Release Date(s)2011 (June 7, 2022)
Studio(s)CoMix Wave Films (GKIDS/Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B+
Children Who Chase Lost Voices was the fourth feature from master filmmaker Makoto Shinkai, and it was something of a departure from his previous works. While many of his films have contained science fiction or fantasy themes, those have usually been background elements that served to shape the lives of his characters. In Children Who Chase Lost Voices, however, the fantastical nature of the story is foregrounded. For once, the story gets ahead of his characters, rather than supporting them. The results look and feel different than any other Shinkai film, either before or since. It’s material that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Miyazaki film, and even the design work echoes the characteristic Miyazaki look. Thematically, however, it’s still clearly a Shinkai film, as it explores how people deal with loss.
Shinkai’s story revolves around Asuna, a shy and retiring schoolgirl who has been growing up in a single parent home after the death of her father. Her mother works long hours to support them, so Asuna spends her free time out in the woods, listening to some unearthly music that she can pick up via a special radio that her father gave to her. A chance encounter brings her into contact with a mysterious boy named Shun, and guided by stories told by her teacher Mr. Morisaki, she ends up searching for the mythical underground realm of Agartha, the land of the dead.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices obviously owes a debt to the Grecian legend of Orpheus and his journey into the underworld in search of Eurydice. While all of Shinkai’s films deal with the challenges of overcoming the emotional and physical distances between people, that theme is handled far more literally here than it has been elsewhere. That’s true not just of the narrative structure, but also in terms of the incidents that occur along the way. The film is filled with monstrous creatures, godlike beings, and even some very uncharacteristic violence. As a result, Children Who Chase Lost Voices isn’t a good starting point for those who are unfamiliar with Shinkai’s work. It still fits in with the rest of his filmography, but taken out of context, it won’t give an accurate impression of the unique voice that he has brought to the world of animation.
Of course, artists shouldn’t be put into boxes, and they should always be free to follow their muse wherever it may take them. Shinkai wanted to stretch himself compared to his previous work, and Children Who Chase Lost Voices was the result. Yet it clearly wasn’t a direction that felt natural to him, and it’s no accident that he retreated to a much more grounded milieu for his next film, the exquisitely beautiful The Garden of Words. For his next two masterpieces after that, Your Name and Weathering with You, he reintroduced fantastic elements, but once again as a way of shaping the relationships between his characters. While that’s definitely where Shinkai’s gifts lie, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is still an interesting step in his journey as an artist.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices was animated digitally, and while there’s little information available, it was likely produced at native 1080p resolution as was done for later Shinkai films like Your Name. It was framed at the 1.78:1 aspect ratio displayed here, though that would have been cropped to 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. This is a genuinely attractive presentation of the film, though it’s quite different than any other Shinkai film. The visual style has been simplified, with bolder designs and brighter colors. The delicate watercolor-style clouds that have been a Shinkai trademark are slightly abstracted here, and the rest of the backgrounds tend to be simpler as well. While all of Shinkai’s films have been animated digitally, this has more of a digital appearance than any other. In one sense, this looks better than his earlier films, but in another sense, it lacks their elegance. Regardless, it’s still a transfer that accurately replicates the intended look, and that’s what counts.
Audio is offered in English or Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English, English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles. Language choices with anime are always a matter of personal preference, but the Japanese voice casts generally have an edge, and that’s true in this case. Regardless of which track you choose, there’s a bit more dynamics here than in Shinkai’s earlier films, with some satisfyingly deep bass in Tenmon’s score. (Even Tenmon seems to have channeled Miyazaki for this film, with the music sometimes sounding like something that Joe Hisaishi might have written.) The surrounds are a bit more active as well, aided by the fact that there’s much more action in Children Who Chase Lost Voices, including the jarring (for Shinkai) sound of gunfire. Even the sound design is a departure from the rest of Shinkai’s work.
The GKIDS/Shout! Factory Blu-ray release of Children Who Chase Lost Voices comes with a slipcover that duplicates the poster artwork on the insert. The extras have all been ported over from the previous Sentai Filmworks Blu-ray for the film. (There was a five-page text interview with Shinkai on that disc that isn’t included here, but it’s not much of a loss.)
- Audio Commentary with Makoto Shinkai and Staff
- Interviews with Staff and Cast (HD – 55:45)
- Making of (HD – 45:23)
- Japanese Promo (HD – 5:04)
- Japanese Trailers (HD – 3 in all – 2:28)
- Works of Makoto Shinkai (Upscaled HD & HD – 12:58)
The commentary track features Shinkai, character designer and animation director Takayo Nishimura, art director Akumi Tanji, composer Tenmon, and voice actor Hisako Kanemoto. (Anri Kumaki also makes an appearance at the end to discuss her theme song.) Shinkai explains up front that they plan to discuss the film’s production process and to analyze specific scenes, as well as to share some behind-the-scenes stories. They stick to that plan, too, with characteristic Japanese modesty and politeness. It’s not a typical group commentary with people speaking over each other, so it’s always clear and precise despite the number of participants on hand. It’s an informative one, too, so it’s worth taking the time to listen to it (or to read, as the case may be).
The Interviews with Staff and Cast includes voice actors Kanemoto, Miyu Irino, and Kazuhiko Inoue, as well as Shinkai himself. They discuss the main characters of Asuna, Shun, and Morisaki, but also give their thoughts about the finished film. Shinkai says that a lot of complicated ideas went into making it, but in the end, it’s simple entertainment. The Making of opens at the 2011 premiere of the film, where during the Q&A, Shinkai again reiterates that he wanted to make a simple entertainment that didn’t require viewers to think about complicated things. At the time, he felt that his earlier films required more knowledge of Japanese life and culture to be fully appreciated, so he wanted to make something more universal in nature. (With the benefit of hindsight, he definitely underestimated the fact that it’s actually the characters in his films that provide the universal appeal, regardless of the particular story that he may be telling.) The rest of the documentary traces the development, production, and release of Children Who Chase Lost Voices. It’s a reverential yet informative look at Shinkai’s process. Works of Makoto Shinkai is a collection of trailers for all of Shinkai’s films through to Weathering with You, each introduced by a text card that provides background information.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices may be somewhat anomalous for a Shinkai film, but it’s an essential part of his filmography for one simple reason: every single one of his films is essential. Few filmmakers have achieved a run like he has, either in animation or in live action. Shinkai’s latest film, Suzume no Tojimari, will be released in Japan on November 11, 2022, and there’s little reason to think that it will be any less essential. If you’re a fan of Shinkai, and you don’t already own the Sentai Filmworks release of Children Who Chase Lost Voices, you need this GKIDS disc. If you’re not already a fan of Shinkai, then you need to do some homework!
- Stephen Bjork