“The drawings of people [take] on a looser and stranger shape than the very strictly codified house style, almost ghoulish in appearance,” writes Letterboxd’s animation correspondent Kambole Campbell of the film’s art style. He could just as well be referring to the overall structure: after a staggeringly dark overture, it settles into an eerie tranquility before taking full flight into otherworldly fantasy, finishing abruptly on a truly breathtaking note. Telmwns writes that a “couple of scenes genuinely scared shit out of me like I was watching a horror movie.” Steph agrees: “I think it’s time Miyazaki gave up on the feel-good stuff and just writes a full fledged horror freak show like I know his heart desires.”
Okui expresses some thrill at these reactions. “It wasn’t intentional to create a horror-like film, but I can understand how people would feel that way while watching it,” he says. “In comparison to some of Miyazaki’s previous works, the boy has a darker side to him. It was important to ensure we could capture the boy’s darkness, his shadow, especially in the early scenes of the film. Compared to [Miyazaki’s] previous works, we were really trying to be even more careful in expressing this darkness visually.” In practical terms, that meant taking the animators’ hand-drawn art and pushing the blacks to their deepest levels once the pictures were converted into data.
Blame Kubrick, perhaps. Okui notes that “the reason I entered the film industry is because a long time ago I saw Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The way he visualizes shadows really left an impact on me. Perhaps subliminally that may have found its way into the film.” Alas, he can’t be drawn on favorite childhood movies despite having a hand in the creation of so many of ours. Born in the remote, mountainous Shimane prefecture, Okui grew up without television. “I remember watching it, but, hmmm… It was probably Japanese tokusatsu stuff in my childhood, things like Ultraman. I didn’t really watch much! Since my memories are more of playing around in nature, those activities are a greater inspiration for me.”