental in shaping her thoughts on life and death. Similarly, it is the case that one’s experiences, both good and bad, shape one’s current self, so if and when I’m asked, I do not regret taking a more crooked, uncertain path to the present, either.

  • Unfortunately for Asuna, the creek she’s traversing runs dry, and this allows the Izoku to finally capture her. In desperation, Asuna trains the sidearm Ryūji had given her, but unaccustomed to its recoil, she misses her shot. The aurora borealis here are especially visible: the night skies in Agartha are aglow with the ghostly dance of the northern lights. In reality, aurora result from the interaction of solar wind with oxygen and nitrogen atoms (which cause electrons to jump orbitals and release photons when they return to their ground state). Under ground, one would suppose that, since the skies of Agartha are blocked off by Earth’s crust, solar wind would never interact with the oxygen and nitrogen atoms down here. However, since the sun is visible down here, one must suppose that there are other forces at work, too.

  • I’m not here to break down the series for its faithfulness to reality because it is a meaningless exercise: just when Asuna is about to succumb to the Izoku’s grip, Shin shows up and kills the Izoku attacking her. The sun rises shortly after, forcing the remaining Izoku to retreat. With the morning here, both Shin and Asuna do feel as though there is new hope, now that the sun has risen. While the Izoku are a terrifying foe, Shin is able to kill one with a knife, leaving me to wonder if firearms would’ve been useful against them. The Izuko only show up in certain areas after night has fallen, and since the villages are safe, one must imagine that Agartha’s inhabitants have simply adjusted to their presence and placed their settlements away from the Izoku’s turf, rather than wage a campaign of extermination as contemporary humans are wont to doing.

  • After Shin and Asuna share their memories of Shun, they allow one another the time to cry themselves out. Asuna had been holding back her feelings, but here, she finally lets her emotions out. While society has reservations about tears, crying is an effective means of flushing out sorrow and grief: the process releases oxytocin and endogenous opioids, which are hormones that create a feeling of calm. In the aftermath, both Shin and Asuna determine that they need to get Ryūji back – while he’s kept calm by his single-minded focus, this stubbornness has left him blind to the costs of resurrecting the dead.

  • After finally reaching the bottom of Finis Terra, Ryūji locates the Gate of Life and Death and ventures inside. The Shakuna Vimana feels the presence of a Clavis crystal and makes its way over to hear whatever wish Ryūji has in mind. Thanks to numerous warnings, both from the village Master, and common knowledge about the costs of raising the dead back into the world of the living, viewers will immediately gain a sense of unease at what Ryūji is trying to accomplish. What follows is then simple enough; Shin and Asuna must get back down and reach the Gate of Life and Death to stop Ryūji.

  • The same Quetzalcoatl that had accepted Mimi’s corpse has come here to Finis Terra to pass on, as well. Spotting Asuna and Shin, it offers them a ride down to the bottom, allowing the pair to bypass the treacherous descent that Ryūji would’ve had to had made. Coupled with Shin’s Clavis, the pair float down safely after the Quetzalcoatl vanishes from this world. I would imagine that the gap between Ryūji’s enormously difficult descent and the comparatively straightforward one Asuna takes is meant to be a metaphor for how sometimes, the things that are meant to be present much less resistance compared to the things we were not meant to have.

  • Once inside the portal, Shin and Asuna spot a faint glow coming from Ryūji: he’s managed to contact the gods’ vessel, which transforms into a monstrous, multi-eyed being. After regarding Ryūji, it prepares to grant his wish. However, recalling someone from death is not an easy feat, and the gods must first use a vessel in order to carry out the process. Asuna is immediately seized, and she slowly begins taking on the appearance of Ryūji’s late wife. Even Asuna’s sacrifice isn’t enough: the energy involved draws out Ryūji’s life force, and he becomes scarred in the process.

  • It is here that Shin chooses to act; to Ryūji, Asuna was expendable, and to grant Ryūji’s wish, Asuna would have to give up her life in order to allow Ryūji’s wife to come back. The question of sacrificing the young for the old is a very difficult topic, one that I’m certainly not qualified to discuss, but in Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Shinkai suggests that this isn’t up for debate: the outcomes of this film indicates that Shinkai hedges his bets on youth and giving them a shot at the future. To this end, Shin attempts to shatter the Clavis and stop the process, but Ryūji overpowers him, allowing the process to reach completion.

  • Ryūji thus reunites with Lisa, and Asuna’s spirit is sent onwards, although Lisa appears to retain Asuna’s memories: she feels Shin to be familiar. Asuna’s spirit ends up meeting both Mimi and Shun; having found the strength to do so, Asuna manages to properly bid Shun farewell, and in this moment, Shin also shatters the Clavis. In her remaining moments, Lisa apologises for having lacked the strength to protect Ryūji and prepares to depart once more, leaving Ryūji to suffer the loss of death anew. By toying with forces beyond human comprehension, Ryūji ends up losing Lisa twice – this time would’ve hit even harder because Ryūji had, until now, been working towards this one moment, so to see everything taken away again would’ve been particularly devastating.

  • Although Ryūji desires death to escape the pain of loss and asks Shin to kill him here nad now, Shin implores Ryūji to live on instead. Asuna soon comes to, and unlike Ryūji, who’d come to Agartha with a very clear goal in mind and was unwilling to listen to those who tried to turn him away from his path, Asuna’s lack of preconceptions and singular objective in Agartha means that she was able to venture into this realm and gain something invaluable: knowledge and wisdom. Having now had the chance to properly say goodbye to Shun and Mimi, Asuna is finally ready to take a step forward and leave the deceased to rest.

  • The three prepare to make their way back to Agartha’s gateway: Ryūji elects to stay behind and learn from the Agarthans in order to find peace and come to terms with his wife’s death. Here, they make use of a ramp that leads back to Agartha’s surface – it is not lost on me that, had Ryūji been more patient and bothered to research this detail, his descent would’ve been less difficult, but then again, had Ryūji appreciated something like this, he might have never made the journey to Agartha at all. As Children Who Chase Lost Voices draws to a close, Anri Kumaki’s Hello, Goodbye and Hello begins to play. This song brought a solitary tear to my eye when I first watched this movie, being both upbeat and melancholy at the same time.

  • Some time later, Asuna returns to her old life on the surface, and having fully accepted that death is a natural part of life, is able to move on – she smiles before heading out the door for school, bringing the film to a close. While the themes in Children Who Chase Lost Voices are easily discerned, the me of ten years ago struggled to write about this film. I still had considerable difficulty with this post a decade later, but looking back, I would contend that, having ten more years of life experience and knowledge of Shinkai’s latest works together, is what allowed me to better convey how I feel about what is one of Makoto Shinkai’s lesser-known films. Children Who Chase Lost Voices is completely overshadowed by Garden of WordsYour Name and Weathering With You, but relative to its successors, is no less enjoyable and compelling, being an indispensable Makoto Shinkai experience. With this ten-year anniversary post in the books, I’ll return to wrap the month up with a talk on The Aquatope on White Sand after twenty-one, and remark that the MG Kyrios I ordered arrived today. I am looking forwards to building it once I confirm the status of the vacation time I’d requested a few weeks earlier.

Altogether, Children Who Chase Lost Voices represents Makoto Shinkai’s boldest, most daring film to date. New themes and new character traits come together in a fantastical story portraying a setting none of his works have ever portrayed. Whereas Shinkai focuses on Tokyo in his films, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is set in rural Japan and the legendary world of Agartha, a place of rolling hills, ancient ruins, endless plains and a treacherous crater housing the Gate of Life and Death. Each setting is rendered in stunning detail, whether it be the interior of Asuna’s house and classroom, to the village and landscapes of Agartha. The end result of this level of detail is that Agartha is brought to life, becoming as convincing as any real-world location Shinkai traditionally sets his stories in. Bringing out the best in Agartha makes it clear to viewers that this world is as real as the one we’re familiar with, and consequently, the learnings that Asuna picks up here are certainly applicable in the real world, as well. In an interview, Shinkai states that he wanted to create a more optimistic messages about parting ways, and Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a film that completely succeeds in this regard. It is unsurprising that after its release, the film was universally acclaimed; in fact, some people even began comparing Shinkai to the works of Hayato Miyazaki (although Shinkai himself dislikes this comparison, feeling it to be an overestimation of his own abilities). While Children Who Chase Lost Voices is overshadowed by its successors’ success, as well as the fact that in 2019, Sentai Filmworks lost the license to the film, the film remains a worthwhile watch owing to its trailblazing elements that would become commonplace in his newer films, as well as for its wonderful depiction of Agartha and a moving story that shows how, distance or not, people can persevere, overcome and learn. This film might no longer be as accessible as it was a few years earlier, but its contributions are nontrivial, and as such, fans of Makoto Shinkai’s works will greatly enjoy this journey to Agartha, one journey that should not be forgotten.

Tenki no Ko (Weathering With You): A Review and Reflection on Makoto Shinkai’s 2019 Film

“I always say: in survival, I’m either dealing with bad weather, or preparing for it.” –Les Stroud, Suvivorman

Tenki no Ko (天気の子, literally “Children of the Weather” and English name Weathering With You) is Makoto Shinkai’s sixth feature-length film that premièred in Japan on July 19, 2019. Shinkai is described to have seen a towering cumulonimbus cloud over Tokyo in late August, shortly after Your Name‘s screenings began in 2016, and began wondering to himself, “what if the cloud tops were an island?”. This materialised into the inspiration for Weathering With You, a film that ultimately grossed 226.16 million CAD internationally and won several awards, including Anime of the Year at the 43rd Japan Academy Film Prize, as well as being nominated for several other awards. At its core, Weathering With You follows Hodaka Morishima, a high school student who runs away from home and finds himself in Tokyo. During a freak down-burst on a ferry that threatens to wash him overboard, he is saved by Keisuke Suga, who gives him a business card. After arriving in Tokyo, Hodaka struggles to find work and support himself. Amidst the seedier parts of Tokyo, he finds a discarded Makarov PM pistol, and one day, encounters Hina Amano at a McDonald’s, who pities him and gives him a meal on the house. With his funds dwindling, he decides to take up Keisuke’s offer and arrives at the address on the business card. After meeting Natsumi, Keisuke’s niece, he is offered a job and explores urban legends as a part of his job to write magazines articles. One excursion has Natsumi and Hodaka learn of the weather maiden, an individual blessed with the power to manipulate the skies. Settling into life as an assistant, Hodaka encounters Hina in the company and attempts to rescue her, eventually discharging the side-arm he found to scare them off. He and Hina escape, and here, Hina reveals an unusual ability to clear the skies of rain that came after she crossed a torii on the rooftop of an abandoned high-rise. Realising that Tokyo’s been raining non-stop, he proposes starting a business to utilise Hina’s powers to help those around them, and they become an overnight success, participating in events from weddings and sports meets to creating a miracle for Tokyo’s Jingu-Gaien Fireworks Festival.

However, after spotting footage of Hodaka on a pole-mounted CCTV, the Tokyo police become interested in the pistol that Hodaka found and begin searching for him. Keisuke distances himself from Hodaka and fires him, but not without telling him to look after himself. After evading beat cops, Hodaka, Hina and her younger brother, Nagi, overnight in a hotel, where Hina reveals use of her power comes at a cost, and that she must sacrifice herself entirely to restore balance to Tokyo’s unusual weather. Despite Hodaka’s promise to protect her, Hina disappears the next morning, and Hodaka is arrested. He manages to escape custody, and with Natsumi’s help, arrives at the derelict building and attempts to reach the torii, but runs into Keisuke. While he had intended to talk sense into Hodaka, he realises the strength of Hodaka’s feelings for Hina and helps him to escape the police. Upon reaching the torii, he is whisked into the skies and manages to save Hina, convincing her to live for her own happiness. In the aftermath, he is arrested and sent back home. Over Tokyo, the skies continue to rain, flooding the city and forcing its inhabitants to move. Three years later, Hodaka returns to Tokyo after graduating and his probation ends. He meets with Keisuke, who is now running a more reputable publishing firm and encourages him to follow his heart. On a bridge overlooking the submerged Tokyo, Hodaka reunites with Hina and promises that things will be okay from here on out. With a run-time of one hour and fifty-two minutes (six minutes more than Your Name), Weathering With You had found itself in the shadows of its predecessor and ultimately, continues in dealing with Shinkai’s themes of love, separation and reunion, as well as the forces of nature that bring people together and drive them apart. Whereas Your Name utilised catastrophe as its motivator, Weathering With You, true to its title, employs the phenomenon of weather to present new themes alongside familiar ones.

