The Place Promised In Our Early Days – Analysis [THE Prologue]

aka: Beyond the Clouds, The Promised Place. Kumo no Mukō, Yakusoku no Basho.
One of Shinkai’s most enigmatic and open-ended movies, with a hell lot of symbolism and a heartbreaking story. Obviously, a favorite of mine.
A couple of years ago I found this AWESOME interpretation by this guy on Fandompost. Unfortunately I was on mobile and could only Ctrl+c the text. Ironically or not, when I got home I couldn’t find it anymore.
If you happen to know this guy or is the one, PLEASE let me know so I can give the proper credits to you.
To be honest, this is probably the only analysis I’ve ever read on this movie that I 100% agree with. And the name for this post is part of the reasons why.
The movie is perfect, the storyline is flawless and like he will digress about, everything falls into place …except the prologue. That damn prologue ruins every possibility of a canon happy ending. You simply can’t tell what happens, even after re-watching for tons of times, it’s ultimately down to “your own interpretation”. Based Shinkai is based.
Enough of me, for his analysis:

[EDIT] Found it!

He’s posting under the username Spoofer and the said post was on this thread.

ATTENTION!
THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS ABSOLUTE SUBSTANTIAL MAJOR SPOILERS.

                    
Of the three theatrical Shinkai films I’ve watched (haven’t seen Children yet), Place Promised’s ending is by far the most ambiguous, frustrating, and potentially disheartening, depending on how you interpret it. Both Voices and 5CM detail intense emotional struggles for the characters, but end with healthy and/or positive
emotional choices, and have enough silver linings woven into the stories so that Shinkai makes it clear [or explicitly states] that the characters make out okay.
Place Promised has the characters go through intense emotional struggles, provides perhaps the most uplifting final few minutes a Shinkai work has ever experienced (and therefor gives the illusion that we are receiving a happy ending), which all (potentially) immediately disappears when you recall that the prologue of the movie (most likely*) takes place long after that ending. The lyrics to the final song don’t help the idea of a happy ending much, either. In the end, the entire goal, flow, and feelings of the movie can be sabotaged by that opening prologue. >_< At least, that's the way I interpret it; a lot of Place Promised fans struggle with that prologue.

First, to recap the ending: Tsukinoe’s Tower is destroyed, Sayuri is awakened, but she quickly loses all the memories of the connection that she felt to Hiroki that she developed in her dream world (as they were intertwined with the existence of the Tower). Upon waking, she desperately wants to remember and verbalize those feelings, but as they are quickly lost she’s only left with a vague feeling of what they might’ve been.
She apparently still retains the feelings she had for Hiroki prior to her coma (which were a lot more than nothing), but we can deduce that the most powerful feelings have vanished. Prior to her coma, she always referred to Hiroki by his family name, Fujisawa. In her dream world where her feelings for him grew and grew, only then did she start affectionately referring to him by his given name, Hiroki. After losing her memories, she’s again back to calling him by Fujisawa, again emphasizing the severe loss she experienced along with the tower. It’s okay though, as we’re given three indications that it’ll be all right:
1) Hiroki: “We’ve lost the place of our promise in this world, but even so, our lives begin now.”
2) Sayuri is grabbing and hugging Hiroki tightly, even if she doesn’t fully understand the most powerful reasons why.
3) The coda after the credits depicts the Bela Ciela peacefully returns to the launch site as it
exists in an uplifting spring or summer-like state, even though it departed during the dead of winter. A flight in the future hinting that they’re still together? Pure symbolism? Simple design oversight (least
likely)?

Now, the single most contrary evidence to that possibly uplifting ending… The prologue clearly depicts an adult Hiroki, and it is explicitly stated that the North and South have since reconciled and reformed into one nation. The Tower is no longer seen, having presumably been destroyed by the actions at the end of the film. If we are to believe this prologue acts more as an epilogue in Hiroki’s real life*, it fits in perfectly with the events that have taken place. The only problem is that the prologue starts off with the recurring line: “‘I always have the feeling that I’m losing something,’ she said.”, Hiroki first appears as just another average person in a suit in the rat race of life among countless other identical looking people in the train station, he appears sullen and regretful throughout most of the scenes, his face is always half covered in shadow, he seems to be talking about his connection to Sayuri as if it was now a part of his past, and he has an incredibly painful look on his face when his vision of a child Sayuri runs past him and then disappears. The prologue deliberately ends on the frame where the Tower would have been if it still existed, and again seems to no longer be there (there are clouds covering a great deal of where the Tower once stood, but the Tower was always deliberately depicted as rising up infinitely into the sky, representing all manner of things, but specifically in its height: endless [childhood] possibility). Sayuri and the Tower were always shown together in the same frames (for obvious reasons), and the Tower certainly represented the three main characters’ connection. Now that it is gone… The prologue gives strong
indications that Hiroki and Sayuri’s connection has also disappeared. Which again, is contrary to everything the movie seemed to be moving toward.

