Anime / The Place Promised in Our Early Days
"On those now distant days... we made a promise we couldn't keep."

The Place Promised In Our Early Days (Japanese: 雲のむこう、約束の場所 Kumo no Mukō, Yakusoku no Basho, literally "Beyond the Clouds, the Promised Place") is Makoto Shinkai's second film, and was released in 2004. It is his first feature length film, which was made possible by his collaboration with a large staff. The story is set in the late 1990s in Japan; during 1974, the nation was divided into two halves, one administered by the United States, and the other by the Union. The Union constructed a massive tower reaching far into the sky in the same year, and the sheer scale of the tower made it visible from Tokyo on a clear day.

As teenagers, Hiroki and Takuya became friends with a girl, Sayuri, and came to know each other better while travelling to and from school on the train. When Hiroki and Takuya find a crashed drone plane, they begin to repair it and promise to take Sayuri to the tower. However, she mysteriously disappears before they can and the boys' lives drift apart.

Three years later, tensions between the UN alliance and the Union grow. Takuya is now working with the Alliance to understand parallel universes, while Hiroki is a student in Tokyo, who suffered increasing melancholy as a result of his numerous dreams about Sayuri. He receives a letter from her one day, and as the threat of war builds in the divided nation, he discovers that the mystery of Sayuri's disappearance is linked to the fate of the world and resolves to fulfill his promise to her.

The film concerns similar thematic elements to Shinkai's previous work, Voices of a Distant Star, in that both works relate to the consequences of being separated from the individuals that one holds dear.

The Place Promised In Our Early Days provides examples of:

  • Alternate History: The US occupies most of Japan, and Hokkaido is held by the Union - who are still around and an advanced technological power in The '90s. One subtle example has an F-23 take place in a dogfight; in reality, the F-23 never entered production, as the Air Force opted to instead go with the F-22 Raptor.
  • Alternate Universe: Both the Union and the United States pour resources towards understanding of parallel universes, which drives the story forward.
  • All There in the Manual: The movie's backstory is provided in detail in the accompanying Printed Materials from the DVD.
  • Always Save the Girl: Even at great risk to himself, Hiroki flies over hostile airspace amidst combat in trying to reach the tower and help Sayuri awaken.
  • Artistic License – Physics: The primary propulsion on the heroes' aircraft transitions from its jet engine to a superconducting motor midflight, upon which the aircraft's wings begin rotating slowly like a massive propeller. Despite providing negligible thrust or lift, the airplane remains airborne somehow.
  • Aspect Montage: Hiroki and Takuya's work on the Bella Ceila is shown in great detail, as is the hanger for storing their aircraft.
  • Author Appeal: Makoto Shinkai seems to be following in Miyazaki's footsteps in this regard; amazing attention is paid to anything that flies, whether they are planes, helicopters, or missiles. Furthermore, trains play a significant role in this movie.
  • Barrier Maiden: Sayuri's coma is preventing the tower from swallowing up the world.
  • Beautiful Void: The alternate universe appears unsullied, but is heart-wrenchingly desolate.
  • Bizarrchitecture: The tower is extremely tall; it rises far above all mountains and visible cloud layers, and is seemingly visible from most parts of Japan. Along with its mysterious purpose, there's the mystery of how it doesn't collapse under its own weight, or a stiff breeze.
  • Break the Cutie: Sayuri's isolation in the nether world drives this point home
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Played for Drama; Sayuri loses her memories before she can say it.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Sayuri mentions early in the movie that her grandfather is a physicist; his role is significant in that he is the one who designed the tower.
  • Cold War: The backdrop for most of the movie. It heats up to the point of open warfare, but apparently things stopped short of World War III given that the movie ends on a happy note.
  • Cool Plane: The Velaciela
  • Distressed Damsel: Sayuri
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Sayuri's dreams are set on a surreal world, and she has a premonition of awakening prior to the events of the film's final moments.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending:
  • First-Name Basis: Sayuri uses Hiroki's given name after waking up. In Japanese, individuals only refer to each other by first name if they are extremely close.
  • Girly Run: Sayuri is depicted as running in this manner
  • Happy Ending: Sayuri and Hiroki are reunified after she recovers from her coma, awakening to Hiroki and promising they'll start over again.
  • Ill Girl: While cheerful and kind, Sayuri disappears mid-film owing to a coma, while scientists probe her mind in the hopes of learning more about parallel universes.
  • Lancer: Takuya, who serves as a foil for Hiroki. At the beginning of the movie, the boys' characters are revealed through the sports they partake: Takuya is serious and focused, and therefore a good speed skater, but Hiroki is something of a space cadet, which is why he's a poor archer.
  • Nuclear Weapons Taboo: The massive fireball generated by the missile used to destroy the tower bears the characteristics of a nuclear weapon in all but name.
  • The Promise: A promise is what drives the plot: Hiroki and Takuya promise to take Sayuri to Hokkaido in their homemade ultralight when it is complete.
  • Scenery Porn: The landscapes and surroundings are beautifully depicted. Whether it be grass fields under a vast sky or railway tracks reaching for the horizon, each scene is meticulously crafted.
  • Sphere of Destruction: The tower replaces a semi-spherical area of the surrounding countryside with blue-black void. This is because it overwrites one universe with another.
  • Surprisingly Good English: This is present in addition to surprisingly good Russian. While the accents aren't perfect, the grammar itself is correct.
  • Two Guys and a Girl: Hiroki, Takuya and Sayuri befriend one another, sharing summer days together working on the Bella Ceila or capitalising on the pleasant weather.