The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004) | The Films of Makoto Shinkai

(The term Anime Nonsense is not a reflection of each individual title covered under its label. Rather, it is simply a section of reviews dedicated to the often bizarre and interesting stories featured in Japanese Anime.)


The Place Promised in Our Early Days is the second film produced and directed by Makoto Shinkai. I just wrote a small piece on his first film, Voices of a Distant Star; and will be talking about his other three films as they become available to me.

The story here is an odd one, but it starts out with three young middle-school students named Hiroki, Takuya, and Sayuki; hanging out with each other at an aircraft factory, where the two boys are planning to complete a unique aircraft that will fly them to the massive and mysterious tower that looms in the distance. The boys Hiroki and Takuya promise to take Sayuki with them on their flight to the tower, and she is both pleased and excited to come along. But strangely and suddenly, Sayuki doesn’t show up one day, never telling the boys where she went or what happened to her. And feeling discouraged after losing their good friend, Hiroki and Takuya give up on the plane. Eventually, they move on to different high-schools.

At first, this film sounds like a strange and compelling tale of an adolescent dream to go on an adventure, under the radar to a mysterious place. It’s a story that’s been told before in different forms. But this movie takes a strange turn after only giving us fleeting glimpses of something in previous scenes. Immediately after showing it’s been three years since Sayuki went away, we see Takuya working in a physics laboratory, developing data on the mysterious tower, which seems to have connections to alternate universes. Yes, alternate universes.

Apparently, as the film progresses, we find out that Sayuki is somehow mentally and/or spiritually connected to this tower, because her grandfather was the one that built it: and this tower is a beacon or gateway to a slew of other parallel universes. In previous scenes, Sayuki had premonitions about the destruction of the tower, as well as a reoccurring dream about wandering through a wasteland of wreckage and empty buildings, only to see a small white airplane flying overhead. It’s not until after three years have passed that we see that her dream has persisted, to the point that she is now in a coma of sorts; unable to wake up from her dream state. And if she were to wake up, the tower would open a portal that would swallow our universe in the matter and information of another, effectively overwriting everything with something else.

Kinda a heavy subject.

But that’s not all. This tower is on foreign soil. And that foreign entity, only referred to as the North/South division (meaning it could be either half, I couldn’t say), is about to declare war. With the tower at a very strategic point in this contention.

Now, at the same time that Sayuki is stuck in this dream state, Hiroki has grown up stuck in his own waking nightmare of endless depression, loneliness, and physical pain after the loss of Sayuki. Somehow he feels like he’s connected to her. In fact, he too has dreams about her when he sleeps.

So while she is connected to the tower, he is connected to her. And the rest of the film is his struggle to get her to that tower with the help of his old friend Takuya, in order that she might wake up again. Because if she did, then he would no longer be in such pain.

This is a very deep film. Not deep as in symbolic, but deep as in heavy with emotion and the weight on all of the characters’ shoulders. It seems like a lot of anime films have this sort of story with a lot of personal burdens on its protagonists. And I didn’t used to appreciate that. But the older I get, the more I can appreciate it, because I sometimes wish that I had had a childhood and a teenage youth that was more… I don’t know, maybe more dramatic.

I mean, it certainly wouldn’t have made my life any easier. But certain things that happen to most people never happened to me. I’ve loved and lost a few times, but they weren’t anything serious to begin with, and I’ve never really done anything risky, cause that’s not my personality. So what’s so amazing is that I can watch films like this and live out the adolescent adventures that I could have had, through them.

I can’t say it’s the best film of its type that I’ve seen. I’d say maybe certain anime series like Eureka Seven or even Laputa: Castle in the Sky were handled better production-wise. But for the story and its dramatic approach, I definitely respect it a lot, and appreciated its characters very much. The visual design was also leagues ahead of what Makoto Shinkai had done on Voices of a Distant Star. The cloud formations and color space are even more breathtaking and majestic.

Due to the price tag of two and the rarity of Makoto’s other films, I probably won’t be able to get to the rest for a while. But I am truly excited to see what Makoto’s other three films have in store for me.