While you might not be familiar with Kenji Kamiyama’s name, he’s the force behind many successful anime projects, most notably Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Eden of the East. For his latest project, he wrote and directed this charming tale of a modern high school girl who has magical dreams that might or might not be true.
In 2020, as Japan is preparing for the opening of the Tokyo Olympics, Kokone Morikawa is a normal student plodding through her average life, her humdrum existence only interrupted when she dreams she’s a magical princess in her kingdom of Heartland, gifted with the ability to make tech come to life. Back in the real world, her mechanic father is kidnapped by a powerful corporation in conjunction with their search for a tablet containing trade secrets, leading her and her friend Morio on a search to save him. Their quest leads to startling revelations about the self-driving vehicle tech contained on the tablet, family secrets, and intriguing correlations between Kokone’s dreamword and reality.
The film shifts between Kokone’s dreams and reality with enough frequency that it’s at times difficult to keep track of which plane we’re in, a technique that adds to the feeling that her magical dreams are spilling over into real life. Kamiyama seems determined to keep us guessing until the end, and infuses his film with gorgeous hand-drawn artwork with only a bare minimum of CGI framework for some action shots. There’s also the requisite cute anime critter, in this case an adorable blue critter who is a stuffed toy in the real world but a talking companion in Heartland.
Kamiyama succeeds in building a fascinating dreamworld, as well as a faithful representation of suburban Japan, aided by exact recreations of settings scouted in the real seaside town used as reference for the film. His Japanese vocal cast is uniformly excellent, and English and French vocal tracks are also provided for viewers uninterested in reading subtitles. The English and Japanese audio tracks are presented in DTS-HD 5.1, while the French is Dolby Digital 5.1. The Blu-ray image quality is vibrant and precise throughout, providing a stellar presentation of the beautiful artwork crafted by Kamiyama and his team.
GKIDS continues their growing track record of bringing great foreign animated projects to the U.S. They further exhibit their dedication here by including a healthy serving of bonus features we generally wouldn’t get, including full cast introductions at the Japanese premiere screening, their greetings at the Japanese release, and a special TV program featuring the cast members discussing the project.
The disc also includes an insightful interview with Kamiyama, a bit about his career but mostly about his production process for this film. My favorite moment of the interview was his amusing comparsion between the self-driving motorcycle in the film and the Tachikoma robots in his prior work on Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. There’s also a side-by-side comparison of reference photos and videos with their representations in the film, as well as what appears to be all of the Japanese trailers and TV spots released in the lead-up to the film’s release. The only thing missing that I would have liked is more information on the film’s impressive, piano-heavy soundtrack. The large array of included bonus features ensure that fans of the film will have ample opportunity to extend their Heartland experience.