Beyond the Clouds

By bluemist on March 30th, 2005

Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho


Mere 320×179 screenshots can’t do this one justice. This anime movie is absolutely gorgeous. So many scenes look like lush CG to me, and the cinematic depiction of a wide sky with clouds rivals those of Kyoto Animation’s Air. All this coming (mostly) from one man, Makoto Shinkai. He gained extreme popularity some time ago by releasing a one-man anime project, which turned out to be Hoshi no Koe (Voices of a Distant Star). Yup, he did all those 24-or so minutes of animation all by himself on a Mac. He also does some short stuff, such as She and Her Cat and openings of various bishoujo games such as Wind –a breath of heart–. Now maybe with more staff and powerful computer hardware and software, he made this movie.

See that huge line among the clouds? That is a tall tower soaring across the sky. We follow the lives of three people. Two boys are attracted to this one girl, as well as their wanting to reach the tower by plane. And so they make a plane and made a promise, that the three of them will go to the tower. These characters live in a world where Japan is divided into the North and South, and much like North and South Korea, the divide has brought about intense pressure politically as well as technologically. The tower is at one regime, and the three characters are in another. Under the circumstances, will they fulfill their promise?

The plot thickens when the girl is having these strange dreams. Over time the characters were separated. One boy joins a research facility, and is also secretly in a terrorist faction aimed to stop the impending war of the two sides. The other boy continues on life in another city. The boys would know later that the girl they adored is in a coma for three years now. When fate brings the three together again, what will they do? Knowing that the girl’s sickness is related to the tower, will they finally fulfill the long-forgotten promise? To fly the plane in the sky to the tower?

Besides the love, friendship and promise story, there is a sci-fi element to the movie regarding the girl and the purpose of the tower. Apparently in this world, there are other parallel worlds, and somehow the tower is able to communicate with those parallel worlds, being able to replace the surroundings of the present world to those of the alternate world it connects to. The girl is also a vital part of the communication. All these science mumbo-jumbo veered me away from the main point of the story for a while, but it isn’t as annoying and confusing as some of those crap from other anime.

Again I say, the animation and art is absolutely amazing. Of course it’s a movie so it should be that way, but the backgrounds in particular look so superb it’s like playing a 2D Half-Life 2 with a very powerful computer. It even kicks bishoujo game CG out of the competition. Only recent Studio Ghibli movies are as beautiful. The angles of the shots are so cinematic, and the character design, though kinda simple, blends well into the picture. Gotta love those shadows, lens flares and other lighting and weather effects. Like Air, it is as if DVD-quality is not enough (need something higher than DVD resolutions, like HDTV) to store the quality of the work. And at last, after months of drought, I have found another soundtrack to remember. The music is absolutely amazing also, it mixes with the scenes very well, and the themes stick to my mind even now.

Of course, it has some shortcomings, such as the ending which may be left to multiple interpretations, the potential story points which have abrupt ends, and the slow drag of some parts of the movie. If this movie were shorter, it would have been a candidate for a classic. But these are mere nitpicks, and considering that this was (mostly) made by one man, that alone is quite a shocker. This movie is a definite must-watch.

1 Comment

Posted By: Jay On: January 31, 2007 At: 1:31 pm

I agree. The animation style and technique is breathtaking. The only lacking section is that there are too many CG scenes that focuses on nature (like dripping water, rain, sky scenery, etc.) with limited movement from other objects. The character designs can also be improved.