Major Themes in the movie

While Weathering with You has a distinct weather motif, the notion of taking responsibility for one’s actions lies at the heart of the film; in the beginning, overwhelmed by his circumstances, Hodaka decides to run away from home and is bound for Tokyo. In his situation, he feels unable to take control and therefore, responds in the only way he can. Upon arriving in Tokyo, Hodaka initially expresses an unwillingness to take responsibility for anything because he seems to be on the back-foot all of the time. When his funds run out and it seems as though there’s no other way, however, after Hodaka meets Hina for the first time, her warmth and kindness instigates a change in him. He begins to take the initiative, and seeks out Keisuke to better his situation. In shouldering more responsibility, Hodaka begins to mature, although he remains brash, impulsive and hot-headed: this is how he formally meets Hina. The journey that Hodaka and Hina take together is one of ups and downs, giving the two great happiness as well as challenges. Over time, Hodaka’s feelings towards Hina manifests as love, and from here, Hodaka’s actions begin shifting; he starts acting in her interests, and while he might initially be seen as shirking responsibility for his actions, such as when he runs away from the police station after his capture, he is actually acting for another reason. Once he recovers Hina from the heavens, Hodaka stops running away: he is ultimately arrested, tried and returned home, but promises to uphold his promise to Hina. After his graduation, he ends up keeping true to his word, and taking responsibility for the consequences of his action, returns to Tokyo to find Hina and fulfil his promise of being with her. Weathering with You presents a tale of responsibility and how one may uphold their word, as well as what sacrifices are necessary; in this film, Makoto Shinkai suggests that if one’s word is worth keeping, then one should keep it even if there is another cost incurred. Hodaka’s time in Tokyo pushes him to learn the meaning of responsibility, and it turns out that love is a powerful instructor; in order for Hodaka to have found happiness with Hina, he would’ve necessarily needed to stop running from his problems and face them. In returning to Tokyo, speaking with Keisuke and finding Hina, audiences are assured that Hodaka has evidently matured, understands what it means to own his actions, and ultimately, is better prepared to support and love Hina than he was when they had first met, no matter what the weather might be.

Les Stroud describes the weather as being the single most dangerous factor in survival, with extremities negatively affecting one’s survival and drastically introducing challenges. In Weathering With You, Makoto Shinkai presents the weather as a natural phenomenon whose impact is less tangible; rainy skies are associated with separation, melancholy and lethargy, seen when Keisuke laments being unable to see his daughter owing to rainy weather, as well as causing the interruption or fouling of events as varied as weddings, sports meets and fireworks events. By comparison, clear weather is a time of happiness, togetherness and adventure. Under good weather, people spend more time together and create more memories together. Hina’s power, then, is a symbol of hope for Tokyo’s residents, who are inundated with rainy weather, wherein the dampness appears to seep into one’s very bones and saps people of their happiness. However, Hina’s power comes with a terrible cost, consuming her own life energy and rendering her increasingly transparent. As she strives for the happiness of others, this comes at great expense to herself. This is the primary conflict in Weathering With You that Hina must deal with; having lived a life without clear purpose or direction, when she is given a chance to impact the lives of others in a meaningful way at a personal cost, which decision she should take becomes muddled. On one hand, meeting Hodaka and spreading happiness through her power has made her happy, but on the other hand, having begun to fall in love with him, Hina appreciates that being with him means not interfering with the weather further. In creating this conundrum for Hina, Shinkai suggests in natural systems like the weather, interference usually carries a cost. Shinkai indicates that things like the weather are immensely complex, in comparing the weather patterns to the work of deities, and for humans to impose their will on these systems only ever yields a short term result. The sunshine that Hina brings is not long-lived, and the rain inevitably returns, stronger than before. The devastation wrought on Tokyo, then, as a result of Hina’s actions, shows that even if it were possible to intervene in natural phenomenon, to do so extracts a toll on those who do not fully understand the nuances of the system they intend to alter.

However, while Shinkai indicates that the weather is phenomenon that humanity must learn to live with, he also suggests that as a species, we are remarkably resilient, constantly striving to better a situation. This is what Hodaka represents in Weathering With You; the deck is constantly stacked against him, but he survives and always seeks a way to better his circumstances. After arriving in Tokyo, he transitions from one spot to another in search of opportunity, bringing him to his fateful meeting with Hina. When he accepts a job with Keisuke’s publishing company, his situation improve enough to where he is able to meet Hina again. Captivated by Hina, Hodaka ends up moving heaven and earth to be with her: his devotion borders on foolishness, and so strong are his feelings that he is willing to run afoul of the law and systems far beyond his comprehension to be with her, whether they be natural or man-made. Driven by his unwavering desire to be with Hina, Hodaka’s determination and persistence is a representation of how powerful love is: he comes to personify the human spirit and how far people are willing to go for one another and their own survival. The film scales this up towards its ending; even as Tokyo begins flooding from ceaseless rain, the citizens’ own resilience leads them to continue living even as a familiar livelihood is disrupted and submerged by unfeeling flood waters. Although people may go through trials and tribulation, their innate desires to survive win out: necessity has driven some of humanity’s greatest innovation and stories of courage, resilience. Altogether, through Weathering with You, Shinkai suggests to the viewer that even when confronted with the unknown, the bonds that connect people are stronger still, and in the end, people will find a way to make it, whatever it takes. As Weathering with You draws to a close, Hodaka and Hina’s reunion marks the beginnings of a new path, one where each will have the other to support and be supported by as the walk their future together.

Personal thoughts on the movie

With its conclusive ending, Weathering with You is a satisfying film to watch, featuring a combination of heartfelt moments, portrayals of everyday life and enthralling action sequences that come together for a big finish. However, it becomes clear that Weathering with You has also inherited much from its predecessor; a star-crossed love story backed by supernatural phenomenon also was at the core of 2016’s Your Name, and both movies utilise the extraordinary to demonstrate the strength of love. Your Name was a powerhouse performance because every action Taki and Mitsuha took in the film served to help them come together during the climax. By comparison, Weathering with You is missing that same coherence in a few areas: the movie is very busy in places as Hodaka struggles to make ends meet, winds up in the seedier parts of Tokyo and comes across a Makarov pistol. This pistol ends up setting in motion events that, while conferring an opportunity for Shinkai to incorporate a vehicle chase, also added nothing substantial to the film’s central message. The presence of social workers and police officers seeking a runaway after Hodaka’s parents reported their child missing would have provided enough of a motivator for Hodaka’s actions towards Weathering with You‘s climax; giving Hodaka a pistol did very little to make his feelings more apparent than it had already been. Similarly, folklore in Your Name ended up giving viewers a unifying element towards understanding how Mitsuha and Taki could transcend the laws of space and time to meet, but in Weathering with You, the inclusion of folklore merely creates a rudimentary mechanism to bolster Hodaka’s urgency in finding Hina after she vanishes. The sum of Weathering with You‘s plot appears to have been Makoto Shinkai’s effort to create a new story without venturing outside of the design choices that had made Your Name immensely successful, treading on very familiar territory. These are ultimately trifling complaints: while perhaps not the powerhouse experience that Your name might be, Weathering with You remains a highly enjoyable movie, standing of its own merits for the strength of its execution.

In every successive film, Makoto Shinkai manages to raise the bar higher for what sort of visuals are seen, and with weather at its core, Weathering with You is a visual spectacle surpassing any of his earlier films. Rain is rendered even more vividly than in Garden of Words, with the motion of individual raindrops being animated. Interiors are intricately depicted, cluttered with everyday items that convey a lived-in sense. Landscape shots and camera effects are more ambitious than before, making use of 3D rendering to present Tokyo in ways the previous films had not: the fireworks festival brought Weathering with You‘s Tokyo to life in a way that earlier films did not, even featuring real-time reflections of the fireworks on the skyscraper windows, and the dynamics of the vehicular chase similarly shows refinement in Shinkai’s craft. In short, Weathering with You represents a progression of the animation and artwork seen in Your Name, and Shinkai’s new story allows the film to portray a side of Tokyo that is lesser seen: the seedy and derelict side of Tokyo is shown, mirroring on how in Japan’s rapid growth and development, some areas were left behind, to be washed away by rain waters. There is a melancholy in seeing the abandoned building that houses the torii Hina found, and throughout Weathering with You, the use of moody, grey lighting suggests that Tokyo is not the destination that it appears to be on an ordinary day. However, when light breaks through the clouds and illuminates the world’s largest city in a wash of warm, golden light, the magic of Tokyo becomes more apparent. The shifting portrayal of Tokyo in Makoto Shinkai’s films show the city as a monolith of activity, a place of great contrasts, of excesses and decay, as well as of beauty and meaning, all of which lie in its people, rather than its buildings: having honed his craft in his previous films, Weathering with You represents further into insight into how Shinkai feels about Tokyo. When Tokyo is flooded by ceaseless rain, its citizens endure, and continue finding ways of making things work; Shinkai therefore indicates, through Weathering with You, that buildings can be rebuilt, and livelihoods restored so as long as people are together.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Weathering with You opens with Hina finding the mysterious torii gate after noticing a beam of sun illuminating it while with her mother at the hospital. When she walks through the gate, she finds herself whisked into the skies above. Unlike my post for Your Name, I’ve decided to host my images in a typical fashion owing to storage constraints. However, the screenshots should still be quite sharp and capture all of the details in the movie nicely: this time around, I’ve got eighty screenshots (down from Your Name‘s one hundred even), curated from a total of three hundred and sixty, making this first and only proper collection of screenshots around on the internet.

  • Weathering with You begins formally with Hodaka on board a ferry bound for Tokyo. The film does not disclose much about his background, beyond the fact that he was dissatisfied with his old life to the point where he felt running away from home was his best bet. The bandages on his face, in conjunction with his unhappiness about his home, suggest that he suffered from physical abuse. However, Hodaka cannot help but marvel at the gathering storm while riding the ferry: a massive rainfall suddenly inundates him, and an unexpected downburst threatens to wash him overboard.

  • The storm disappears as quickly as it appeared, and Hodaka finds himself being saved by one Keisuke Suga. In gratitude, Hodaka treats Keisuke to lunch, and is coerced into buying Keisuke a beer, as well. Keisuke appears to be a bit of a shady character – his eyes lack the detail and dimensions that are typical to trustworthy characters, and so, viewers cannot help but be a little mistrusting of him when he is first introduced. Before we delve further into Weathering with You, it’s appropriate to explain the page quote: I normally reserve Survivorman quotes for Yuru Camp△, but owing to how Les Stroud describes the weather, I figured his remarks on weather are well-suited for opening a talk about a movie with a substantial weather motif.

  • After the ferry pulls into Tokyo harbour and docks, Keisuke and Hodaka part ways, but not before Keisuke leaves him with a business card. In this post, I’ve avoided recycling images that I used for my post about my plans to write aboutWeathering with You, drafted shortly after the film’s announcement: my expectations back then were to see how well the film utilised Hina’s powers and tie that in with an overarching theme. Beyond that, I had no other knowledge of the film, and when it released to Japanese theatres on July 19, 2019, I hadn’t even made any remarks about missing out on things.

  • Because Hodaka was able to survive for a short while before his funds dwindled, it stands to reason that he comes from a moderately wealthy background, enough for him to have withdrawn enough of his personal funds to buy time and attempt to find a job. Hodaka’s journey takes him to a seedier side of Tokyo that Shinkai had hitherto not explored in his movies, and in this side of Tokyo, questionable nightclubs and gambling parlours are portrayed. It reminds me of the side of Tokyo that Natasha Romanoff found Clint Barton in during the events of The Avengers: Endgame, although unlike Barton, Hodaka is no fighter, and can only escape from confrontations.

