Not a lot has been written about Makoto Shinkai’s new film Hoshi o Ou Kodomo (Children who Chase the Star/Planet) outside Japan so I thought I’d give it a highly critical review here. This movie has some twists, they’re not really essential to enjoying it but they do reveal a lot so I’m putting this behind a spoiler warning.
My recommendation for this movie is to skip buying any movie tickets, plane flights, or poor quality cams, and watch the HQ fansub if bored. It has some pretty pictures that are best enjoyed on your computer screen. The plot has some good elements but is overall incoherent. Character development was apparently ignored. Overall, Shinkai needs a co-producer.
A girl with a large nose, whom I’ll call Hapless-chan because I can’t remember her name, is listening to a magical radio with what is UNMISTAKABLY Nausicaa’s pet catbeast Teto. Suddenly a dead god from Princess Mononoke assaults the two of them, but she is rescued by Ashitaka/Shun. This guy is apparently her first friend ever. He immediately jumps off a cliff and dies forever. Now she has a new Japanese teacher at school. He has them read the myth of Izanami in Yomi from the Kojiki. She barges into his apartment after school and he tells her that the earth is hollow and people live within. Now Shun appears again, actually it turns out it’s his brother Shin, but she doesn’t understand the difference. This leads to the following highly memorable dialogue:
Shin: I’m Shun’s brother Shin.
Hapless-chan: Where’s Shun?
Shin: Shun wa shinda (Shun died).
Suddenly a military helicopter comes out of NOWHERE and shoots at them– don’t these things make noise?!– and they are chased into a cave by military people with flak jackets and big guns, one of whom turns out to be her Japanese teacher…! The crystal from the radio opens a magical door and the three of them get into an underground lake that’s filled with the breathing liquid from Eva and they fall into the center of the earth somehow.
The next half-hour is spent traipsing around the hollow earth, showing off ruins and stuff. We learn that the professor fought in the British Army in World War II, which is strange because he doesn’t appear to be 80 years old or British! Next it turns out that shadows in the inner world are carriers of some kind of zombie, apparently only some kind of shadows because there are shadows everywhere (how do light sources work inside the Earth anyway?) but anyway these zombies serve as pointless plot devices for Shin to save Hapless-chan from certain death. Some bullshit happens that’s irrelevant to the plot for a while. Teto dies and is eaten by the robot from Laputa. Shin fights to save Hapless-chan’s life, and loses, but the people fighting him get bored and leave. Despite his saving her life three times, the connection between these two seems remarkably forced, especially since she can’t stop talking about his God-forsaken dead brother whom she only knew for about two days.
The Laputa thing eats Shin and Hapless-chan then jumps into a bottomless pit and turns into sparkles. This efficient mode of transportation leaves the pair of Laputaesque child travelers, one of whom as noted above closely resembles Ashitaka, in a good position to rescue their professor friend, but also at the bottom of a bottomless pit. I won’t spoil the end of the movie (suffice to say it’s as bizarre and disconnected as everything else I’ve mentioned here) but they are shown getting out of the pit somehow during the end roll and it’s not really clear to me how that happened. Also there are still zombies everywhere, correct? Nothing was resolved in this movie at all. Hapless-chan goes home and has fond memories of her friends Shun and Shin and Crazy Professor Dude, none of whom she will ever see again. She apparently forgets about her dad or whatever. We skip the scene where she tries to explain her month-long unexplained absence to her mom, and she is shown graduating without being on suicide watch or anything. The end?
Also everything takes place at sunset.
Hapless-chan is hapless. Despite being the protagonist she just follows people around and is unable to fend for herself or even coherently state why she’s there. In a revealing scene, when the professor wants to talk about his mission and meaning with a village chief, Hapless-chan gets bored and walks away to talk to Shin, who just wants her to go away.
Shin is a stock hero character.
Professor dude is actually kind of cool with his encyclopedic knowledge of stuff, but after the interesting initial scenes is suddenly horribly recast as a cold and calculating World War II veteran-cum-Man In Black.
The background research on mythology and earth legends was great.
The night terror scene was genius, if you’re going to watch this movie I guarantee you will like that at least.