Now in his 40s, anime master Makoto Shinkai awaits a Stateside breakout. YOUR NAME/’16, a huge hit in Japan, caused barely a ripple here while this ambitious feature (aka JOURNEY TO AGARTHA, his second as solo director) didn’t get a proper theatrical release. Good as it is, you’ll see why. Neatly divided in half, it begins as a girl’s coming-of-age tale, then switches gears (and a few principals) for something of an Orpheus/Eurydice journey to the UnderWorld. That should make sense, the girl’s father died when she was a kid, and her unexpected expedition partner, her new teacher, is desperately seeking his late wife. Yet, the girl's father isn’t mentioned again, yet alone looked for. Odd. And those voices the girl heard in the mountains back in the opening half? Not space aliens, but souls from the netherworld, something confirmed with help from a rogue kitty-cat and a dreamboat boy, each visiting topside. It's how she discovers the secret portal that goes below, leading to a series of action adventures, dangerous flesh eating beasts, weird religious rites and the breaking of a few social taboos. ALICE IN HADES? All very Japanese in tone, especially compared to the first half. Plenty scary, too. (So, this one’s Kid-Friendly with Warning Lights.) Yet what an eye for landscape, spectacle, movement and architectural detail from Shinkai. Perhaps YOUR NAME, a teenage personality-swap tale, finds the sweet spot.
DOUBLE-BILL: Shinkai’s considerable gifts are better displayed in the gorgeous, concentrated final segment of 5 CENTIMETERS PER SECOND/’07.