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A view from the Blu (-ray) on DVDBeaver by Leonard Norwitz

 

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    Modus Operandi     The Scorecard:     

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The Place Promised in Our Early Days [Blu-ray]

 

(Makoto Shinkai, 2005)

 

 

 

 

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Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: CoMix Waves Films

Blu-ray: CoMix Waves Films

 

Disc:

Region: A

Runtime: 90 minutes

Chapters: 18

Case: Standard Blu-ray Amaray case

Release date: April 18, 2008

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC / MPEG4

 

Audio:

Japanese 5.1 PCM; Japanese 2.0 PCM

 

Subtitles:

Japanese

 

Extras:

• Trailer in HD

 

 

The Film:

Two months ago I wrote in this column about an unusual three-part anime titled: 5 centimeters per second. The Japanese-sourced Blu-ray, alas, had no English subtitles, but the three episodes were brief enough that I felt one could watch an American or UK edition with subtitles followed by the Japanese movie with complete understanding of what was going on. The Place Promised in Our Early Days a year earlier and was Shinkai's first feature length anime. At just over 90 minutes without subtitles, this blu-ray makes the transition between English and Japanese videos a little more problematic – but not utterly impractical. The question is whether the film is worth it, to say nothing of the retail cost, which is double that of the typical blu-ray. My comparisons were with both the U.S. and the U.K. 480i editions. (At just this moment the UK there is an inexpensive, readily available 2-disc set that also includes Shinkai's first foray into the art, Voices of a Distant Star.}

The Movie : 9>8
The setting for The Place Promised in Our Early Days is an alternate timeline subsequent to the end WWII in which, as far as Japan was concerned, the northern island of Hokkaido was broken off from a Japan/U.S. Alliance into a political entity known only as the "Union" – a curious name, considering that the southern communities would have preferred no separation at all and, in fact, rebellious factions arise that would seek to achieve just that, by violent means if necessary.


The center of the mysterious goings on in the north, now called Ezo, is a Tower that looms into the stratosphere. The Tower is nothing, if not mindbending in its beauty, simplicity and purpose, which, we learn later, appears to have something to do with the creation of a parallel universe that could conceivably replace the one that we know. Two extremely bright and resourceful high school students, Takuya and Hiroki, had been working secretly for the past few years to build an airplane that would fly to the north and discover whatever they can learn about the Tower.

Their classmate, Sayuri, is also fascinated with the Tower, as the boys are with her. The boys make a promise to fly to the Tower, once the "Bella Ciela" is completed, and take Sayuri with them. But time intervenes, and each goes their separate ways for next three years: Takuya lands a high tech job working for the government doing experimental research into parallel universes, which both the tower and Sayuri, who has fallen into a curious sleep for all this time, seem inextricably linked. Hiroki, for his part, becomes disillusioned and lonely, unable to come to terms with his promise unfulfilled and his own dream life, in which Sayuri figures prominently.
 

Image: 10/10
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray DVDs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVDs, including SD 480i.

Like
5 centimeters , the image quality for this Blu-ray is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. What I wrote about 5 centimeters applies here as well: Shinkai Mikoto's watercolor palette positively glows with life. The color is dense and translucent by turns, brilliant and quiet, realistic, fanciful and lyrical. I think the effect is more transcendent on 5 centimeters because the narrative is so compressed and relatively wordless, thus depending on imagery to make the emotional connection. But if you like the one, you will certainly appreciate the other, since the artwork is similar – though character design is a little more advanced in 5 centimeters.

The Chinese AVP SD-DVD edition of 5 centimeters was marred by edge-enhancement, the Region 2/UK edition of Place Promised shows some EE, but it is not nearly as evident as the AVP. The Region 1/US edition, which is more properly color saturated compared to the UK (though not nearly to the extent of the Blu-ray) is roughly the same. As expected, the UK edition is a little sharper, but is curiously noisier. I have included comparative crops of full resolution captures of the same frame from the blu-ray and both the U.S. and U.K. 480i editions that reveal, even for a relatively narrow grayscale, the extent to which greater resolution and an absence of artifacts allows us to feel its own unique reality.

 

 

Zoomed-in

Blu-ray TOP, UK SD MIDDLE, US SD BOTTOM

(CLICK TO ENLARGE)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 8/7
This is almost as stunning an audio track as 5 centimeters: subtle and atmospheric, with realistic train and air travel noises, cityscape and office and computer room sounds. The earlier movie is more ambitious than
5 centimeters in that there are also various sounds of battle: machine gun fire and explosions and the like. These don't come off with nearly the force of feature film audio tracks but, considering the overall dreamlike quality of the canvas, I doubt that they're meant to. Again, compared to 5 centimeters, I found the music a little less inspired, though often quite lovely, even hypnotic.


One further note that might be of interest: the feature film duration on all three editions are within a few seconds of one another, meaning that the UK/PAL DVD does not suffer from speed-up. I confirmed this by ear and by running the PAL and the Blu-ray simultaneously. Refreshing to see an uncompressed audio track (the 2.0 option) without the, often artificiality of, surround.
 

Operations: 7
As with other Japanese language DVDs I found these menus easy enough to sort out. Since we're used to standard layouts, and this one is not unusual. Furthermore, the graphics and the occasional Arabic numeral and English word tell the story.

 

Extras: 1
The Bonus Features amount to a trailer in HD. It's pretty, though.

 

 

Bottom line: 8
As noted for the Japanese blu-ray of 5 centimeters per second, despite its high ratings for image, you should not leap on this BRD any too quickly. Remember it has no subtitles, nor any extra features to speak of in any language; and there's a good deal of sci-
fi-babble in the second half of the film. True, I found the motivation of the two boys leading up to the finale a little arbitrary, and the finale itself, unexpectedly anticlimactic. And the Blu-ray is expensive – nearly U.S.$60 at current prices. On the other hand, after watching one of the subtitled versions, you should be able to immerse yourself into its dreamlike scenario and a breathtaking image. Mesmerizing.

Leonard Norwitz
July 26th, 2008

 

 

 

 

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