Shinkai Makoto (5 Centimeters per Second) directs an average adventure story…
You’ve probably heard of SHINKAI Makoto (新海 誠), or at least seen some of his works: Voices of a Distant Star, The Place Promised in Our Early Days (also known as Beyond the Clouds, the Promised Place), 5 Centimeters per Second. They’re all very introspective stories, where the main focus is on the characters’ feelings.
Agartha is the story of Asuna, who lost her father years before, and whose mother works long hours and night shifts. Asuna also appears to have few friends at school. She spends most of her time taking care of the house, and what little free time she has left she spends listening on a crystal radio, using a strange crystal her father left her. One day, she hears a haunting music, and she’s later attacked by a monstrous bear-like creature. Shun, a boy with clearly super-human abilities saves her. Trying to find him again, she’s dragged by her substitute teacher, Morisaki, into a journey in the mysterious underground land of Agartha, where it’s said that dead people can be brought back to life. During the journey she’ll meet Shun’s brother Shin, and through many dangers and hard choices, they will all grow and learn.
Agartha should, again, be a character-centric work, but I couldn’t really connect with Asuna, Shin, or Morisaki. Shinkai style works very well with slow stories and contemplative atmospheres, and this movie is paced a bit too fast for that. Sure, trying to film this story at the same pace as “Promised Place” would probably have made it unwatchable… because there is not really much going on inside the characters and between them: they’re all trying to come to terms with the death of a loved one. They interact relatively little with each other, and the consequences of their interactions are not as large as could be hoped for.
On the other hand, the drawings and the animation are gorgeous. Some scenes are reminiscent of Laputa, others of Mononoke; there’s the distinct impression that Shinkai is trying to imitate Studio Ghibli, and CoMix Wave Films rises up to the challenge, visually. Disappointingly, as I said above, the story and the emotional impact are not at the same level.
In the end, this is a very good looking movie, with a not-very-inventive plot, and much less emotion than Shinkai’s previous works. Not bad, just below expectations.
Journey to Agartha is released in DVD, Blu-Ray and a 3-Disc Collector’s Edition Box set (including DVD, Blu-Ray and a bonus DVD of over 100 minutes of extra material) on Monday 28 January by Manga Entertainment.
Distributor: KAZÉ and Manga Entertainment (UK)
Edition: Limited edition 3-Disc Collector s Edition Box Set (DVD + Blu-ray + Bonus DVD) (2013)
Bonus DVD contains over 100 minutes of (subtitled) cast and crew interviews, The Making of… featurette, Japanese Promo Video, Japanese Teasers, Makoto Shinkai Featurette.