The fairy tale follows a young man named Guskou in the Tohoku forests of northeastern Japan in the 1920s. After an onslaught of droughts and natural disasters, Guskou is forced to leave his home and search for a better life elsewhere. Guskou joins a group of scientists at the Ihatov Volcano Department, which deals with the same natural disasters that drove Guskou from his home.
Kenji Miyazawa is known for writing children's books and it shows here. This is basically a movie for children, only a bit more challenging.
It's mostly apparent in the main character, Budori. He would be an ideal role model for a child: caring for his family, studying diligently, even WANTING to study, working hard and persevering no matter what. Making a heroic decision in the end only tops it off.
Except he isn't. He shows no attachment to literally anyone but his little sister. Not even his parents, let alone his employers and teachers. Earlier I wrote that he cares for his family - well, technically, he
does; after all, his sister is part of his family. But that's really the only person he truly cares about. Not that he isn't interacting with everyone else; in fact, he is clearly distraught when both parents leave the house, but he doesn't even remember them afterwards. Now imagine the fate of those he only had brief encounters with.
On one hand, this can be seen as a good thing, we really don't need yet another idealized main character. On the other hand, this is the biggest flaw of this movie. Since there's little interaction and no attachment to any character, most of them feel like tools for making Budori spew out some lines or make some actions and once they did their job, they are disposed of, so quickly that there isn't enough time for the viewer to care about them. This is not a good way to draw attention.
Speaking of drawing attention, the overall story is not really good at it, either. It IS solid and rather well-written, but not really much is going on here and it feels almost pointless. Don't get me wrong, I didn't dislike the story, but I didn't really like it either. There is a boy who went through natural and personal disasters in his childhood days, managed to persevere, went to the big city, studied and saved many people from another disaster. And life goes on like it always did and always will. That's one part. Another part is the inner world of Budori, his development, his role in this world and his trying to come to terms with life and death. I personally feel this part is better done, because it actually makes use of the medium and relies heavily on symbolism, art and animation.
And this is where the movie truly shines. One can literally see the amount of work that went into the art and it's really amazing. The first half of the movie is set in the countryside, so we get to see some really beautiful landscape panoramas. The second half is the city of Ihatov and while the art still remains beautiful it isn't nearly as amazing. Besides, there's quite some CGI in Ihatov, it's quite bad and does stand out because of that. Also, it feels like the movie tries really hard to be a Ghibli - but there's more to Ghibli than just the landscape art. Nevertheless, it's all really impressive. Is the mood happy and complacent? It shows in the art. Is there something new that just came to life and shines brightly? It shows in the art. Is something deteriorating over time? It shows in the art.
It's even more impressive when the movie deals with Budori's inner world. Here everything becomes surreal and it's hard to tell whether the events should be taken literally, whether it's just a metaphor for something or whether it's simply embellishment. It's even harder to tell whether those scenes depict actual events or whether it's all in Budori's head. Those scenes were what I enjoyed most in this movie.
To sum it up, while this movie isn't outstanding, it's really solid and does have some value. Do show it to your children but be prepared for their complaints when their attention starts wavering.
In a nutshell, the movie is a slow paced slice of life film of a boy who after a tough childhood is forced to venture out into the world and find his place.
A story that has been done many times before, sometimes done very well and some times not so much. This movie is for me a bit of both.
The main character Budori, I found to be a bit lacking and bland. He shows little emotion and fails to stand out much at all. He is a hard worker and willingly accepts any work he is given without complaint.
Although given his situation, it is understandable. But for a main character, even in this sort of story, is rather dull. Half of his dialogue pretty much boils down to him just saying 'yes, sir.'.
The story itself is nice and is the sort of thing that has been seen many times before and will be seen again. However I felt it could have been executed a little better. I found the transitions betweens stages in his life a little lacking, as if he just accepted each part of his life, while forgetting his past. Especially when it comes to his family.
My main problem with the story, is at least for me it is a bit confusing. But this may also be what people will enjoy the most. The film is very open and leaves a lot to your imagination to be interpreted how you will. If you enjoy movies that leave open questions of what something is or what happened, whether something is literal or a metaphor, you will probably enjoy this. However if you are more like me, who likes solid answers and everything to be summed up perfectly in a nice bow (although I usually miss the point anyway ;O) , you may not find this type of story telling quite to your liking. But that isn't to say you won't enjoy it.
However I think by fat the strongest part of the story is the animation and the soundtrack. It is beautiful throughout and I would almost say to watch it just for the animation.
So overall a nice, beautifully animated, enjoyable, some what slow, but not boring movie, which generally makes you really think about what is happening in rather than just telling a detailed story.
Guskou Budori was not the kind of movie I expected. I thought I was going to watch "Arashi No Yoru Ni meets epic fantasy battles with cats", spiced with a decent adventure anime plot. What I got was a slow-paced, deep, poetic and philosophical slice of life that really got me thinking about life.
The visuals and the soundtrack are awesome, and I enjoyed the symbolic nature of the movie (though I feel like the movie derails a bit in the surrealistic sequences, even though I liked them).
The characters and the dialogue felt a bit soulless now and then. Especially the tight-lipped Budori felt like
his sole purpose was to act as the eyes of the audience, so that the actual plot could unveil around him.
Still, as I watched the credits roll, I got more and more curious about the original novel, and I feel like this movie left out quite a bit of it. It's definitely worth watching, just don't expect to see a traditional fast-paced adventure story.