  • After taking refuge from the rain in front of one such night club, the establishment’s owner notices Hodaka and roughs him up. While beautifully rendered from a distance, close-up, Shinkai also chooses to portray a grittier, rougher side of Tokyo in Weathering with You to show the idea of resilience, a recurring theme in this movie. Hodaka ends up being knocked onto the streets along side a recycling container, and in it, he finds a Makarov PM. Feeling it to be a toy, he takes it with him and winds up at a McDonald’s, but having run his funds dry, can only order a drink.

  • At the McDonald’s, one of the staff takes pity on Hodaka and makes him a Big Mac on the house. Hodaka describes it as the best dinner he had since arriving in Tokyo, and while the moment conveys a combination of despair and hopelessness, it also foreshadows subsequent events: the staff is none other than Hina Amano, and upon their fateful meeting, he feels the warmth in her actions, which extends into the burger itself. In Five Centimetres per Second, Makoto Shinkai had used a stand-in for McDonald’s, but of late, having seen international recognition, Shinkai’s been able to use some real world brands openly in Weathering with You. Details paid to the Big Mac and its box are remarkable, and the box looks identical to the ones at the local McDonald’s.

  • I’m certain that, with a bit of patience and generous use of Wander in the Oculus Quest, I’d be able to find all of the locations shown in Weathering with You – for Your Name, I ended up using a bit of photogrammetry techniques to locate Taki’s apartment in an exercise that proved immensely enjoyable. The locations of Weathering with You are a bit more inconspicuous, and on first glance, would be trickier to find. However, knowing that Shinkai incorporates great amounts of details into his film, using the address on Keisuke’s business card and the Google Maps app on Hodaka’s phone means that one could find Keisuke’s home/office reasonably effortlessly.

  • Of course, doing so is not advised, as it is impolite to hassle a private residence. Regaining his energy and spirits from the Big Mac and Hina’s kindness, Hodaka decides to follow his lead and visit Keisuke. Ever since he arrived in Tokyo, it’s been raining nonstop: much as how previous films used weather as a metaphor for feelings within the protagonists’ hearts, Weathering with You‘s use of rain shows that at this point, Hodaka is very much in a melancholy and despairing. However, a simple gesture from Hina is enough to send Hodaka down a different path, and he decides to take a look at Keisuke’s offer.

  • Upon arriving at the address on Keisuke’s business card and entering, he finds himself face to face to a sleeping woman in her twenties. Being a teen, Hodaka cannot help but stare at her chest as she sleeps, and when she awakens to find him there, the woman’s first act is to tease Hodaka about it. It’s curious to see Shinkai incorporate more of these aspects into his movies (Your Name had Taki feeling up Mitsuha when he’d inhabited her body). Shinkai’s earliest films had female protagonists as pure as driven snow, perfect abstractions of what romance and love entailed, but over the years, females in his works became more human, with their own flaws and unique features.

  • It turns out that the sleeping woman is Natsumi, and while she’s not the female lead of Weathering with You, she’s certainly not one-dimensional, as this screenshot can attest. After Natsumi introduces herself, Keisuke finally arrives and lays out the terms of the job he has in mind for Hodaka. While Hodaka is initially reluctant, Keisuke notes that Hodaka’s job will also cover lodging and meals, prompting him to reconsider. As it turns out, the job Keisuke has in mind is akin to that of an intern: his job description entails organising meetings, proofreading, writing and helping out with housework.

  • Interior clutter has always been a major feature in Makoto Shinkai’s movies, giving a very lived-in sense: in Weathering with You, details in Keisuke’s home/office, from scattered papers and unwashed cups, give insight to Keisuke’s life. Looking at the placement and organisation of everyday objects in a scene brings interiors to life, and in most anime, this detail is eschewed for ease of animation: looking after that many assets would be immensely difficult, and it speaks the technical skill of Comix Wave Films that they are able to render this. The only other studios that place such effort into interiors are Studio Ghibli, Kyoto Animation and P.A. Works.

  • Hodaka’s first test is to accompany Natsumi to speak with a fortune teller, who presents the story of so-called “Sunshine Girls”, alongside “Rain Girls” whose presence can impact the weather, and this early into Weathering with You, the fortune teller already gives viewers one of the film’s main themes: if you mess with nature, it tends to mess back. My main goal in consuming any work of fiction is to see what I can learn from it (and by extension, the author’s intentions), so if I walk away from something with a quantum of an idea of what the author wanted to convey, I end up satisfied.

  • Once Hodaka begins settling into his new routine, Radwimps’ Kaze-tachi no Koe (“Voices of the Wind”) begins playing. Repraising their role from Your Name as Weathering with You‘s composers, Radwimps delivers an aural experience that elicits memories of Your Name. Voices of the Wind is an upbeat piece whose rhythm mirrors the newfound routine in Hodaka’s life, and their remaining vocal pieces are well-adjusted. The instrumental pieces of Weathering with You create a sense of melancholy and longing that fits well with Shinkai’s themes of separation and distance, as well as the supernatural feeling that arises at critical moments in the story.

  • Besides McDonald’s, Tenki no Ko also showcases Apple products in prominence: Hodaka is seen using an iPhone 8 and a 2017 MacBook Pro, and Natsumi runs an iPad. That Weathering with You is able to use real-world products is a sign of how far Makoto Shinkai has come in terms of recognition, for large companies like Yahoo!, Apple and McDonald’s to allow their products to be rendered in such detail. Since Your Name, Apple has reached iOS 13 from iOS 10, and their Flat UI has been around since 2013’s iOS 7. Since then, iOS has not changed too much in appearance, and I remark that I’m very fond of the Flat UI, which replaces the Skeuomorphism aesthetic that iOS 6 and earlier used.

  • Weathering with You‘s use of supernatural differs from that of Your Name‘s in that whereas the latter employed it purely as a study of regional folklore, Weathering with You mixes it with urban legends that high school girls are familiar with. Old and new collide in Weathering with You in a way that Shinkai’s previous films do not depict, and this hints at Shinkai’s thoughts on advancing technologies and beliefs: the interweaving of old and new suggest in Weathering with You indicates that while Shinkai respects the old ways and uses them when appropriate, he also believes that if the new offers a tangible benefit to something, then it should be tested and utilised, as well.

  • Aside from high school students attuned to rumours and urban legends, as well as practitioners of the occult, Natsumi and Hodaka also speak with meteorologists and experts. While some turn them away, seeing the supernatural as a waste of time, others eagerly speak with them, as they’ve also spotted the unusual phenomenon manifesting in Weathering with You: raindrops occasionally flop about and swim as fish do, and there have been several instances of large bodies of water taking the form of whales. Unfortunately, my understanding of the symbolism here is not terribly extensive, and I can’t offer more on what the cloud fish and whales mean beyond the suggestion that the clouds are supposed to represent a world that has not been extensively studied.

  • One subtle detail that I really enjoyed was watching Hodaka slowly become better as an article writer: Keisuke had been satisfied with his initial writing but counts him as a slow writer, and while he reviewers Hodaka’s work here, he critiques one of Hodaka’s passages before noting that Hodaka’s done well in another section. While seemingly minor, this moment shows that despite his gruff appearance and the occult focus of his publishing business, Keisuke is someone that Hodaka can look to as a mentor figure. For the audiences, this is reassuring, reminding viewers that Keisuke can be trusted.

  • While out one day, Hodaka runs into Hina again, who is trying to discuss terms of some job with two shady-looking characters. Without really thinking things through, he pulls Hina away and they run off, but the two catch up to Hodaka and begin kicking his face in. Hodaka ends up drawing the Makarov and fires it, scaring the two off, but also earning himself admonishment from Hina. The Makarov pistol is named after designer Nikolay Fyodorovich Makarov, who designed it to be a compact pistol with low recoil without compromising stopping power. It entered service in 1951, and anime fans will know it for being the gun that Shino “Sinon” Asada fears during Sword Art Online‘s Phantom Bullet arc. Owing to its Soviet origins and use by the Eastern Bloc, the weapon does seem to exude an aura of menace and well-chosen to be the antagonist’s firearm in anime.

  • Hodaka discards the gun and ends up having a proper conversation with Hina to know her better, after both have a chance to clear their heads. They head to the roof where the torii is, and Hina demonstrates her power to clear the skies. It turns out that this power is strictly for clearing the skies, and unlike The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim‘s “Clear Skies” shout, cannot make aurora borealis manifest. In Weathering with You, the first bit of sun is a magic moment for Hodaka. Most promotional images for the film feature the clearing skies by the torii on the rooftop and the cloud-top islands, and while Weathering with You does not have an iconic element as did Your Name in terms of imagery, the imagery associated with Weathering with You remains distinct.

  • While the phenomenon of a Sunshine Girl had been relegated to the realm of myth and rumour, Hodaka’s encounter with Hina changes his world permanently. Here on the rooftops, Hina and Hodaka are removed from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, as well as the world’s worries. The tranquility and peace that Hodaka shares with Hina here marks a turning point in Weathering with You, being the first time that sunshine is properly seen in the movie, and with it, the first time that Hodaka sees a reason for being here in Tokyo.

  • Reports of animals manifesting in the water begin making their way across social media platforms like Instagram, and Hodaka’s mind is on capitalising the excitement to publish a few more articles that could draw in readers, and with them, the coin. Natsumi’s exact relationship to Keisuke is never explored early on, and this leaves a bit of a mystery to her from Hodaka’s perspective; he is shocked to learn that she’s more of a part-timer with Keisuke’s company, and prior to heading out for a day’s worth of interviews, she looks through some of the phenomenon with Hodaka, but ends up disappointed that Hodaka’s thinking more about the increased profits from increased readership.

  • Keisuke, meanwhile, has other troubles of his own; after his wife died, their daughter went to live with her grandparents, and Keisuke finds it difficult to spend time with her daughter. At Minori Cafe in Ginza’s Mitsukoshi Department Store, he meets with his mother-in-law, who is adamant about keeping Keisuke from seeing his daughter owing to the fact that he smokes and the poor weather makes it difficult to be outside, which would alleviate her asthma. Keisuke’s mother-in-law recalls a time when the weather was more agreeable and laments that contemporary children are less inclined to explore the outdoors owing to extremities of weather, although the reality is that kids of this age are glued to their tablets and phones.

  • When I was in Japan three years earlier, I passed by the famous Wako Department Store in Ginza: I best remember its distinct Seiko Watch Face from the movie King Kong vs. Godzilla. After spending the morning at the Imperial gardens and a shrine, I’d arrived in Ginza for a delicious beef nabe lunch at a restaurant whose location I can’t remember, and subsequently browsed around the shops in the area before heading off for the banks of the Sumida River to check out the Tokyo Skytree and Sugamo Jizodori Shopping Street a ways over. The day ended at Heritage Resort in Saitama, where I sat down to a magnificent dinner of Kobe beef and sashimi before soaking at the hotel’s onsen.

  • There is a lot of exploration in Tokyo, and while I’d only spent a day there during my trip, I appreciate that one could spend a few months there and still not see everything worth seeing (although I note I’ve been in Calgary since time immemorial and there are things back home I don’t know about). Back in Weathering with You, upon seeing Hina’s power to clear the skies with his own eyes, Hodaka begins to develop an idea – aside from a few minutes of good weather, Weathering with You has been very rainy insofar, and Hodaka begins to feel that the mood of people is invariably tied to the weather, with rain signifying depression, melancholy and lack of energy. Sunshine occupies the opposite end of the spectrum, filling people with motivation, determination and joy. He contemplates the idea of using Hina’s powers to deliver hope for cash, and decides to float the idea to Hina.

