Makoto Shinkai has been called the next Hayao Miyazaki, for good reason. In his newest work he creates an adventure narrative in the vain of the greatest of Miyazaki’s films, a departure from his extremely emotional love stories. By making a Ghibli-esuq film he is making a direct challenge to the master of Japanese animation but is it too early for him to be making such bold declarations or is this Shinkai clearly declaring his rightful place in the animation world? Asuna is a young girl who has been forced to mature early due to the loss of her father and the hectic schedule of her mother. She spends her time on the mountain listening to strange music from her crystal radio. One day a mysterious boy saves her from a beast, this starts her on a journey that brings her to the underworld Agartha and will lead her to a power capable of resurrecting the dead.
The film is gorgeous. Known for his fantastic art and attention to detail, Shinkai again creates some beautiful landscapes. There are dozens of frames in the film that deserve to be framed and hung on a wall, moments where I audibly gasped at the landscapes that Shinkai creates. Shinkai is probably the best artist currently working in Japan and he has poured all of his talent into crafting this film. When Asuna descends into Agartha we’re treated to the remnants of a once great civilization, here Shinkai builds magnificent ruins and gives them an unbelievable sense of scale. It can’t be understated how a meticulous use of background detail aids world and character building. Being able to see shelves and books, various containers, and other elements of life make the people of Agartha come alive. The creation of a lived in look to the villages and cities is comparable to Miyazaki’s towns in Nausccia and Princess Mononoke. The audience is immersed in this world completely. It feels alive.