The Place Promised in Our Early Days

    Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
    On those now distant days... we made a promise we couldn't keep.

    The Place Promised in Our Early Days (雲のむこう、約束の場所, Kumo no Mukō, Yakusoku no Basho, lit. "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 in Hokkaido, which they renamed Ezo, 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 in northmost Aomori Prefecture, Hiroki Fujisawa (Hidetaka Yoshioka, Chris Patton) and Takuya Shirakawa (Masato Hagiwara, Kalob Martinez) became friends with a girl, Sayuri Sawatari (Yūka Nanri, Jessica Boone), 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.

    Tropes used in The Place Promised in Our Early Days include:
    • Airplane of Love
    • Aliens in Cardiff: The Union built their mysterious tower in Hokkaido. The film is initially set in cold, desolate Aomori Prefecture at the northern tip of Honshu, and while a midway detour to Tokyo does have vital plot significance, heads back up north for the climax.
    • 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 Nineties.
    • 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: More or less all of the movie's backstory is in Printed Materials for the DVD.
    • Always Save the Girl: In the leadup to the climax, Takuya asks Hiroki to choose between saving Sayuri or the world. Ultimately played straight, however, as Takuya takes Sayuri out of hospital before the NSA can take custody of her, while Hiroki flies her through an active battlefield to reach the Tower in an attempt to rouse her.
    • Artistic License Physics: While in flight, the heroes' airplane's wings start rotating very slowly like a giant propeller, and its engines shut off. But somehow it continues flying without significant thrust or lift.
    • Aspect Montage:
      • One of these illustrates Takuya and Hiroki's work on restoring the plane, as well as the hangar used to store it.
      • Hiroki's loneliness while in Tokyo after Sayuri's disappearance is illustrated by a supercut of empty places.
    • 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.
    • Bittersweet Ending: Somewhere between this and Earn Your Happy Ending, as despite the years of separation and everything that happened, Takuya and Sayuri are reunited, the latter is awoken, and the threat of the tower is ended. However, Sayuri's memories of their relationship have been erased, forcing them to start over. Furthermore, depending on how one interprets the opening scene and the ending song's lyrics, even that might not work out.
    • 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.
    • Bland-Name Product: "Popsi" billboards can be seen.
    • 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
    • Covers Always Lie: This is not a story about musicians, even though the violins in the art might make you think so.
    • Damsel in Distress: Sayuri
    • Dawson Casting: Hiroki and Takuya's Japanese voice actors were in their thirties voicing teenage boys. Averted with Sayuri's Japanese voice actress who was barely 20 voicing said teenage girl at the time of release.
    • Dramatic Wind
    • Dreaming of Things to Come: Sayuri has visions of things that happen later on, including the destruction of the tower.
    • 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
    • Gory Discretion Shot: As Hiroki is flying to the Tower, his plane's canopy gets splattered by blood from somewhere, possibly the loser of the overhead dogfight that immediately preceded.
    • Hammer and Sickle Removed For Your Protection: Despite being released in 2004, it adheres to this. The Union's nationals speaking Russian and the historical fact that the Soviets were the only power in any position to take a chunk of Japan for themselves after World War II combine to make it obvious who they really must be, but this is never spelt out explicitly.
    • Ill Girl: Sayuri, whose being comatose and the cause thereof drive the plot.
    • 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.
    • No Antagonist: There is no direct enemy Hiroki has to overcome. Perhaps one could stretch and finger the builders of the Tower, but they don't appear onscreen, much less have any interaction with him, and it's left as a mystery how much of the effects of the Tower were deliberate in the first place.
    • 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.
    • Plot-Based Voice Cancellation: Early on, Sayuri tells Takuya something that is she is afraid might get laughed at. He assures her that he won't. What it actually is, though, is drowned out by the coincidental noise of a train. It's not till about two-thirds of the way in that we learn she was talking about the strange dreams she's been having.
    • 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.
    • Ripped from the Headlines: One news broadcast Hiroki watches talks about the UN demanding to be allowed to inspect the tower. Given the timing of the film's making, this is almost certainly a reference to similar demands made of Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion.
    • 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.
    • Star Scraper: The mysterious tower at the centre of the plot reaches past the clouds. Built in Hokkaido, it is visible from Tokyo, over 800 kilometres away, on a clear day. That's over double the distance between London and Paris, or one-fifth the distance between New York City and Los Angeles. Deriving from how the 3,776m-tall Mt Fuji is about 100km away from Tokyo, the proportionate height of the tower to be visible from eight times the distance is likely at least 30km. The Soviet Superscience needed to build such a behemoth is almost as impressive as its actual purpose.
    • Surprisingly Good English: This is present in addition to surprisingly good Russian. While the accents aren't perfect, the grammar itself is correct.
    • Take a Third Option: The ending.
    • Three Amigos
    • Title Drop: The words of the Japanese title, literally translated as "The Place Promised Beyond the Clouds", can be found in the lyrics of the ending song.
    • Together Umbrella
    • Twenty Minutes Into the Past: The film was released in 2004 but, apart from the opening set in an undated future, set in an Alternate History 1990s.
    • Two Guys and a Girl
    • Whole-Episode Flashback: The film starts in the future with an adult Hiroki going through Aomori and having hallucinations or visions of teenage Sayuri, then goes back to their teenage years.
    • The World Is Just Awesome: When the protagonists finally fly to Hokkaido at the end, they find it lush, peaceful and pristine, a seeming paradise untouched by the war being waged nearby.