  • Hina invites Hodaka over, who suddenly realises that this is the first time he’s ever been over to a girl’s house on his own. Hodaka hesitates briefly, but Hina has no qualms about having him over. As it turns out, Hina’s been living with her younger brother, Nagi. Ever since their mother passed away about a year ago, Hina’s been working to support the two, and this was roughly when Hina discovered the torii on top of the abandoned building. Hina’s situation is a tragic one, and despite the challenges she’s faced, she does her best to be optimistic about things, even going to extraordinary lengths like working at a night club despite being under-aged in order to make ends meet.

  • Because of her situation, Hina’s developed a rather unusual sense of cooking, incorporating instant ramen and potato chips into her recipe for fried rice. I am strongly reminded of a similar moment in The Garden of Words when Yukari cooks for Takai after the two retreat to her apartment during a sudden downpour. Both The Garden of Words and Weathering with You feature rain at its centrepiece, and while Hodoka and Takai have different thoughts on the rain, in both movies, the rain plays an instrumental role in bringing people together. When I first watched The Garden of Words, a major flood shut down my area, and now, watching a similar scene in Weathering with You, I am reminded of working from home some seven years ago in a similar fashion.

  • While Hina and Hodaka share a lunch of fried rice and a fried chicken salad, I look back on some meals that’ve put a smile on my face. With restaurants slowly beginning to re-open, I’ve been able to enjoy a combination of restaurant food and home cooking: over the past weekend, I’ve had herb-and-spice fried chicken and fries with southern-style gravy and a delicious sirloin burger topped with onion crisps with a side of crinkle-cut fries. Looking forwards to a good meal is a massive morale booster, and unlike seven years ago, where the Great Flood caused me to fall into a melancholy, I’ve been more proactive in keeping my spirits up. Being able to enjoy a meal is high on my list of things to do during times like these, and the warmth and normalcy of such moments in Makoto Shinkai’s films suggests that he believe something similar.

  • After a day’s effort, Hodaka and Hina spin up a website that allows visitors to make requests for good weather. When Nagi arrives home, he’s unimpressed with Hodaka’s presence, and Hodaka recognises Nagi as the elementary school student who seemed to be rather popular with the ladies. I’m guessing that Hodaka and Hina are using a cloud service to run their website and are rocking a noSQL database to hold their requests, which would be simple entities containing a date, requestor name, email and description of the task, easily retrieved by date of request. Then it’s up to Hodaka and Hina to travel to the customer and fulfil their request for good weather. Nagi is initially skeptical, and even more so when he’s made to wear a teru teru bozū costume.

  • Hina, Hodaka and Nagi’s first assignment comes at a flea market, whose organisers worry that attendance and business will be poor on account of the rain dissuading customers from visiting. Initially, the organisers are skeptical that anything could happen: being able to control the weather is something that only exists in the realm of fiction, involving powerful technologies like those the Forerunners employed on Halo, or through extraordinary means like the Infinity Stones. However, when Hina wishes for it, a break appears in the clouds, bathing the land with sunlight. The flee market’s organisers are absolutely thrilled, and Nagi realises that Hodaka and Hina are onto something, no longer reluctant to head out as a teru teru bozū.

  • As the clouds give way to blue sky, the music swells to a crescendo of joy and optimism. While I had been a little skeptical of Radwimps upon hearing their role as the composers for Your Name‘s soundtrack, I ate my words after seeing the movie, and by Weathering with You, I was thoroughly impressed with their musical performance. The music of Weathering with You is memorable in its own right, creating a different aural aesthetic than that of Your Name‘s; Your Name‘s music was deliberately hesitant in places to mirror the confusion in Mitsuha and Taki surrounding both their scenario and their feelings for one another, but in Weathering with You, the sound is bolder and more purposeful, showing Hodaka and Hina both as being strong-willed.

  • After their success at the flea market, word begins to spread: Hina and Hodaka find themselves busy, fulfilling requests from those who’ve placed them on their website. Tōko Miura’s “Festival” accompanies the montage depicting the various venues Hina and Hodaka are asked to bring sunshine to: this highly upbeat, energetic song offers a break from Radwimps’ own performances, creating a refreshing break in the movie that creates an aural representation of what sunshine sounds like. The spirit and pacing in “Festival” sounds like a song that speaks to the halcyon days of high school, a time for youth to partake in exploration and discovery without the obligations of adulthood.

  • In Weathering with You, Hodaka provides a narration over the montage: as he, Hina and Nagi brighten up weddings, Comiket, and school activities with Hina’s power, he contemplates how happy the sun makes people, washing the land in light and warmth that signifies hope and possibility. Hodaka is at his happiest up to this point in the film: having a purpose to work for and being with Hina, who can be seen as a personification of sunlight, Hodaka believes that sunny weather even helps people to fall in love with those around them more quickly, foreshadowing his own feelings for Hina.

  • Hodaka’s monologue captures the general feeling people have regarding good weather: love for good weather is universal, and there’s a scientific reason as to why this is the case. It turns out that exposure to sunshine triggers the production of serotonin in the brain, as well as catalysing the production of vitamin D. Serotonin is a chemical that is involved in a range of processes and contributes to regulation of sleep, digestion and mood, while Vitamin D is involved in calcium absorption, cell proliferation and regulating the immune response. In helping the body to produce these chemicals, sunlight is a critical part of well-being – there is a physiological piece in why sunshine and well-being are correlated.

  • For me, my mood fouls the quickest at the sight of an overcast sky or snowfall, but rainfall doesn’t bother me at all. There’s a scientific reason for this, as well: the sound of rainfall is a consistent sound that helps the mind to relax, stimulating enough of the auditory cortex to promote some activity without excessive stimulation that we perceive as noise. While research has found that extensive periods of bad or good weather cannot be positively correlated with changes in mood, the fact is that weather patterns do have a tangible impact on people; these might be subtle on their own, but can add up to create a noticeable impact on one’s health and well-being.

  • Eventually, Hina and Hodaka become renowned enough to be called in for their biggest assignment yet: ceaseless rainfall threatens the Jingu-Gaien Fireworks Festival, one of the biggest fireworks events in central Tokyo. Centred around the Yoyogi area, the festival has its origins in the 1980s, and each year in August, up to twelve thousand individual fireworks are used during the event. Most shows begin at 7:30 PM: unlike somewhere like Calgary, where the high latitude means that the skies don’t darken until 11:00 PM local time, Tokyo’s got a much more consistent day/night cycle, allowing for earlier performances.

  • Hodaka appears as a VIP, alongside the event’s organisers: they briefly catch a glimpse of Hina looking rather sharp in a yukata before heading off to the rooftops of the Roppongi Hills tower, a mixed-use high-rise with a maximum height of 238 metres that was built in 2003. It’s a tense moment, as the event’s organisers wait in anticipation of Hina using her magic to clear the skies. Hina begins her prayer, and moments later, the clouds dissipate, bathing the land in an orange glow from the day’s last light.

  • This moment was a truly magical one, and the music swells into a chorus as the details of Tokyo are thrown into sharp relief. From the northwest corner of Roppongi Hills, the skyscrapers of Shinjuku, some 4.5 kilometres away, can be seen, and the Meiji Jingu Gaien park where the fireworks event is hosted, is somewhere below on the right hand side of the image. Makoto Shinkai’s portrayals of Tokyo have always been spectacular, but the sunset in Weathering with You really hits home as to just how far the techniques have improved.

  • I had originally been planning on doing my first hike of the year this past weekend. This excursion would’ve likely entailed of a simpler trail that cuts through a beautiful canyon, followed by lunch at my favourite poutine restaurant on this side of the world. With the current world health crisis contained for now, it would have been tempting to go do a day trip to the mountains, but in the interest of safety, I’ve elected to shelve such an excursion until a later date, and instead, with the recent bit of spring weather we’ve finally had, I decided to walk the local parks instead. While it may not be a mountain trail, the parks in my area are beautiful and most certainly enjoyable to walk in: I was lucky enough to see cherry trees in full blossom.

  • Short of visiting Japan and watching the Jingu-Gaien Fireworks Festival in person, it is no joke when I say that watching Weathering with You‘s presentation of it is the next best thing. The movie makes use of CGI to present a flyover of the area while the fireworks show is on, sending viewers through the fireworks itself, and it is here that the observant viewer will notice real-time reflections of the fireworks appearing on the windows of the buildings below. The entire scene, from the buildings to the fireworks, is rendered in 3D, and this is probably the most impressive application of CG in any anime movie to date.

  • The festival’s attendees are thrilled to be enjoying the fireworks on a clear night, with spectators watching at the Meiji-Jingu park, and Nagi hanging out with one of his lady friends at a festival. Up on Roppongi’s rooftops, Hina and Hodaka share a private moment together, marveling the fireworks together. Hina finally feels that she’s found a purpose to life beyond just surviving, and it is here that Hodaka begins to realise he’s falling in love with Hina, driven both by the magical atmosphere conferred by the fireworks and Hina’s dazzling personality.

  • The Obon Festival brings Hina and Hodaka to the Tachibana family, who’s made a request: Fumi Tachibana, figures that sunnier weather will help her husband’s spirit to navigate back properly. Obon has been a Japanese custom for at least half a millennium, and is a means of honouring the spirits of the deceased: offerings are laid out for them, as they are said to return during the time of the festival. Taki makes a cameo appearance here, watching as Hina and Hodaka help with rites. Cameos only began with Your Name, which featured the return of Yukari Yukino from The Garden of Words, and it stands to reason that Makoto Shinkai’s next film will likely feature Hina and Hodaka in some way.

  • Whereas folklore and regional beliefs feel more tangential to Weathering with You, they were a central part of Your Name: Shinkai crafted an entire set of local rituals and myths for the film based on Japanese folklore to bring Mitsuha’s world to life and create credibility for the extraordinary experiences she shared with Taki. This ended up being a point of contention when one “Verso Sciolto” argued that one needed at least his level of understanding to properly enjoy every detail in Your Name. Verso Sciolto’s presence reached Anime News Network, MyAnimeList and even AnimeSuki, where he wrote pedantic, purple-prose filled paragraphs explaining why his interpretations of Your NameLiz and the Blue Bird and Chihayafuru were the only ones worth considering even though his interpretations all missed their mark entirely.

  • Verso Sciolto fancied himself a lecturer, but eventually ended up being banned from each and every anime forum of note, for being uncommonly persistent in pushing views of anime that were egregiously wrong. This is by no means a loss, and I admit that it is nice to be able to discuss Weathering with You without being told that my lack of background in Japanese literature and folklore leaves me ill-equipped to talk about the film. Back in Weathering with You, Keisuke and Natsumi visit an elderly man familiar with the myth of the Sunshine Maidens. He explains that their power comes at a cost, and that eventually, must be sacrificed to the gods to maintain the natural order of things.

  • It turns out that the police are interested in Hodaka’s whereabouts after he illegally discharged the Makarov, and two officers end up catching up to the fellow that had come into contact with Hodaka. He initially attempts to escape, under the impression they’re here to bust him for attempting to hire Hina, but it turns out they’re looking for information. Firearms in Japan are tightly regulated: aside from air rifles and shotguns, firearms are strictly prohibited in Japan. A law passed in 1958 simply states that no citizen may possess firearms or swords, and individuals who decide to have a shotgun or air rifle consent to random police checks, as well as undergo a series of stringent exams and inspections. As such, Hodaka’s possession of a Makarov is a crime, and it is unsurprising that the police are so intent on finding him before anything serious happens.

  • With Hina’s birthday coming up, Hodaka decides to get her something, but struggles to find a proper answer. Hodaka is frequently seen posting to Yahoo! Answers for suggestions, and while other services have largely displaced Yahoo!, in Japan, they still remain quite popular. Eventually, he decides to ask Nagi, who replies that, since Hina’s been doing her best to look after him, he’d be happy to have Hina live more like an ordinary teenage girl would; a ring seems suitable for this, Nagi concludes, having deduced that Hodaka’s in love with Hina. Despite his age, Nagi is very well-versed in what the ladies like, prompting Hodaka to refer to him as senpai.

