After waiting four years since the release of 5 Centimeters Per Second (and having denied of it on WFAC), Makoto Shinkai finally released his fourth film, Hoshi o ou Kodomo. This movie was like 5 cm/s, a departure from his previous movies. Instead of dealing with science fiction (Voices, Places Promised) or pure reality (5 cm/s), Makoto latest film had a lot more fantasy placed into it, giving me a much more Studio Ghibli feel to the movie than his previous ones (read: all his previous films don’t feel it is in any way related to Studio Ghibli). I came out convinced that it was a great movie, but just not as great as his previous two films: 5 cm/s and The Place Promised in Our Early Days.
One thing that was obvious was how much grander the whole film was, of how a lot more background details were introduced in the film. There was the whole another land, the different creatures, different tribes, the technicality behind the fantasy etc. The cast was also a lot larger than the previous movies. And maybe as a nod back to Hayao Miyazaki, there were faint messages of anti-war. In all, it seemed grander than what Shinkai had made before.
Yet, the problem is that by focusing on so much stuff, it seems that Shinkai forgot to develop the characters and their relationships as much. The strongest point of 5 cm/s was that it took time to show the relationship that Takaki and Akari had formed a first, and then the suffering that Takaki (and Kanae) suffered as time passed by with Takaki not being able to see Akari. Similarly, Place Promised also spent the first half of the film showing the day to day interaction the three friends had before actually thickening the plot. On top of that, both movies had parts where there would be soliloquies by the various characters, expressing their inner feelings/depressions. In comparison, Hoshi o ou Kodomo skimps on the soliloquies and the relationships up building parts, and hence the characters ended up being more static and was just less fun to watch than Shinkai’s previous films.
As the soundtrack, while I’m in no way dissing TENMON, there wasn’t a particular track that particularly stood out for me. In 5cm/s, there was One More Change, One More Time (not TENMON), which after almost of whole movie of documenting their separation, fleshes out the emotions that had been accumulating for the whole movie. Place Promised had the main theme (Sayuri’s violin), which was played two times, one in the first half by Sayuri and once again near the end of the second half. The song, or the playing of the violin, signified the past where the three friends were together. Yea, the soundtrack for Hoshi was still really good, but none of them was just stood out for me. Maybe if I get around to getting a CD I might start to like and remember some tracks. >_>
Lastly, at least once during the movie I actually felt bored…and once or more that I rolled my eyes at how clichéd something was…not a good sign.
In defense, I think animation wise, Hoshi o ou Kodomo is better than what 5 cm/s and The Place Promised in Our Early Days had. For Place Promised and especially for Voices, the character art not only didn’t blend well with the beautiful CG art, but almost ugly to look at. 5cm was a bit better, but the character was still out of place at times. I never felt that when watching Hoshi o ou Kodomo, with the character movements natural and actually look as good as the background, I say that Hoshi have the best character art in Shinkai’s films so far. Also, because of the fantasy setting, the background art tends to be more colorful than other films, hence making it look more like a Ghibli film. Added with the still magnificent sky/clouds CG, the whole film was just visually appealing.
In isolation, Hoshi o ou Kodomo is a fantastic film, but since it is from Makoto Shinkai, I expected more, and hence I am a bit disappointed when it doesn’t deliver something that was supposed to surpass 5 cm/s.