Release Date(s)2004 (June 7, 2022)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
Makoto Shinkai may not be a name that’s as well known to international audiences as that of Hayao Miyazaki, but over two brief decades, he’s built up a body of work that rivals (and in some ways surpasses) that of the universally acknowledged master of Japanese animation. He’s also gone from being something of a cult figure to an established box office juggernaut, with his most recent features Your Name and Weathering with You having been major hits in Japan—Your Name actually became the second-highest grossing domestic production of all time, behind Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (though both were later improbably surpassed by Demon Slayer: Mugen Train in 2020).
Yet there’s a remarkable consistency in all of Shinkai’s work, from his examinations of the ways that people interact with each other despite the different sorts of barriers that lie between them, to his fascination with how individuals interact with the environments that surround them. Like Andrei Tarkovsky, Shinkai takes frequent visual digressions to follow things like raindrops, or water flowing down a stream, or even the path of train tracks through urban environments. Yet he’s most interested in how all of that affects the lives of his characters, and that’s as true of his early films as it is of his later work.
Shinkai’s second film The Place Promised in Our Early Days takes place on an alternate timeline when Japan was divided by the Allies after World War II, with the Soviet Union (simply called The Union here) controlling Hokkaido to the North, and the United States controlling the rest. The Union has built an enormous but mysterious tower, which has become the obsession of young schoolmates Hiroki and Takuya. They work on building a plane that they dream of flying over to the tower, and they’re supported by their friend Sayuri, whose own dreams of the tower are of a different sort. As the years go by and the friends separate, it becomes clear that her dreams are connected to the tower in a literal way, and as hostilities grow between the North and the South, Hiroki and Takuya must reunite to find a way to help Sayuri escape her dreams to fulfill the promises that they made to each other in their youth.
As with Shinkai’s first short feature Voices of a Distant Star, the story for The Place Promised in Our Early Days operates within a world that’s largely left unexplained, at least explicitly so, but it’s primarily a backdrop to the core relationship between the three protagonists—though it still has an influence on how they interact with each other. The cycle that has them coming together, being pushed apart, and coming together again, is tied to the world around them in ways that they only slowly come to understand. There’s a bittersweet edge to The Place Promised in Our Early Days, especially when the hopeful ending is considered in light of what one character says during the prologue (which is actually set after the events of the film). It seems that the cycle may continue for all three characters, not always happily so. Nothing in life is certain, even happy endings.
The Place Promised in Our Early Days was also 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. (IMDb claims an extensive series of film cameras were used, with Super 35 being the source format, but all of Shinkai’s films have been the product of digital animation rather than traditional cel animation.) 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. The image is sharp and clean, with little in the way of banding or other artifacts. Shinkai had animated Voices of a Distant Star by himself, but this time, thanks to a bigger budget and assistance from a supporting team of artists, the animation is much smoother and more detailed. Shinkai’s gift with lighting is also readily apparent in The Place Promised in Our Early Days, showcasing his trademarked interplay of light within the environments. It’s a beautiful transfer.
Audio is available in both English and Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles. (The 2.0 tracks offered on All The Anime’s Region B release, as well as on the original Japanese Blu-ray, aren’t included here.) 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. The surrounds aren’t very active, but they do provide reverberations and other ambient effects, as well as occasional directional effects such as airplane flyovers or offscreen voices. With most Shinkai films, the music is the single most important element of the audio experience, and the wonderful score here from Tenmon is no exception.
The GKIDS/Shout! Factory Blu-ray release of The Place Promised in Our Early Days comes with a slipcover that duplicates the poster artwork on the insert. The following extras are included:
- Interviews with Japanese Voice Cast (Upscaled HD – 32:41)
- Interview with Makoto Shinkai (Upscaled HD – 12:35)
- Trailer Collection (HD – 3 in all – 7:02)
The interviews with voice cast members Hidetaka Yoshioka, Yuuka Nanri, and Masato Hagiwara were also included on All The Anime’s Blu-ray release, but are now combined into a single feature rather than shown individually. Not surprisingly, the interview with Shinkai is the most interesting of the four, and it provides keen insights into his work. He talks about making the transition from working solo to working with a team, and says he was satisfied with what he had accomplished alone, as it helped him to understand what he was good at doing, and where he was lacking. He explains why he focuses so much on background scenery, showing his photographic references for many of the backgrounds in the film. (The blend of painterly details with photographic realism is one of the hallmarks of his work.) He makes the interesting point that he likes to end his stories with a line of dialogue that takes them a step ahead of where the film ends; life goes on. The interviews with Yoshioka, Nanri, and Hagiwara discuss their feelings about their characters, the story, working with Shinkai, recording their parts in the studio, and seeing the final film for the first time.
Not included from All The Anime’s set for The Place Promised in Our Early Days is the secondary feature Voices of a Distant Star, the interview with Shinkai about that film, the storyboards for it, and his short subject She and Her Cat. For some reason, GKIDS/Shout! Factory have opted to include all of those with their release of 5 Centimeters per Second instead. They do make a more logical accompaniment for The Place Promised in Our Early Days, since it forms a collection of all of Shinkai’s earliest works, but that’s not what GKIDS chose to do. Fans will doubtless want to pick up 5 Centimeters per Second anyway, so it all comes out in the end. Shinkai’s entire filmography consists of one remarkable film after another, so you can’t go wrong starting anywhere, but for those who want to see how he’s developed as a filmmaker, you’ll have to jump back and forth between those two discs to watch things in their proper chronological order. It’s worth the effort, though.
- Stephen Bjork