THE PLACE PROMISED IN OUR EARLY DAYS (Japan, 2004) a.k.a. Kumo no Muko Yakusoku no Basho [literally translated as “Beyond the Clouds, the Promised Place”] is a Japanese anime film created and directed by Makoto Shinkai.
The genre is a romantic sci-fi drama with military tone. Set in the mid-90s, the film follows the story of Hiroki Fujisawa and Takuya Shirakawa, both child prodigies; and Sayuri Sawatari.
The three live in Aomori on the northern end of South Japan. It shows that Japan underwent separation during the 70’s where the main islands of Honshu and Kyushu were occupied by the US (referred to as Alliance) while the northern island, Hokkaido (called Ezo in the film) was occupied by the “Union” (referring to the Soviet Union). [Separations of Korea and Vietnam came into my mind].
A strange tower in Ezo was constructed by a scientist named Ekusun Tsukinoe. The tower is so tall that it could be seen throughout Japan standing mysteriously with the clouds.The three friends are in ninth grade, and they are fascinated by the Tower visible across the Tsugaru Strait to the north.
When the two boys have found a crashed plane, they named it “Bella Ciela” and work on rebuilding it using their summer job earnings from Mr. Okabe’s factory. The three teenagers promise to one day fly to Ezo to visit the Tower. However, before they can do this, Sayuri mysteriously disappears during the summer.
Three years later, Takuya and Hiroki have stopped working on the plane, having taken different paths. Although only in high school, the brilliant Takuya is working as a physicist at an Alliance scientific facility, researching parallel universes (per the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics) brought about by the influences coming from the Tower.
They found out that the Ezo Tower replaces matter around it with matter from other universes, but they do not yet know why it does this for only a 2-km radius.
Sayuri, on the other hand, is revealed to have been hospitalized over the past three years, having developed an extreme form of narcolepsy; she has been sleeping continuously for most of the three years. Her mind is trapped in an unpopulated parallel universe, where she is all alone. Alliance scientists has discovered that she is somehow connected to the Union’s research into parallel universes and the Ezo Tower’s ability to change the surrounding land into alternate possibilities.
Hiroki, meanwhile, has moved to Tokyo where he attends high school. He is haunted by frequent dreams of Sayuri and suffers from depression, leading a miserable and lonely existence.
A letter written by Sayuri before she became completely comatose eventually reaches him, giving him a lead to go looking for her. Though in separate universes, Hiroki and Sayuri manage to make brief, temporary contact, and Hiroki realises that the only way to wake Sayuri is to fly her body over the Tower, to take her to the “promised land of their childhood”.
Tensions continue to grow between the Alliance and the Union, as it becomes apparent that the Union is attempting to use the Tower as a weapon to replace the existing world with a parallel universe.
Things are further complicated when it is discovered that Ekusun Tsukinoe, who constructed the Tower, was Sayuri’s grandfather, and that the only thing preventing the Tower from activating is Sayuri’s coma (the closer she comes to wakening, the greater the radius of the area affected by the Tower), forcing Hiroki and Takuya to choose between saving the world or saving Sayuri.
This film received the Special Distinction (Feature Film category) in Seoul Comics and Animation Festival 2005; Silver Prize on Best Animated Film Section (by audience choice) of Public Prize in Canada Fantasia Film Festival among others.