published in Empire No.84, Sydney
Calling a film ‘Brave Story’ is about as dumb as calling it ‘Hero’s Journey’ or ‘Grand Quest’. The notion that cinema is capable of generating portentous worth in the guise of the most clichéd conceits toward story-telling governs moviemaking these days. Holding such a view, I audibly groaned at the advance press for a Japanese anime with the very un-Japanese title Brave Story. But I was very wrong in my assumptions as to its worth.
Brave Story is on the surface a classical enterprise. 11 year old Wataru embarks on a mystical journey in another dimension in order to be granted a wish to change the fate of his mother stricken seriously ill in hospital. With a synopsis befitting a Dreamquest production, one would think that this anime has its sights set on capturing an international (western) children’s entertainment market. Brave Story may or may not achieve this, but the film’s innately non-Western approach to children’s entertainment will ultimately stymie its global reach. However, that same sensibility contributes to its power and originality.
While the exploits in the fantasy dimension through which Wataru journeys are richly detailed and rendered (bearing the influence in parts of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away) its depiction of Wataru’s domestic environment is tersely effective and dramatically compelling. Prior to his mother collapsing and being taken to hospital, his father has just announced that he is leaving the family, pushing Wataru into a panic attack. Read symbolically, the mystical journey Wataru undertakes is less another baby boomer D&D wet-dream and more an angular therapeutic workout in a private world where the social is excluded and all manifestations of psychological demons are allowed. The fact that this world is centred around an 11 year old boy is testament to Japan’s non-ageist approach to mixing drama and entertainment. An entertaining ride with dark social undercurrents.