The Place Promised in Our Early Days is the first full length feature from Mokoto Shinkai. Shinkai first came to prominence with Voices From a Distant Star, an anime that he produced almost single-handedly. Voices From A Distant Star, with its melancholy voice over and themes of separation and loss, was not only an awesome achievement but also an incredibly emotionally resonant piece that announced the arrival of a true auteur.
With Place, Shinkai again returns to the themes of love, loss and separation with sci-fi trappings of Voices From a Distant Star, but with a production team on board he is able to expand his vision and bring a level of detail that is truly breathtaking.
Although lacking a credit, the major character in Place is the backgrounds. An incredible amount of care and detail is put into every location. Shinkai brings the backgrounds to the fore, often pushing his character into the backgound. From sweeping grassy plains with epic cloud formations to the light and shadow falling across the baggage rack in a train, Shinkai grounds you in his world where the everyday is simply beautiful. By lingering on these places, Shinkai seeks to draw an emotional response from the viewer.
Inhabiting this world are the three protagonists Takuya, Sayuri and Hiroki. Takuya and Sayuri are captured in the twilight between youth and adulthood. Their constant compaionship means they are of such like minds that they finish each others sentences.They have the boundless energy of youth which they focus on their shared goal. And it is the enigmatic presence of the tower that acts as a lightning rod for their enthusiasm.
Shinkai captures the essence of those school years, of moments waiting on train platforms, awkward conversations and summer holidays were anything can be achieved. Shinkai explores the way adulthood impacts on childhood dreams, ambitions and friendships with its ability to strip away mystery, revealing the reality as, at the very least pragmatic, and at its worst – ugly.
However, Place is ultimately a tale of friendship and loyalty, with overtones which reassure that what is lost can be regained. Shinkai meshes landscapes, characters and emotions with such elegant craft that places his work as some of the finest coming out of Japan. Place is proof that Miyazaki is not the only anime director capable of producing truly majestic humanistic visions.