With his new anime (YOUR NAME/’16) Japan’s second highest grosser of the year, Makoto Shinkai finds himself hailed as ‘the next Hayao Miyazaki.' An accolade that asks too much of this modest early effort, a three episode animated idyll that moves from puppy love to unrequited love to recollected love. But if it doesn’t quite make the case for Shinkai, this fresh, talented voice backs a pretty darn gorgeous product. Charting the course of two linked kids over two decades, the film hops fitfully forward thru mood & characteristic Japanese reserve, holding plot to a minimum as BOY and GIRL move to new towns while keeping in touch with the rapidly evolving technology of the time. (Some of this zips by via text screen messaging, but stick to the Japanese track w/ subtitles or lose the essential flavor.) Moving from school days to island-set adolescence, Shinkai saves his full animated arsenal for the visually stunning third episode set in Tokyo. Here, the separated couple come within a whisker of reconnecting, only to be brought up short by a coup de théâtre commuter train.* It’s but one of a series of breathtaking moments in this highly abbreviated segment, and it definitely sets you up for more Shinkai. But he’ll need more narrative thrust to grow his films past the one hour mark; mood, tone & atmosphere get you only so far.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Charles Chaplin’s A WOMAN OF PARIS/’23 ends with two ex-lovers in a similar near miss, but it’s too common a trope to be even an inadvertent quote. On the other hand, the visual jolt Shinkai uses to shut the meeting down is straight out of Buster Keaton’s two-reel silent comedy ONE WEEK/’20. And can it be entirely coincidental that Keaton’s first feature-length release, THE THREE AGES/’23, was also a trio of inter-related shorts, running precisely the same 63 minutes?
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The title refers to the speed of a falling cherry blossom petal.