Known in Japanese as 雲のむこう、約束の場所 (Kumo no Muko, Yakusoku no Basho) transliterated in english “beyond the clouds, the promised place”. The Place Promised in Our Early Days is Shinkai’s first feature length. Watching it what were my thoughts?
Story and Characters
The dramatic sci-fi with a blend of romance takes place in an alternate timeline and revolves around the lives of 3 friends Hiroki, Takuya and Sayuri and a promise they make to one another to one day fly their self built plane called the bella ciela to the Hokkaido Tower, a prominent monument built by the soviet union that separates the Soviet Union owned North of Japan from the US occupied South of Japan.
Three years pass and along with it the disappearance of Sayuri. Hiromi and Takuya go their separate ways and discontinue building their plane the Bella Ciela. Takuya lands a job as a physicist at a scientific facility supported by the United States, and on a daily basis he is exposed to researching about parallel universes and the Hokkaido’s towers involvement to them. Hiroki attends high school like normal but overwhelmingly depressed ever since the disappearance of Sayuri. But it isn’t long that the two friends discover a secret about their friend Sayuri that connects her to the Hokkaido Tower.
When I look back over the ending of The Place Promised in our Early Days, I can’t help but feel like it had so much untapped potential. I felt like the film wasn’t too sure on what it wanted to be. While a sci-fi military romance isn’t something that has never been done before, The Place Promised in our Early Days in my eyes didn’t do it well. When I think of The Last of Us -a hit third person shooter set in a zombie apocalypse, it is a game that didn’t do anything new but did what has already been done really good, and I mean ridiculously good. Unfortunately, lens flares, and shallow depths of field just didn’t cut it for The Place Promised in Our Early Days, and it couldn’t get away from its many many holes.
40 minutes in I clocked out of the story completely, and the story seemed to almost remove itself from our 3 protagonists for a good 10-15 minutes, with a lot of filler that stretches out the UN’s intentions for the giant pillar that separates the north and south of Japan. As soon as the story went back to our 3 protagonists so did my attention, and believe it out not i still understood the story without having to pay attention to the filler.
Far too many stills and text saying giving details on location and time skips. Why is a 4 months later even necessary? Just skip
All the character interactions felt dry and limp, with no real conflict or personality that shines. I just couldn’t really care for Hiroki, he was the dullest stick out of the bunch and I found Takuya and Sayuri much more interesting characters than him and the story probably would have had some justice if he was scrapped completely. The only time the characters feel fun to watch would be as kids.
I was really frustrated with watching this because characters in a film are the key ingredient to a film/story. Everything is there to highlight their personalities and lives and when you pay more attention to the setting than your characters, you have a rushed scene no matter how pretty it is and it is a massive let down especially when you have a minute of silence for no reason and for some reason it doesn’t feel as beautifully executed as Miyazaki where the scene with Chihiro on the train felt like it came at the right time and even served the plot of the story, but for the place promised in our early days, the scene felt frustrating and felt like a scene added just to fill time rather than a provoking or intentional moment.
It is common knowledge amongst fans that the ending to the place promised in our early days is very ambiguous especially when you have a prologue that seems to serve no connection to the film outside of being an opportunity for the main character to mourn his youth and middle school crush as though this was a sequel to voices of a distant star. While it plays an interesting set up it completely falls away, at first I forgot all about it and it wasn’t until I read another review they brought the fact that there was even a prologue.
I understood the ending and I don’t think it was hard to understand either, especially when you ignore the good-for-nothing prologue. Sayuri loses her memories and her feelings for Hiroki but it was an opportunity for them to start over now that they are adults. I can understand that if you were one of the few who remembered the prologue it would be baffling to try and tie the two together, maybe it was an alternate reality, maybe Sayuri goes her own separate way, there were just too much maybe’s that loosen the plot.
I wish this next section would be in praise of the animation, but unfortunately this won’t be the place for it. Something, that I found absolutely unacceptable was in a scene with Sayuri and Hiroki talking on the train and they were both motionless figures with dots for eyes and the only thing that moved were their mouths. It was a really frustrating scene where they spoke for 10 minutes and only their surroundings were highly detailed but stuck in an animated loop.
The animation and character designs were significantly better in this compared to his previous short Voices of a Distant Star and I have to say the cinematography really wasn’t something to be ignored, the choice of shots and close ups were really lovely to look at and really if you are none the wiser to film studies and animation you’d probably pass it off as amazing, but really trust me when I tell you, Shinkai offered us a lot of eye candy, there was no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.
The ending song was composed by Tenma and if I am honest it did go unnoticed for most of the time, scenes that could have used a bit of background music were left bare and made the scenes boring, and this film really was a testament that music makes a wealth of difference to how a scene may be received. However in the end nothing was really memorable for me musically especially when the violin holds a bit of significance to the story or did it?
Our early days did well to look at topics such as loneliness and depression, and the challenges faced advancing into adulthood. However at times the flow of the film felt scattered and wasn’t much of a interesting viewing. While the attention to detail on the settings, objects and cinematography was better than anything hand drawn Disney can produce, it was let down by flat characters and a half baked plot that saw its characters as touts for the authors thoughts rather than just as characters with well formed lives and personalities.
The Place Promised in Our Early Days for me has to be my least favourite and with it being Shinkai’s first feature length, the thematic structure that he heavily relies on just didn’t translate all too well in this animated feature.
My disappointments with this film isn’t so much that I am disappointed with the storyline but in its characters, even a dull story can be brightened by a lively and dynamic cast of characters. I had remembered at some point actually watching the film but somehow someway I erased it from my memory completely and I now know why.