  • Hodaka ends up checking out a Lumine Store and picks up a ring for Hina from MocA. These department stores are located near major train stations in Japan, capitalising on the large crowd volumes of these transport hubs to provide commuters and visitors with shopping and dining options. The ring costs 3400 Yen, about 43 CAD at the time of writing, and Hodaka wonders if it will be something Hina likes: the clerk replies that his feelings will reach her, as it is evident in how dedicated he is. Here, Miki Okudera, Taki’s senior from his old part-time job, can be seen in the background.

  • Weathering with You is filled with cameo appearances, and the clerk is none other than Your Name‘s very own Mitsuha Miyamizu. It is great to see Mitsuha doing well: she’s now working in Tokyo and, assuming that she’s the same Mitsuha of Your Name, finally able to live somewhere brimming with activity and excitement as she’d yearned for as a teen. Wearing a warm smile, she reassures that Hodaka’s feelings will reach his recipients, and she suggests that she would be very happy if someone had spent that effort for her. Besides Taki, Mitsuha and Miki, Tesshi and Sayaka also make an appearance in Weathering with You, along with an older Yotsuha and some of her classmates.

  • Hina and Hodaka have one final assignment: Keisuke’s requested their services to create a beautiful day during which he can spend time with his daughter: Keisuke’s mother-in-law would only permit him to spend time with his daughter if it’s outdoors, but owing to the frequent rain, this has not been possible until now. Even though it’s only for an afternoon, this means the world to Keisuke. Nagi gets along with Keisuke’s daughter well, and Keisuke is content in watching this peaceful scene unfold at Shiba Park: Zojoji Temple is visible here a ways past the field where Nagi and Keisuke’s daughter are hanging out.

  • Both Hina and Natsumi wear identical looks of disgust on their faces when word gets out that Hodaka had assumed Keisuke and Natsumi were a couple, when they are in fact, uncle and niece. This scene of normalcy underlies what each of Keisuke, Hina and Hodaka have been longing for – spending time with people they care about. While Makoto Shinkai has explored themes of romantic love in his movies, Weathering with You also begins to touch upon family, as well, showing how the connection between families pushes people towards actions, both great and dubious, to preserve and defend what is important to them.

  • I’ve chosen to render Tenki no Ko with its official title, Weathering with You, simply for the ease of searching. The English translation of Tenki no Ko is often given as “Child of the weather”, which I would only give partial credit for: while it is true that Japanese does not always give an indicator of singular or plural, and the child in Weathering with You is Hina owing to her connection with the skies, I argue that “Children of the Weather” is more appropriate for the film since it’s about children in plural (Hodaka, as well as Hina). The English title is not a 1:1 translation, but is a very clever play on words, addressing both the film’s weather motif and the idea that “weathering” can be interpreted as “making it together with” that speaks to the movie’s themes of resilience.

  • Hodaka decides to accompany Hina back, feeling that the time has come for him to give her the ring ahead of her birthday. Both she and Hodaka have feelings they wish to convey, but before they can speak, Hina seemingly vanishes after a gust of wind whips through the area; she’s light enough to be carried into the air now, and while she’s unharmed, it turns out that as a result of wielding her power, Hina’s given up much of her life force and begins losing her physical form.

  • In a flashback, Hina reveals that she developed the power to clear the skies with a prayer about a year ago. How this came to be is never specified, and viewers are meant to take this as a part of the supernatural piece of Weathering with You: in Makoto Shinkai’s movies involving the supernatural, the reason behind why something happens is always secondary to the consequences of a phenomenon to remind viewers that sometimes, how people handle adversity and the unknown matters more than what caused it to begin with.

  • At Hina’s place, the police come calling and ask if she’s come into contact with Hodaka. She denies knowing anything and the police leave; Hodaka prepares to head back over to Keisuke’s place, but it turns out the police have also spoken to him. Keisuke reveals that he intends to file for full custody of his daughter: like Tony Stark in Avengers: Endgame, family causes Keisuke to realise what’s important to him, and unfortunately for Hodaka, it means that Keisuke will distance himself from him now that it’s known Hodaka is wanted for unlawful possession of a firearm. In Endgame, family is what initially dissuades Stark from seriously investigating Scott Lang’s plan for a time heist.

  • With Keisuke firing him, Hodaka returns to Hina, who intends on running away and disappearing: she’s learnt that social services will be taking custody of Nagi, and unwilling to entertain the notion of being separated from her only family, the three decide to head off. This isn’t an easy task: the weather’s taken a turn for the worse, and the typhoon that’s passed into the area has now chilled the area sufficiently for it to start snowing, an unprecedented occurrence. From orbit, the size of the typhoon is apparent: it rivals 1979’s super-typhoon Tip, which is known for being the largest typhoon recorded (2220 kilomatres across) and having the lowest recorded pressure on Earth (87.0 kPA, against an average pressure of 101.3 kPA).

  • With police on the streets to keep order as the incoming typhoon prompts an evacuation order, Hodaka, Hina and Nagi run into trouble when officers suspect them of being runaways, and attempt to ask for their identification. One aspect of Hodaka’s character that I found curious was his tendency to try an escape every unfavourable situation he’s in: it speaks volumes about his own background and how his story in Weathering with You started with him running away from home.

  • When it looks like Hodaka’s options run out, Hina uses Force lightning a prayer to summon lightning that destroys a nearby truck, starting a fire that prompts the police to look after. In the chaos, Hodaka and the others escape. Lacking any identification, most hotels turn the trio away even though Hodaka has the cash to pay for the night: most hotels require that individuals provide proof of identification (e.g. a passport or operator’s license) before accepting a transaction. However, Hodaka eventually does manage to find a hotel that will allow them to stay for the night.

  • Concern gives way to relief, and after taking a bath, everyone sets about preparing a meal with the food from the in-room bar. After dinner, Hodaka and Nagi partake in some karaoke. With the bliss the three share together, Hodaka feels that as long as they have one another, they’ll somehow find a way to make things work. There’s a desperation in his inner monologue, praying with all of his resolve that things can work out; in his heart, Hodaka probably knows that things won’t last forever.

  • Once Nagi is asleep, the time has finally come for Hodaka to give Hina her birthday gift. By this point in Weathering with You, Hina’s become increasingly incorporeal, but her sense of humour remains: she gently teases Hodaka for staring at her, even as he dissolves into tears, worried that their time together will be cut short. Makoto Shinkai’s older films were well-known for presenting separation without resolution, mirroring how people part ways and never reunite owing to circumstances in their lives under ordinary conditions, creating a highly poignant outcome that left viewers wondering if his characters would find happiness.

  • The ring that Hodaka gifts to Hina can be seen as a promise ring, signifying his intent to commit and also to keep his word about keeping everyone together. However, the next morning, Hina has vanished, and moreover, the police have arrived to take custody of Nagi, as well as arrest Hodaka for possession of a weapon and illegally discharging a firearm. The storm has ceased entirely, and the entire landscape is covered in a washed-out light that seems unnatural.

  • Lighting plays a major role in Makoto Shinkai’s films, playing on universal emotions and feelings to convey a particular idea. The bright light washes out detail in the cityscape to create the sense that with Hina’s disappearance, Hodaka is stupefied and unable to think of anything else; his surroundings lose their colour in the process, and his world takes a further blow when he overhears that Hina had lied about her age, being in fact, younger than he is. After arriving at the police station, Hodaka manages to escape again before he can be interrogated. Unlawful as Hodaka’s actions are, one cannot help but admire his tenacity.

  • Natsumi comes soaring to the rescue on her moped, whisking Hodaka away before the police can catch up to him. The world takes on a renewed colour as Hodaka regains his determination to seek out Hina, and he believes that torii on the abandoned building must be a gateway into the heavens where Hina is held. Natsumi demonstrates an uncommon degree of skill in outmanoeuvring her pursuers, weaving between traffic and narrow spaces to throw off police cruisers.

  • Natsumi is plainly enjoying the thrill of the chase: she even remarks that she might be born to ride. In escaping the police station, Hodaka might be seen as running away again, but it is at this point in Weathering with You that things begin flipping around: while Hodaka is escaping the police, he’s also simultaneously trying to reach Hina and fulfil his word, a form of taking responsibility. The blurring of boundaries at the film’s climax shows that the gap between right and wrong is not always apparent, and it is the case that the world is not as black-and-white as we’d like it to be.

  • Natsumi’s ride comes to an end when she drives her moped into waist-deep water. Her Honda Cub ceases to work, with its main engine filled with water: it’s up to Hodaka to get to Hina. His heart tells him that she’s somewhere in the skies, and recalling her story about the torii being a portal of sorts, deduces that this is his destination. Shinkai’s especially fond of portraying the Honda Cub line of mopeds in his films owing to their reliability and track record: Takaki and Kanae both rode these mopeds in Five Centimeters per Second, and similarly, Katsuhiko Teshigawara uses one in Your Name. Unlike Yamaha’s Tricity, the Honda Cub is a venerable bike with a long history dating back to 1958, when it was first produced.

  • As Hodaka runs off towards the derelict building and its gateway to another world across the unused rail tracks, he draws the attention of both the crews working to bring Tokyo’s trains back online, as well as bemused spectators on the streets below. Trains figure prominently as symbols in Makoto Shinkai’s movies, being used as the means of connecting distant people together. Having Hodaka run on the inactive rail lines, then, is to signify that the limitations of a system notwithstanding, he intends to reach Hina at all costs.

  • A cumulonimbus is visible over the abandoned building: we’re now on the first day of June, and summer is a mere twenty-one days away, but during the weekend a few nights earlier, we had our first thunderstorm of the year: an smaller but still severe storm had passed just north of the city, and I watched as cloud-to-cloud lightning silently lit up the evening sky. Unbeknownst to me, some three hundred kilometres to the west was a band of thunderstorms that were moving eastward. By 3 AM, these storms reached my city and began pounding us with lightning and thunder. I was awakened by the thunder, glanced outside and decided to fall back asleep, recalling a time when I’d been younger and said thunderstorms would keep me up all night in excitement.

  • Upon arriving at the derelict building, Hodaka finds many of its floors have collapsed from the storm; reaching the torii is going to be a challenge, further complicated by Keisuke’s arrival. Keisuke implores Hodaka to take responsibility for his actions and turn himself in, failing to realise the reason why Hodaka is so determined to keep going is for Hina. Hodaka recovers the Makarov and points it at Keisuke: he discharges it into the air, and the police finally close in on the building, surrounding Hodaka. The Tokyo police are seen using the New Nambu M60, a revolver chambered for the .380 round that’s been in production since 1961 by Shin-Chuō Industries. When Keisuke realises that Hodaka’s love for Hina parallels that of his for his wife, Asuka Mamiya, he tackles the nearest officer, creating enough space for Hodaka to escape.

  • Hodaka reaches the rooftop torii and finds himself whisked to the upper edge of the troposphere: the average cumulonimbus reaches twelve kilometres up, flattening out at their upper extremities thanks to wind shear. The turbulent winds create a separation of charge, resulting in an electric field that is favourable for cloud-to-cloud lightning. Owing to the instability that creates them, thunderstorms typically result from these clouds, although in Weathering with You, the flattened cumulonimbus top resembles an island in the sky. Besides the rooftop torii, this unusual sight forms the bulk of the marketing materials for Weathering with You.

  • It is in the grassy tops of the cumulonimbus that Hodaka manages to find the sleeping Hina. He calls out to Hina, who awakens: as the currents up here increase, it becomes trickier to reach her. At the last second, Hina leaps into the air and takes a hold of Hodaka’s hand. The two are plunged into the interior of the cumulonimbus cloud, where the turbulence separates the two briefly. Here, Hodaka declares that he doesn’t care if the weather’s foul; a world without Hina is meaningless to him. It’s a touching gesture, and when the two fall from the lower reaches of the cumulonimbus cloud, Hodaka manages to grab onto Hina once more.

  • Shortly after the BD for Weathering with You released, Makoto Shinkai posted a Tweet comparing the theatrical version to the BD version, and it turns out there’s an error in the former: the low-level clouds and their shadows are completely absent. Shinkai remarked that this would make the theatrical cut more “valuable”, unique: the difference doesn’t negatively affect those who saw the theatre version in any way, and reminds me of a similar situation where the home release of Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer made some changes to the scenes, most noticeably, how the 00 Raiser launches en route towards intercepting a supposedly destroyed object that’s reappeared.

