Brave Story (Director: Kôichi Chigira, Japan, 2006): Wataru is a normal eleven-year-old boy. When Ashikawa, the new kid at school, tells him about a doorway to a magical world where wishes are granted, he’s curious. Then his father tells him he’s leaving the family, and a few days later, his mother collapses and has to be rushed to hospital. With his family coming apart, Wataru finds his way to the portal, hoping to restore his family to the way it used to be.
What starts off as a fairly standard “quest” film becomes much deeper as the story unfolds. Wataru discovers that Ashikawa is also in the magical world called Vision and that both of them are searching for five gemstones which will allow them to meet the Goddess of Fortune, who will grant only one wish. On his journey, he makes friends and acquires a sort of gang. When he finds out that Ashikawa is destroying parts of the world and causing the deaths of creatures in his single-minded pursuit of the gemstones, Wataru begins to re-evaluate how important his wish is.
By the time the two friends end up confronting each other, Wataru has changed. His experience in the world of Vision has helped him to see that there are more important things than self-interest. He decides to use his wish another way. But first, he has to stop Ashikawa from destroying the world completely. I liked the implication that Ashikawa was treating the magical world much like a game, and that he didn’t care about any of the creatures in it.
Some very big themes are addressed in a film aimed at such a young audience, and it was strangely moving in one scene to watch Wataru literally “battle” another version of himself who wanted only to have his family back. I was touched by the way he was able to integrate all of his anger, sadness, selfishness, bitterness, and as he puts it, immaturity into the more heroic person he’s been while on his quest. Though the film was unabashedly sentimental, it certainly didn’t seem shallow.
I’m always curious about the way Japanese films about children always feature missing parents. There were thematic elements shared with films like My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away, and I suppose the lesson is that we only really grow up when our parents aren’t there to take care of us.
Technically, the film was beautiful to look at. There were some anime staples, and also some visual borrowings from the Miyazaki films, but there was also some really eye-popping use of CGI blended with the traditional two-dimensional animation.
My only real criticism is that the linear quest structure of the narrative made the film run about 15 minutes too long. At 111 minutes, I think it’s pushing the limit, especially for younger viewers. That being said, I really thought the theme was an important one, and not just for children. Life is full of sadness as well as happiness. Instead of trying to change things that are out of our control, we need to accept our lives and create our own destinies.