The ending song, “Kimi no Koe (Your Voice)”, is also explicitly about separation, the loss of physical connection, and having nothing left but bittersweet memories. It’s again ambiguous whether the song is supposed to represent the point in Hiroki’s life when he was depressed and aimless prior to rescuing Sayuri (hopefully), or whether it’s better sung from the older Hiroki’s point of view (depressing…). Shinkai did state that the lyrics were supposed to bridge the Hiroki from the ending with the one from the beginning (but even then it’s a bit unclear exactly what he meant. Ugh.) It’s worth noting that in all the seiyuu interviews, they themselves viewed the ending as happy and uplifting. Clearly more of the film’s contradictions, which I go into further down below.

As the entire movie was about connections, between the three characters, between the nations, with the tower presumably intentionally built by Tsukinoe where and how it was in an act of possible civil disobedience to the North in an effort to bring everything back together (why else would he deliberately build such an important structure / potential target between the borders of the two nations, constantly looming over both sides and becoming such an important symbol to all of their citizens, constantly reminding them of both their division and what they have in common; along with seemingly intentionally making his granddaughter, who resides in the South, the crucial key to its power), it would be a devastating blow to the theme if the prologue counter-acted all that. Then again, there was also the theme of parallel and repeating worlds.
There were obvious parallels between the lives and relationships of the kids with the adults, Okabe and Tomizawa. Their friendship, their professions, their past building an airplane of their own, the girl in the photograph. They could easily represent a more hardened, mature, adult future for the kids, depicting the realities of life (which is Shinkai’s theme in numerous other works) as opposed to neat and tidy happy endings. Coupled with the symbolism of Sayuri’s fleeting interaction with the ladybug early on in the movie, and the stark contrast between the telling of the story when the characters were children compared to the pacing and tone the film took on as they were adults, perhaps we are to believe that the bond between Hiroki and Sayuri did eventually disappear after all. There are so many conflicting themes in Place Promised, and to a lot of people exactly what the resolution was is certainly ambiguous, but mostly it’s just aggravating that seemingly no clear answers can be interpreted without counteracting other points or themes. :{ I still love the film, as I do all of Shinkai’s works. It’s certainly the hardest to analyze though, at least from my own perspective. You can tell how much I like discussing Shinkai’s works, so I’m glad somebody provided an opportunity here. ^_^;;

*I say that the prologue “most likely” takes place after the ending. It’s possible that it’s another possible vision of the future and doesn’t represent actual reality, as the film was rife with similar visions and concepts of alternate futures. In particular, the path and frames that Hiroki walks to the launch area is part of the exact same path Sayuri walked in one of her obvious visions. However, Sayuri was the only one who had the visions throughout the rest of the film (or was seen projecting her visions to Hiroki), and they were always off-color and accompanied by distinctive music. Plus, all of Sayuri’s premonitions came true.
None of these aspects were present in the prologue. But it’s something to think about nonetheless. Of note is that ADV labeled the prologue chapter as “Premonition,” though it’s in reference to the line “I always have the feeling that I’m losing something” where “feeling” is replaced by “premonition” in the dub, so I wouldn’t put much stock in the localized chapter title.

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2 comments

  1. As unlikely and squishy as this theory is, it’s possible that in the prologue the adult Hiroki we see is the denizen of an alternate universe, where it might have been possible Sayuri’s presence was apparent at some time, even though as far as we’re aware Sayuri only ever dwelled within one alternate reality in her dreams. Suffice to say that Sayuri, even though not physically travelling to adult Hiroki’s universe, may have appeared in a phantasmal state (as we saw), of which he reminisces. Now whether or not the phantasmal “flicker” of Sayuri in that scene was at the present time in her universe, or in the past from adult Hiroki’s perspective, I couldn’t know. But I have hope in currying an excuse for an uplifting ending in some sense according to the movie’s lore

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