  • Hodaka wishes that Hina will now begin to live for herself; having spent so much of her life living for others’ happiness, Hina’s neglected to consider what she wants for herself. Hodaka acts as the agent of change here, prompting Hina to stay. The two plummet to the surface together, hand-in-hand, and moments later, find themselves lying at the foot of the torii still holding hands. The sunny weather has disappeared, replaced by a torrential rain.

  • It suddenly strikes me that Makoto Shinkai’s novelisation of Weathering with You is probably a valuable companion to the film, as it would be able to explore the inner thoughts that the characters have to a greater extent than in the movie itself. I found this to be true for Five Centimetres per Second, where the companion side-stories offered a considerable amount of insight into what Takaki had been feeling, and provided a decisive answer for the decade-old question of whether or not Takaki found happiness (he does). Similarly, Your Name‘s side story provides great detail into explaining the body-switching phenomenon from Taki’s perspective and also helps to flesh out the Miyamizu family’s history, making Toshiki a more sympathetic character than he had appeared in the film. I’ve not read Weathering with You‘s novelisation yet, but I imagine that it would help to clear out the handful of questions that I have exiting Weathering with You.

  • After his arrest, Hodaka is put on probation and sent back home to Kozushima, a small island some 172 kilometres from Tokyo. Here, he graduates from high school. Two of his classmates are curious to know what happened, and Hodaka initially misinterprets this as a kokuhaku. In the aftermath, Hodaka ends up returning to Tokyo, finding the city flooded from three straight years of non-stop rain. Its impacts on Tokyo are dramatic, and writers with a far broader audience than myself have asserted that Weathering with You‘s central theme lies in the topic of climate change, how the film is a call to action and a grim warning to what awaits humanity if we should continue down our current path. However, in Fujinkōron’s interview with Makoto Shinkai, Shinkai states that:

People say that humans are destroying nature for the sake of their own conveniences, and I agree with that. And yet, I’m the kind of person who doesn’t hesitate to turn on the air conditioning in my room when it’s hot. Climate change is a large-scale phenomenon with an unimaginable scope, but there’s not much a person can do about it on an individual level. Even so, my actions as a single person have a definite effect on the environment. It may feel like something that’s out of your realm of responsibility, but it absolutely isn’t. I made the film while thinking about how to deal with that problem through the framework of entertainment.

  • While weather patterns to the tune of what’s seen in Weathering with You seem a little outlandish, the fact is that the world has been trending towards greater extremities of late, and given the delicate balance of many ecosystems, shifting climate patterns will have massive knock-on effects around the globe. With this in mind, it is erroneous to declare that Weathering with You is an Aesop on climate change, or was intended to be a political statement. The persistent belief that all art is intrinsically political is a flawed belief; in the case of Weathering with You, imposing this viewpoints onto the movie is to be disingenuous towards Shinkai’s intentions for the film to speak of more human themes; even against adversity, people are resilient and will find ways to adapt and improve their situation. Just as Hina and Hodaka had done against the unforgiving backdrop of Tokyo, Tokyo’s citizens find ways to survive even as rain hammers the flood-beleaguered city.

  • Writing the post for Weathering with You was not an easy task: besides coming late to a field saturated with reviews having a distinct political slant, there were also the assertions, at the usual places, that the film’s direction and execution should be considered a “let down” when compared to Your Name. I counter-argue that Weathering with You has its own merits in creating a compelling story of responsibility and resilience, two themes that I’ve noticed are absent from all discussion. The themes in Weathering with You are rooted in optimism, that the belief humanity can adapt, improve and thrive, and speak positively of Shinkai’s world-view – he indicates through the film that people can learn to take responsibility for their actions at the individual level, and at a society level, people will find ways to survive.

  • I’ve long felt the contemporary attitudes towards climate change to be misguided, being motivated by politics and appearances rather than legitimate improvement for all of humanity: society’s propensity to divert funding and media coverage to activists, from researchers and experts who are developing greener technologies and systems, speaks volumes to the current society’s lack of sensibility and adversity towards hard work. It takes genuine effort and passion to learn about how complex systems function and then cultivate the expertise needed for synthesising novel solutions, but it takes no skill to make angry speeches and rally people to support extreme, but ineffectual actions with potentially devastating consequences.

  • While politicians waste taxpayer money towards propping up activist figures over supporting legitimate experts and professionals, I’ll continue to pay no mind to the activists and do my own part in keeping the planet healthier. Doing things like walking and using mass transit, recycling and composting, buying less stuff, turning the lights off in unoccupied rooms and other actions that might be small, but within my ability to carry out – these small actions are how I commit to ecological responsibility, and I count them as being considerably more valuable than telling others how they ought to live their lives.

  • In having Hodaka return to Tokyo and doing his best to make things right, Weathering with You demonstrates that the older Hodaka has come to understand what taking responsibility for his actions means. This is an overarching theme in Weathering with You that, while only visible once Hodaka speaks with Keisuke, is one that nonetheless is an important message to walk away with. These messages are conveniently skated over by those who purport to support ecological responsibility, but whose words are ultimately empty, and whose actions more detrimental to the world than those they seek to lecture.

  • When Hodaka encounters Hina, she’s seen making a prayer for fair weather. Hodaka calls out to her, and the sun appears. Thrilled, Hina warmly embraces Hodaka, and he promises that from now on, things are going to be okay. Indeed, Hodaka ends up entering post-secondary and subsequently takes a new job at Keisuke’s company. With the maturity and stability of someone who’s clearly learned from his experiences, audiences can conclude that Hodaka is able to keep his word to Hina, and that their happy ending is a deserved one. This post and its twelve thousand two hundred and fifty-four words is now very nearly in the books, kicking June off in style, but I admit that this much writing in the past while has been a bit wearing. I would like to take the first bit of June to unwind and take it easy.

  • Overall, Weathering with You succeeds in capturing the magic that is Makoto Shinkai, presenting a captivating story of resilience and determination that concludes decisively. While Weathering with You can come across as a bit busy in some areas, the movie ultimately succeeds in telling a cohesive and compelling coming-of-age story, accelerated by the presence of the supernatural. As such, Weathering with You earns an A (4.0 of 4.0, or 9 of 10): whatever flaws there are in the film are overshadowed by characters with an engaging story and Makoto Shinkai’s continued commitment to technical excellence within the film’s visuals and aural components. Like Your NameWeathering with You is a film I hope that all of my readers will have the chance to check out for themselves.

Whole-movie reflection and closing remarks

On the whole, Weathering with You is a solid film, a fine addition to Makoto Shinkai’s filmography that combines his unique sense of aesthetics with a warm (if somewhat busy) story. While Weathering with You will continue to exist in the shadows of its predecessor, the film also has enough unique elements to indicate that Shinkai’s continuing to push the boundaries for excellence in animation. Viewers will find the film will to be tread upon well-worn paths that Your Name had trail-blazed, from the journey Hodaka and Hina take, to design choices like placement of music, but in spite of this, Weathering with You still hits all of its high points to create an immersive, engaging experience during its run. With this in mind, there is a limit to how well a reiteration of familiar plot points and story mechanics will be received, and so, in the future, Makoto Shinkai will need to focus on his own visions for his work: Weathering with You is a technically superb film that managed to keep things engaging, but revisiting the same themes in a future film could prove wearing on viewers. Besides exploring different themes, one other aspect that would yield a memorable movie is to keep the narrative consistently focused on one main goal; Your Name and The Garden of Words both excelled in this area, making use of a very straightforward story to drive a considerable amount of character development. By comparison, Weathering with You was busier, and left a few plot points unresolved; these elements were actually not strictly necessary to the story and could’ve been removed without negatively impacting the themes or progression in the movie. A back-to-the-basics approach in Shinkai’s next film would therefore be especially welcome: Shinkai has always shown that he is able to do a great deal using very little as the starting point, and this is where the magic of his movies lie. For the time being, however, Weathering with You remains a film worth watching for its unparalleled visuals, another perspective on the sense that human emotions are comparable to supernatural forces for the miracles and tragedies they create, and features excellent music from Radwimps: while perhaps not appealing to as broad of a viewer-base as Your Name, folks looking for a proper Makoto Shinkai experience in Weathering with You will not be left disappointed.

Finding Takaki’s Answers in Five Centimeters per Second: One More Side, or, Insights From a New Perspective

“Reality is brimming over with beautiful things, brilliant feelings. How many of them have I been missing?” –Takaki Tohno

Until now, the final act of Makoto Shinkai’s Five Centimeters per Second remained a bit of an enigma, leaving viewers with questions about Takaki Tohno and his ultimate fate. The animated film, which premièred in 2007, had three acts that detail a different stage of Takaki’s life, from the moment that he met Akari Shinohara and their falling in love, to when he moves back to Tokyo as an adult. The existing misconception is that since meeting Akari, Takaki had never been able to truly let go of her when they separated, and this in turn negatively impacted his ability to connect with those around him in the present, whether it be the athletic and cheerful Kanae Sumida, or Risa Mizuno, a lady he meets through work. The claim that “Takaki still longs for Akari to the detriment of his lifestyle” and that he is “unable to cope with his feelings for Akari” persist even after a decade has passed since its premièred. Five Centimeters per Second‘s third act does indeed show Takaki as being downcast and depressed, but one spring day, when he decides to take a walk under the morning sun to clear his mind from his tasks, he has a seemingly chance encounter with Akari. As he turns around to look back, a train passes through; once the train passes, Akari has gone, but Takaki merely smiles and continues with his walk. This dramatic contrast appears to contradict the gloom and misery that Takaki had experienced earlier, leaving viewers to wonder why a glimpse of Akari would be enough to undo the loneliness Takaki was suffering. While the film left many aspects ambiguous, creating a highly poignant message amongst viewers who incorrectly counted the film where “that actually resolving things was never the point”, supplementary materials, taking the form of two novels and one manga, provided an answer to these otherwise forgotten questions, where analysts and reviewers had originally been forced to conclude that the story’s outcome was “ambiguous”.

In particular, the novel One More Side is of great worth in helping to determine what Five Centimeters per Second sought to accomplish with its story. Originally published in 2011, and receiving an English language publication only in 2019, One More Side presents the Five Centimeters per Second story from different perspectives. The first act is told from Akari’s point of view, painting her as being quite shy and finding solace in Takaki’s kind and reliable company. The second act shows that Takaki was actually quite directionless during his time as a high school student and, while the film may not have shown it, he found himself wishing to be closer to Kanae. The third act shows how his past regrets only occasionally haunt him, and his inability to connect with others stems more from his personality of wanting to push forwards no matter the cost. At work, Takaki thus suffered through difficult deadlines and unyielding product managers who were unsympathetic to what his suggestions were. This placed a great deal of stress on Takaki, and ultimately led him to break up with Risa. Reading through these new perspectives, it becomes clear that Takaki is not pining for Akari per se, but rather, the melancholy he has stems from being unable to properly find his footing at work. These are subtle details that the film conveys through its use of colour: by the time Takaki becomes a freelance developer, the blues and grays dominating the palette are replaced with the brighter hues of spring, indicating his improved well-being. This comes with him finding the freedom to work at his own pacing and take control of life; Takaki hints throughout One More Side that he dislikes losing control of his situation, stemming from the fact that he’d moved numerous times as a child. His dissatisfaction with his old job thus came from lacking the control to make decisions for the better, and by becoming a freelance developer, being able to set his own hours, pacing and clients afford him with the control that he sought from life.

Additional Remarks

  • I vaguely remember one reader asking me if I had read One More Side a ways back, but at the time, I did not have access to this. So, when I’d learnt that One More Side was actually available at a local bookstore, I hastened to pick my copy up. The book, classified as a light novel, offers insight into Five Centimeters per Second that even the novel adaptation of the movie and manga do not possess: it is an essential read for anyone who wishes to get more out of their experience with Five Centimeters per Second. Spanning 240 pages, I bought One More Side a few days before midsummer’s eve along with the first two volumes of Harukana Receive‘s manga, and read through it over the past few months.

