Monday, June 23, 2008

Film — The place promised in our early days

It would not be fair to call Makoto Shinkai a one-trick pony. He has two standard tricks. One, relationships that are disconnected, and two, cloud porn -- obsessively detailed depictions of all sorts of sky-scapes.

The place promised is set up to indulge the latter obsession. In a world where -- one presumes -- WWII did not end until after the Soviet Union had overrun Hokkaido, a great tower has been raised on that island, tall enough to be seen from Tokyo on a clear day.

The film is set mainly in and around the town of Aomori, to the north of Honshu (the main island of the archipelago), starting in the summer of 1996 where two friends are building a plane that will take them across that world's DMZ to see the tower close at hand; and with them is a girl, Sayuri, who is more than just a schoolfriend, but not yet quite a girlfriend.

She moves away, and the two graduate and go their own ways, while international tensions build. By the turn of the century, the plane is almost ready to fly, and the cold war about to turn hot -- and the secret of the tower and how it relates to Sayuri's disappearance is about to be revealed.

In this film Shinkai handles the never quite established triangle deftly, without overdoing the motifs of separation -- quite a contrast from it being the central theme of Voices of a Distant Star; and without the glaringly predictable trainwreck of the more recent 5 cm/s (which I could not sit through even half the first of the three parts of). And the central motif of the aeroplane gives full scope for some gorgeous cloudscapes.

For all the obsessive meteorology, there is one problem -- the tower is of inconsistent height. From Tokyo, a back of the envelope calculation suggests that the bottom 25 miles would be below the horizon; the views we see suggest a hundred or more are visible. And yet a jet plane is later able to circle above the top of the tower, a place we had never before been shown.

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