“Grieving the dead is proper but continuing to pity them is a fallacy.”
Old Man of Amaurot
Of Makoto Shinkai’s anime, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is the most strongly influenced by Hayao Miyazaki, in its character and creature design as well as its journey into a hidden fantasy world that stands in contrast to the real world settings of Shinkai’s other supernatural stories. Its tone, however, remains more in line with his writing, trading a level of whimsy for pensive discourse on loss, loneliness and grief, wrapped in an adventure that remains accessible to children. The underground world of Agartha, inspired by Shinto mythology in Kojiki, already lies in ruins after numerous wars with “topsiders”, and its inhabitants’ own sense of tragedy provides a parallel for the way that often we grieve as much for an irretrievable past as for the deceased. As a fan of Shinkai’s own art style, I am admittedly less interested in his emulation of Studio Ghibli, but I never found Children Who Chase Lost Voices as visually breathtaking as his other work. It is when the film plays to his introspective strengths that it succeeds, but his later forays into fantasy are more satisfying.
“A faint clap of thunder / Clouded skies / Perhaps rain will come / If so, will you stay here with me?”
The Garden of Words feels like something of a stepping stone between Makoto Shinkai’s earlier work and his bigger budget successes that followed. Although only 45 minutes long, this is still a meditative piece, following a teenage boy who strikes up a relationship with an older woman whom he meets on rainy days in a park. The hallmarks of Shinkai’s writing are present: isolated individuals who have a connection yet find themselves separated (in this case by age). The rain-soaked greenery is stunningly beautiful, with more naturalistic hues than the oversaturated Your Name and Weathering With You, but not so dour as the colour palette in 5 Centimetres Per Second. Yet, for all this beauty, the experience is best described as fleeting — not only in duration but also in depth. Perhaps this could have been resolved by a stronger conclusion (often a weakness in Shinkai’s work); as it is, The Garden of Words is ephemoral, leaving little to take away.
“Back then, if we could have have heard each other’s voices, everything would have been so much better.”
Kyoto Animation is known for producing animated series, making this feature-length adaptation of Yoshitoki Ōima’s manga an outlier. A Silent Voice presents a nuanced view of childhood interrelationships, differing perspectives and faltering attempts to communicate. The weightiest aspect is the destructive power of guilt, as Shouya falls into a self-imposed exile, ashamed at his childhood bullying of a deaf transfer student. Rekindling relationships with his old classmates reopens old wounds as well as offering a chance at redemption. As a studio of salaried animators — rather than freelancers paid by the frame — there is a wonderful attention to detail throughout. Subtle and beautiful, the gaps in conversation are filled by a delightful ambient soundtrack that elevates the production beyond most animated fare. A few days ago KyoAni was hit by a deadly arson attack, so I hope this review draws a little attention to the work of those who lost their lives and colleagues.