I went into Children Who Chase Lost Voices almost completely blind. The film’s director, Makoto Shinkai, was also responsible for 2016’s critically acclaimed Your Name. So in order to see the origins of his directorial skills, I turned my attention to this film.
His directorial debut was the film 5 Centimeters Per Second, which was out of stock on Amazon when I first searched for it. As such, I jumped straight to his second film, 2011’s Children Who Chase Lost Voices.
Right from the beginning, Children Who Chase Lost Voices demonstrates the power of visual storytelling. The film centers on a young girl named Asuna, and there is so much you can learn about her without ever being told.
A typical day for Asuna involves going to school, cleaning the house, doing laundry, preparing dinner and studying, and all of these activities are conveyed without a single word. The only informative lines of dialogue are Asuna’s comment about her mother working late, as well as the prayer she says in memory of her father.
Besides her daily household chores, Asuna makes a habit of visiting a cliffside that exists deep in the woods surrounding her home. She stocks a small cave full of books, snacks and other items that are important to her, and sits atop the cliff tinkering with a strange radio given to her by her father, claiming she can hear voices below the ground.
Not long after the opening scenes, the film’s real narrative begins. There had been sightings of a strange, bear like creature in Asuna’s town, and the students of her school are advised to head straight home.
As Asuna is making her way to the woods, she comes across the monster, and is almost killed by it until the intervention of a young man named Shun. Shun’s fight with the beast was more violent than I expected. I wouldn’t way it was grotesque, but I didn’t at all expect to see that level of blood and wounds.
After spending a brief period of time with Asuna, Shun is found dead in the town’s river. The loss of Shun, in conjuction with a story that Asuna hears from her substitute teacher, Mr. Morisaki, sets the pace for the rest of Asuna’s journey.
Shun is from a land known as Agartha. Agartha exists under the surface of the Earth, and is home to the descendants of early humanity, as well as the guardian Quetzalcoatl. Mr. Morisaki believes that Agartha holds the power to revive the dead, and wishes to bring back his late wife, Lisa. After an encounter with Shin, Shun’s younger brother, both Asuna and Morisaki end up traveling through Agartha.
The adventure that follows is pretty enjoyable. Asuna and Morisaki encounter many interesting locales, and a handful of memorable characters. There is plenty of danger along the way too. Asuna and Morisaki must deal with a group of skeletal monsters, as well as the residents of Agartha, both of which want them dead.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices has a handful of plot elements that aren’t really explained too well. For starters, it’s never explained why Shun visits the surface world in the first place. The film does a great job of showing why Agartha’s citizens resent the top siders, which makes his decision all the more confusing.
Secondly, there is a strange issue with the strength of those from Agartha. They appear to have near superhuman level abilities, with even teenagers like Shun and Shin being able to leap from large distances and deal critical blows to the guardians. Again, the reason for this is never expanded upon.
One interesting thing about the film is Asuna’s motivation. She’s caught between Morisaki’s desire to revive his wife, and the Agarthan’s desires to protect their home, all the while still mourning the death of Shun.
What I don’t like however is the fact that Shun seems to be her primary reason for going to Agartha. He’s a decent character, but the two only knew each other for maybe a handful of days, making the love that she feels for him less endearing.
But to be fair, I do feel that Shun reminds Asuna of her father, which would make her actions a bit more understandable. For Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Shinkai aimed specifically to capture the elements of dealing with loss, and finding the strength to carry on.
This sentiment applies not only to Asuna, but to Shin and Morisaki as well. All three characters respond to losing a loved one in different ways, and they all need each other’s support to move forward with new resolve.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a visual marvel. The characters look nice, and the animation is smooth and lively, but the backgrounds are the real star of the show. Agartha in particular is brimming with vividly detailed buildings and landscapes, and the skyline that accompanies the final scenes of the film was breathtaking.
The real world setting is just as visually impressive as Agartha. The autumn themed foliage is wonderfully crafted, but my favorite part was actually Asuna’s house. It’s so simple, but I found it really cool to look at all the little details that were applied to the refrigerator, the cabinets and the walls.
As a whole, Children Who Chase Lost Voices was an enjoyable film. It had a few plot issues, some that bother me way more than others, and I think a few scenes could’ve been shortened or cut for the sake of pacing. But the film’s highs are really high, and I’d say it is definitely worth the watch.
And oh yeah, the vocal track that plays over the credits, Hello Goodbye & Hello, is absolutely amazing.