  • The biggest takeaway from One More Side‘s first act is that Akari was very much drawn to Takaki for his kindness and fondness for books. As a transfer student, Akari found herself unable to fit in with other students, and found solace with Takaki, who similarly found it tricky to relate to others. Their common interest in the sciences brought them together, and both had envisioned spending their time as middle school students together, although this was cut short, and Akari felt as badly as Takaki did about their helplessness in the situation. With the newfound information, I hope that folks looking for something like “5 Centimeters Per Second ending explained” or similar will find this post useful.

  • Besides the myths that Anime News Network perpetuates about Five Centimeters per Second that have made their way to Wikipedia and other tertiary sources, speculation at places like Tango-victor-tango can leave folks with conflicting, contradictory information. For instance, some fans at tango-victor-tango speculate that Akari’s parents were completely disapproving of Takaki. One More Side gives no indicator to suggest that this is true whatsoever, and instead, the reason for their lack of contact once Takaki moved to Tanegashima was simply because their lives were becoming busier to the point where sending mail no longer was practical.

  • In One More Side‘s second act, Takaki’s perspective is given in great detail; while the film presented him as seemingly in control of his life, which impresses Kanae, it turns out he’s about as lost as she is, but has a different way of showing it. The novel also confirms that the girl in his dreams is not Akari, but rather, an abstraction of someone he wants to be with; Takaki entertains thoughts that it would be nice if this were Kanae. With this, a long-standing question is addressed, and there’s one fewer ambiguity for folks to deal with. Takaki’s thoughts on Kanae are also provided in greater detail, and it suggests that he was actually hoping to get to know her better.

  • With everything said and done, One More Side is an indispensable read for anyone who enjoyed Five Centimeters per Second but felt shafted by the ending. The fact that there’s an official English translation now means that the story is more accessible overall. It’s taken twelve years for all of the pieces to fit into place, and One More Side provides the insights that fans deserve. This short post is now in the books, and I expect the next time I will be writing about Makoto Shinkai will be for Tenki no Ko, which released in July and for which the home release still remains unknown.

While Five Centimeters per Second is largely counted as a love story, it is more appropriate to approach it as a drama about life in general, and specifically, about control (or lack thereof) of one’s situation. The speed at which cherry blossoms fall, then, becomes not merely a metaphor about falling in love and falling out of love, but about how people’s fates are as transient and fragile as the cherry blossom, whose downward trajectories are stochastic and dependent on things like wind, which the cherry blossom petal itself is powerless to influence, much less control. Makoto Shinkai mentions this in other materials, adding credence to the idea that Five Centimeters per Second‘s theme is more broad than that of a love story. The ending scene where Takaki reaches reaches the train crossing on that spring day and encounters Akari, has a simple and profound explanation: Takaki smiles because he feels contentment at being able to fulfil his original promise to Akari. Their original promise, to see the cherry blossoms together again, is to be taken in a literal sense; viewers analysing the scene have over-scrutinised everything in Five Centimeters per Second and somehow ended up with the conclusion that seeing the cherry blossoms together was a poetic metaphor for getting married and spending their futures together. However, One More Side shows that Takaki’s memory is quite keen, and his smile comes from having satisfied their original promise, whereupon Takaki realises that he’d always had the initiative to take charge of his situation. The additional insights offered by One More Side allows audiences of Five Centimeters per Second to gain closure regarding Takaki, who unambiguously leaves the novel feeling happier, more content and ready to take on the future. In other words, after more than twelve years since Five Centimeters per Second premièred in Japanese cinema, the answer to whether or not Takaki got a happy ending is a resounding, decisive and well-deserved yes.

Mirai no Mirai: A Review and Full Recommendation

“Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring – quite often the hard way.” –Pamela Dugdale

Accustomed to being showered with love and adoration, Kun is a four year old boy who lives in Isogo-ku,Yokohama, spending his days with Yuuko (the family dog) and his train sets. When his parents welcome Mirai into the family, Kun grows jealous of the attention his baby sister is receiving. After one tantrum, Kun runs into the courtyard and finds himself face to face with Yuuko in human form: he learns that Yuuko has been left behind somewhat ever since he was born, and subsequently passes along to his parents that Yuuko should be better treated. Each of the more substantial tantrums that Kun throws activates the tree in the courtyard that sends him to another time. He comes face-to-face with a middle school-aged Mirai, who warns him about mistreating her and enlists his help in putting away dolls the family has set up for Girls’ Day. Kun also is transported back in time to when his mother was around four after refusing to put his toys away and learns that she too was scolded for making a mess of things. After Kun’s father focuses his attention on a crying Mirai at the park while they were originally set to help Kun learn to ride a bike, Kun grows angry and runs off. Here, the tree in the courtyard transports him to his great-grandfather’s workshop. His great-grandfather suggests to him that the key to overcoming fear on any vehicle is to look ahead. Later at the park, Kun manages to learn how to ride a bike on his own. When the family prepares to go for a trip, Kun refuses since his favourite pants are unavailable. He is seemingly left behind, finds himself at a train station and boards a train despite an older boy’s warnings. Arriving at a vast station, he grows fearful and tries to find his parents, but the attendant remarks that without verification to his identity, he is unable to help and sends Kun to a train that sends him to Lonely Land. Seeing the baby Mirai about to board the train, he acknowledges his identity as Mirai’s older brother, having refused to do so until now, and the older Mirai retrieves him. She then takes him on a journey through the family history, and when Kun returns to the present, he decides that the pants suddenly don’t matter so much anymore, cheerfully joining his parents and Mirai for their day trip. Mirai no Mirai (literally “Mirai of the Future”) is a film that released in July 2018 and is notable amongst the 2018 anime films for being the first anime film that is not from Studio Ghibli to receive a nomination as Best Animated Feature at the 91st Academy Awards.

Running for an hour and forty minutes, Mirai no Mirai is a fanciful and vivid tale of discovery, acceptance and understanding. In particular, this is a film that all older siblings will connect to: the arrival of a new sibling in a family and the shift in attention is an occurrence that all older siblings must go through, and the feelings of jealousy, resentment and loneliness are universal regardless of one’s culture. Children’s media, such as Arthur and The Berenstain Bears each have their own portrayals of this topic, presenting the transition and gradual acceptance of a new sibling in families as a journey. In Arthur, D.W. comes to accept Kate as her sister after running away but realising that Kate needs an older sister to show her the things that only sisters get. The Berenstain Bears‘ Sister is shown a family video of her as a baby and learns that every baby is given a great deal of attention, coming to terms with how her new sister, Honey, is an integral part of the Bear Family. Both presentations are very down-to-earth, and Mirai no Mirai stands out in applying these lessons with a twist: the film utilises bold visuals to express the tumultuous thoughts in one’s mind during childhood. Whether its a bustling train station or luxuriant garden, Kun’s lessons seem come from within: his own discoveries act as the lessons that push him towards accepting Mirai and his parents. The generous use of these flights of fancy indicate that children are very complex and capable of finding their own answers; whether it be Arthur, The Berenstain Bears or Mirai no Mirai, no adult explicitly explains why babies draw attention away from the older sibling. Instead, the older sibling, through their experiences and observations, comes to terms with things on their own. It’s a journey that has a bit of mystery to it: children are observant and bright, but may have trouble articulating their thoughts, and so, with its imagery, Mirai no Mirai aims to both show how remarkable families are, as well as make tangible something that we otherwise might take for granted. It is a story of the extraordinary amidst the ordinary, and so, Mirai no Mirai is very enjoyable to watch.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Mirai no Mirai is set in Isogo Ward of Yokohama, the largest individual city in Japan by population (with 3.7 million people). Attesting to the film’s incredible visuals, the ward and Yokohama’s downtown area are faithfully reproduced, to the point where it was a trivial exercise to find this spot using Google Maps. The view zooms in on Kun’s house: because his father is an architect, they live in a rather unusual house on a narrow lot, with a courtyard and lone tree visible. This post will have thirty screenshots, and I note that thirty is not enough of a space to cover off everything.

  • Kun and Mirai are the only named human characters in Mirai no Mirai: their parents are only known as “mom” and “dad”, reminiscent of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. Watterson explains that their names aren’t needed because from Calvin’s point of view, his parents are mom and dad. Similarly, in Mirai no Mirai, Kun’s parents are only referred to as such because the film is told from his perspective. Kun is a play on the honourific for boys, and is equivalent to The Berenstain Bears‘ Brother Bear, who was known as Small Bear before Sister was born. One wonders how names work in Bear Country, and curiously enough, everyone else has standard names.

  • Kun’s mother is an executive of an unnamed company: the couple leads a busy life that only becomes more hectic as they raise two children, and this chaos is conveyed to viewers right from the start. I’m sure that parents will immediately connect with this; Mirai no Mirai‘s portrayal of a baby and four-year-old child as being tricky to look after has its basis in reality. I’m told that when I was four, my curiosity made me a bloody nightmare to deal with. Up until I was seven, I was constantly in trouble for going out of bounds and doing who-knows-what. My second year primary instructor wondered if I could channel this towards reading, and instead of exploring the world physically, I took to counting on books to sate this curiosity. The “me” of the present day is a consequence of this.

  • Kun experiences a mixture of curiosity at the new baby and also jealousy that attention has now left him. On several instances, he causes Mirai to cry, landing him in hot water. This is one of the hazards about having two children very closely together. While some rivalry might exist if there’s a three to four year gap, the older child is generally more independent and therefore is less prone to jealousy. In the case of Mirai no Mirai, it would appear that Kun’s jealousy is more consistent with a two year gap; his age is presumably chosen so that we have a protagonist with more independence and a larger vocabulary, as well as the attendant personality. It’s not particularly implausible, and Kun is described as being somewhat spoiled.

  • Whenever Kun gets into trouble, the tree in their courtyard begins glowing, and he is taken into an alternate world. Initially, I was not sure of who the scruffy-looking man was, but when he introduces himself as a former prince, the only individual that came to mind was Yuuko, who would’ve been previously the only individual Kun’s mother and father would have looked after. Flights of fancy in Mirai no Mirai, such as Kun becoming a dog after stealing Yuuko’s tail, give the film a more fantastical feeling that elicits a sense of magic in how children might approach the world.

  • Now that I’ve made the Calvin and Hobbes comparison, it does feel like the case that Kun’s mother and father are parallels of Calvin’s mother and father in terms of appearance. Both Calvin and Kun’s father have black hair and glasses, while Calvin and Kun’s mother both have brown hair. The similarities end here: Calvin’s mother is a stay-at-home parent, while Calvin’s father is a patent attorney. I’ve long been a fan of Calvin and Hobbes, and having gotten one of the special collections for a birthday years ago, I gained a unique insight into how Bill Watterson created his comics.

  • Mirai is voiced by Haru Kuroki, and as a baby, Kaede Hondo provides her voice. While I’ve not seen Kuroki’s other works, Hondo has also been Comic Girls‘ Koyume Koizuka and Kohaku Tsukishiro of The World in Colours. Despite the film being named for Mirai, Kun’s development forms the bulk of the story, and I am left wishing that Mirai had a more substantial role. However, it seems that rather than being a direct source of guidance for Kun, Mirai acts more to nudge him along and help him make his own discoveries.

  • At dinner with Kun’s grandparents, his parents discuss how their great-grandparents met. It’s a nostalgic story: the great-grandfather was a mechanic who was injured during the Second World War and convinced the great-grandmother to a foot race; she stipulates that if he can best her, then he may have her hand in marriage. Moments like these show that in every family, there is a great deal of history in the past, of triumphs and trials.

  • Taking care of the housework when one is accustomed to working with a keyboard is definitely a bit of a change: Kun and Mirai’s father is shown to struggle initially, leaving him quite unable to have any time left for Kun. Closeups of his work are shown, and he runs a MacBook Pro: most anime have a pear rather than an apple to indicate an Apple computer. From my end, I treat housework as almost a break of sorts: my mind wanders while I vacuum, iron or cook to some extent.

