starlady: Sheeta & Pazu watch the world open out before them (think in layers)
[personal profile] starlady
Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo | Children Who Follow Lost Voices from Deep Below. Dir. Shinkai Makoto, 2011.

This is an awesome, beautiful, sad and moving anime. You will want to see it when you can, and I really enjoyed it a lot. On one level, it's its own strong story, and on the other it's an obvious remake of Castle in the Sky by way of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth.

To give what I can of the plot without spoilers: in a rural Japan that could as well be 1960 as 1990 or any time in between, the middle-schooler Asuna lives mostly alone, her father having died and her mother working long and late to support the two of them at a hospital on the other side of town. Asuna spends her time high up in the mountains that shelter her town's valley, tuning in a mysterious music on her home-made radio. When she meets a mysterious boy and strange monsters start popping up around her town, however, she finds herself undertaking a journey in the company of the new teacher at her school, who has secrets of his own.

I read a post recently--and I forget who it was, really--talking about some movie or something and saying that for them the blatant homages of whatever it was to an earlier classic only re-enriched both stories for them, and I feel that way about this movie too. Shinkai is on record as saying that Castle in the Sky is his favorite anime, and this is both its own story and a remix of the other. What lets it stand on its own--aside from the trademark breathtaking beauty of the visuals--is the raw emotional heart of the movie. Instead of a made-up civilization, Shinkai relies on actual world mythology, particularly the myth of Izanami; instead of Miyazaki's rather simplistically power-hungry villains, we get an antagonist-cum-father-figure who is just as hobbled by his grief for his wife as Asuna and the underdweller Shin are for his older brother Shun. In Laputa it was a world above, in Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo it's a world beneath; whereas in Laputa the girl's magic crystal is hers by right, Asuna's crystal doesn't belong to her or symbolize a magical connection with a lost world; she has no connection to the underworld beyond that which she forges herself, and getting people to recognize that isn't easy or automatic, and the current inhabitants of that lost world are rightfully suspicious of her and other sundwellers due to past history. It's a credit to Shinkai, finally, that the ending doesn't pull any punches or obviate our sympathy for the teacher (whose name I really don't remember)--and that the movie doesn't pull any punches about the nature of death and grief and life, either. (Also: shades of FMA at the ending, for certain.)

So, yes. Rereading my posts on Castle in the Sky and a failed remake of it, Steamboy, I think that another area where Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo (literally "Children Who Follow the Stars", because the underworld sky has no stars) succeeds and goes one better than its source is Asuna again; she takes the initiative and she's always the protagonist in this story, whose bravery and courage impress the people around her and who is ultimately endangered as much by her compassion as by anything else and whose grief is always present with her even as she learns to bear up under it. There's no question of her being interpretable as passive, as Sheeta was, and she's anything but dispassionate, like Scarlett O'Hara was in Steamboy. I ♥ Asuna, seriously.
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