I watched director Shinkai Makoto’s famous debut Hoshi no Koe when it was first available, a beautiful short film all the more astonishing because he produced it entirely by himself – drawing, animation: just about everything but the sound. Here, he has been given a greater budget and presumably an entire production studio, and made a full-length animation.
Unfortunately, it suffers the same problems as his debut, which while stunning to look at, was ponderous, mindlessly pretentious and self-indulgent. Both films have good premises: Hoshi concerns the heartache of a couple separated when one of them goes into space, the time it takes between sending and receiving messages growing exponentially wider as the distance between them increases, until finally messages sent by a youth are received by an older and older addressee; Beyond the Clouds, meanwhile, is about an alternative, divided Japan where a huge tower has been constructed, and some schoolboys’ dreams to one day fly there in a plane they are building.
The film is breathtakingly beautiful. Some of the finest depictions of skies and buildings I’ve ever seen pass by in the background of scenes only a few seconds long. However, the director unfortunately seems to think that painfully slow, vague storytelling is how to make something seem deep and profound and beautiful, and it just becomes dull. However, the characters are much more interesting than those of Hoshi no Koe, and overall it was a solid, dazzlingly beautiful film - just one I don’t think I’ll have much inclination to sit though again for a long, long time.
(originally written 12.5.05)