  • After Kun puts crackers on a sleeping Mirai’s face out of boredom, he is whisked away into a tropical conservatory, coming face-to-face with an older Mirai. She’s come from the future with the aim of getting their father to put the dolls away, citing that each day they’re not properly stowed is another year her marriage will be delayed. There are a great many superstitions in East Asian cultures: attesting to this is that each year, my parents explain to me a superstition about Chinese New Year that I did not know previously.

  • Mirai and Yuuko manage to get everything put away without their father noticing, and Kun helps by providing a distraction. Later, when their mother returns, Kun remarks that he’d helped out, befuddling their father, who’s unsure as to how everything managed to work out. The events of Mirai no Mirai are quite implausible, but they provide a very solid visual representation of how children might see the world. I am inclined to believe that these highly vivid sequences are a highly stylised metaphor.

  • Mirai resembles Mitsuha of Your Name to some extent. Originally, my expectations entering Mirai no Mirai was that Mirai’s older self would have a much more substantial role in the film than what I eventually experienced. However, from a thematic perspective, this makes sense: the future Mirai is more of a guide who helps Kun make his own discoveries. In this way, Mirai no Mirai strongly suggests that self-discovery is a major part of growing up, and that some things can’t be taught.

  • Visuals in Mirai no Mirai are impressive: while perhaps not quite as grand as those seen in Maquia, artwork and animation are still of a superb quality. From large-scale settings to something as simple as pancakes decked out in blueberries and strawberries, everything in Mirai no Mirai is impressive to look at. It suddenly strikes me that we’re now in February, and it’s been the coldest few days of the year so far: temperatures yesterday bottomed out at -29°C, with a windchill of -40°C. Winter has set in now, and ahead of this on Friday, a friend and I got together at one of the best barbecue places in town to catch up. Amidst conversation, I enjoyed a hearty plate of prime rib beef bones (smokey and flavourful, especially with their in-house sauce), plus a side of yam fries, fried green tomatoes and cornbread; this is something I’ve not had since the summer Your Name came out, and a good plate of smoked ribs is precisely what one needs to stay warm in the true Canadian winter.

  • I again fall back on anecdotal evidence for what I was like as a child when it came to cleaning my room. I know that this is a chore for some children, but as far as I can tell, I was always (and still are) a stickler for organisation. My younger brother found it hilarious when I dumped our toys wholesale from their containers, but we’d always clean up afterwards: I think that it was a fear for getting an earful that motivated this, but this eventually became a habit: it’s much easier to find the stuff one’s looking for if everything is nice and tidy (齐整, jyutping cai4 zing2, as I’m fond of saying).

  • Kun’s tantrum over cleaning sends him on a journey into the past, where he runs into his mother as a little girl. At this point in time, she’s fond of cats and remarks that she’d get one; she’s writing a letter and placing it into her mother’s (Kun’s grandmother) shoes, feeling that it could help her wish come across. As it’s raining, the two take off for his mother’s place, where Kun learns that his mother was once as free-spirited as he was. They proceed to make a bloody mess of things.

  • Kun’s mother sends him on his way after her mother returns, and she’s made to endure a tongue lashing. Kun later realises that his mother was once similar to him and realises she’s probably going through a great deal at present. I’ve heard that one’s shortcomings as children will manifest again in their children, which means that in the future, I should probably grit my teeth and find a way to best manage the curiosity in any child of mine.

  • Because Kun’s father is preoccupied in looking after Mirai, Kun grows angry that no one is giving him the attention to ride a bike. I’ve never been much of a physical individual as a child and did not learn how to ride a bike until I was twelve: after my brother expressed a desire to learn, I figured that I probably should, as well. On the second day of his lesson, I joined my parents and within a half hour, figured it out. After that, I took to biking around the neighbourhood during the summer, and found a profound joy in coming home exhausted after a good bike ride.

  • Running off and finding solace in the tree once more, Kun encounters his great-grandfather. His advice is to focus on something in the distance, citing that horse, bike or plane, the principles are the same. This scene is exceptionally well done, fluidly showing a post-war Yokohama as his great-grandfather knew it. Kun notices that he walks with a limp here, and the latter shrugs it off, saying that it’s something he’s come to accept. Later, it is shown that after an Allied bombing during the Second World War, his will to live drove him to swim for safety.

  • To me, biking came somewhat intuitively: I’m not sure I can explain how I learned it, except that after half an hour, I was zipping up and down the neighbourhood. I subsequently got too excited and zoomed down a hill, crashing the bike and landing in some bushes. Kun recalls his great-grandfather’s suggestion, and soon after, manages to figure out the basics. The other children are impressed and invites him to ride along with them.

  • In this moment, Mirai no Mirai‘s theme is abundantly clear: that learning is a very natural process and sometimes can occur without us even realising it. In spite of this, it’s something to be celebrated, and much as how Kun has learned to ride a bike, Kun’s father has acclimatised to taking care of Mirai, who no longer cries when he holds her. I’m told that as a baby, I largely could get along with anyone who held me, whereas my brother could only be held by my parents. The opposite seems true these days: my brother is more outgoing than I am and is more adept at taking the initiative in conversation with people, whereas I am inclined to listen more than I talk.

  • While I cannot speak for all children, I can say that I probably had a few moments like these at Kun’s age. Looking back, it’s pretty foolish, but at the time, I imagine that choice of favourite clothing did make all the difference in the world. Kun’s latest antics indicate that he acts up for attention’s sake, and my parents note that children are rather cleverer than they look: they are fond of sharing the classic story of seeing a little girl throwing a tantrum at a mall, right in the middle of a major area. The parents of that particular child were undeterred and said, “it’s cool, we’re heading off”. Realising that her show had no effect, she packed it in and ran off to join her parents, who’d diffused a situation without raising their voices, embarrassing and inconveniencing no-one.

  • The vast scale of the train station is impressive, bringing to mind the interior of fantastical locations like Platform 9 ¾ in Harry Potter. The golden tones convey a sense of warmth, a world far removed from the extreme colds of today. The weather is expected to persist into the Chinese New Year: tonight was Chinese New Year’s Eve, and I celebrated with the family. We had crispy pork, char siu, roast duck, pork leg, beef tripe, white-cut chicken abalone, pan-seared shrimps, and fat choy with winter mushroom and lettuce, closed off with a refreshing lotus root soup. Each of the items is phonetically similar to something fortuitous and chosen so that when eaten, good fortune follows.

  • Despite the older boy’s warning, Kun gets on the train and is initially awed by the sights. However, when he realises that he is lost, he seeks out an attendant. Without more identifying information (unlike database entries, people don’t exactly have primary keys or UIDs that they memorise off the top of their heads), the attendant is unable to help him and sends him down to what is more or less Hel. I recall that when I was much younger, I got lost at a mall and went to one of the people at the information desk to ask them to make an announcement for my parents to come to the information desk. To this day, my parents are still whiskey tango foxtrot about that particular incident.

  • Kun barely escapes the force pulling him into the dæmon train set to take him to Hel, and when he notices Mirai about to be pulled in, he pushes her out of the way, as well. Wishing none of this had happened, and openly declaring that he’s her older brother, Mirai vanishes before his eyes, reappearing in middle-school aged form. With the powers of flight, Mirai takes him out on a flight out into the city above, rescuing him from a terrifying fate.

  • It turns out that the tree in his family’s yard represents a record of his family’s history: the animators have gone to great lengths to create the family history in a manner reminiscent of the Tree of Life: here, I refer to the biological sciences construct that describes the evolutionary distance between all organisms. Its complexity is deliberate to suggest at the nature of family histories, and while such things might be seen as above Kun’s comprehension, I again stress the wonders in the mind of a child, and a tree is not an unintuitive way of describing family history.

  • It turns out that Kun’s great-grandmother threw the race because she reciprocated the great-grandfather’s feelings. Mirai comments on how everything that has happened now was the result of numerous small decisions coming together, and how it is important to make sure one always does their best to make these decisions so that a better path to the future is paved. During this travel, it is shown that Kun’s father was physically weak and took a while to master the bike, while his mother developed a dislike for cats after a cat killed one of the birds. Many things happen in our lives that shape who we are, and Kun comes to understand that he does have a choice here.

  • A part of growing up is taking increasing ownership and responsibility for one’s decisions and actions. As we push through our daily lives, we often forget just how far we’ve come from our days as children, and films like Mirai no Mirai, which return us to the side of childhood not characterised by rose-tinted memories, are reminders that as children, we each have our own triumphs and failures that help us learn and understand others better. I’m probably not the first blogger to say so, and I certainly won’t be the last – I have numerous flaws, as well.

  • One thing I never captured in this talk were the numerous “funny faces” various characters exhibit, whether it be from anger, stress or joy. I’ve opted to stick to more conventional moments and leave readers with experiencing the hilarity of beholding such moments for themselves. Here, an older Mirai and Kun share a short conversation, giving insight into how Kun is as a teen: he’s more reserved and distant, but given Mirai’s interactions with him, he’s also probably been a reliable older brother, as well. This is what motivates the page quote – older siblings can grow accustomed to protect and look after their younger siblings, making them quite observant and mindful of those around them.

  • The greatest strength in Mirai no Mirai is that it is able to capture the imagination of children and drive a story from the perspective of a four-year-old without losing the viewer’s interest. After his return from the latest journey, the most profound change in Kun is observed: he fully accepts Mirai as his younger sister and begins playing with her as an older brother would. This is the conflict that Mirai no Mirai resolves, and now that Kun is genuinely happy to have Mirai as his sister, the film can come to an end. One of my peers found it to be an abrupt ending, but now that I’ve crossed the finish line, I can see why Mirai no Mirai may end like this: life isn’t characterised by hard stops, but rather, a series of milestones. Mirai no Mirai shows a few notable milestones in Kun’s life that shape who he is, and accepting Mirai is a pivotal point in his life – the film is showing how he comes to reach this stage.

  • The reader who’s gone through this entire post will have learned quite a bit about myself, perhaps more than they would’ve liked or expected – this speaks to the strength of Mirai no Mirai, as it was able to evoke these memories and recollections that I might otherwise not consider in discussions about other series. With seven months between its theatrical screenings and home release, there was a bit of a wait for this movie, and I feel that the wait was worth it: it’s a solid movie that’s earned an A grade. February is a solid month for movies: I will be writing about Penguin Highway in the near future, and Non Non Biyori Vacation is coming out towards the end of the month, so I intend on writing about this in March. Finally, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown released on PC last Thursday, and it is a solid game worthy of all the praise it’s gotten: I naturally will be sharing my experiences here, as well.

Mirai no Mirai is a visceral representation of the sorts of emotion that older siblings go through with the arrival of a younger sibling. As an older sibling myself, I only have the vaguest recollection of what things would have been like: if my parents’ recollections were anything to go by, I was fairly mild (read “not anywhere as vociferous as Kun”), and I certainly cannot remember what the turning point was. What I do know is that the sort of friendship in some siblings can be very strong, and as such, stories like Mirai no Mirai are particularly moving to watch. Mirai no Mirai also deals with Kun’s father initially struggling to do housework and look after the children; his attempts at cooking and cleaning are fraught with accidents, and he’s unable to hold Mirai without her crying. As time wears on, he figures things out and becomes more proficient over time. Mirai no Mirai‘s portrayal of a husband and wife continuing to learn gives the movie additional depth and is another reminder that parenthood is a time of adjustment and discoveries for the parents, as well. It was rewarding to see Kun’s father going from bumbling through household tasks to having more competence: by the film’s end, he’s holding Mirai without any trouble. Themes of family and learning permeate Mirai no Mirai, and in conjunction with the movie’s solid visual component, it’s easy to see why the film has earned a nomination for an Oscar. Even if the film does not win (I expect that Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse will win the Best Animated Feature category), Mirai no Mirai remains an excellent film that offers a refreshing take on families as seen from the perspective of a four-year-old, and for this, I have no trouble recommending this film to readers.