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Otakon 2011: Makoto Shinkai Press Conference

After a previous two days filled with just following Makoto Shinkai (新海誠) around, there was finally a 9AM Press conference at the Sheraton. Typically press conference happens when there is just too much interview requests for a particular guest. I know thePaper got 1:1 interviews with other Otakon guests, but here is my main press goal for Otakon this year. This post might be similar to the fan q&a, but since this was a press conference that I waited the entire weekend for.

Here’s what I heard. I took the liberty of not transcribing to the exact audio of what I heard, but hopefully you, the reader would understand what I saw when I heard Makoto Shinkai’s press conference. As with the other q&a, questions asked are already going to be some spoilers for Shinkai’s latest film. Video was not allowed, but audio and film was.

There is a difference in translation/interpretation of the Japanese and English title between 星を追う子ども and Children who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below can you explain the difference in this interpretation?

The Children who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below is the subtitle to the Japanese title, we used it as a temporary title to for releasing to the western market. So in the future the title might be changed to reflect the Japanese title. I apologize for any confusion that you might have felt.

From the Fan Q&A, it was asked what your literary background was, so for this press conference can you reiterate those influences are.

In Anime, I got much inspiration from Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki works, and if you ask for one title in particular, it would be Laputa: Castle in the Sky. From novels, it would be Haruki Murakami.

You have a small staff available now, would have wanted your current staff when you were working on Voices of a Distant Star?

As you said I have staff people, but in comparison when I was doing Voices of a Distant Star, it was a self made independent film and including the fact that I voiced in it showed that it was a handmade by me. At the time I felt a great sense of satisfaction, on completing a project. On the other hand I currently have staff members that are like family to me. So when I am working alone now, sooner or later I won’t be. So I would be feeling like I am going back to a family studio. If you ask me whether I ever think about the time when I was working on Voices of a Distant Star and wanting this current staff, that is a “what if” question, and those scenarios never came to my mind. So I never really thought about it.

Is there a personal or professional goal for making 星を追う子ども?

I don’t know if this is an answer. 星を追う子ども was finished in March and then released in Japan’s theaters in May, so it has been only three months since its completion. Currently I am still not sure what I should do from here on. Currently I am taking this opportunity to take a look at the reactions including audiences from Japan and abroad. So I would like to take this opportunity to think and decide on what to do after this, both professionally and personally.

Your movies in the past have had simple and complex feelings with themes of distant and time, what are the overall themes of を追う子ども?

It is quite difficult to put a theme in one word. If I can do that then I won’t be making a two hour animation. However, if you want me to put in a phrase then it is how to overcome a sense of deep loss.

In this film we see a new demonstration of your animation sequence in action. Can you say what other films and other work that have inspired your action style?

As I said earlier, I studied lots of Miyazaki’s works. But since we were using sword for the action scenes, I studied a lot of Rurounin Kenshin (Samurai X) and also a lot of Japanese sword fighting television shows, and among those in particular is Mugen no Junin (Blade of the Immortal) that has also been made into an anime a couple of years ago.

What do you think of computer animation as oppose to hand drawn animation?

Although it has commonly said that I have started work in computer animation, upon designing the characters, I drew them out with pencil/pen and scan it in. By means of tradition the method I happen to use is how 2D animation is made. On the other hand 3D is a quite different method from 2D and it is a trend that it is more movies right now. If that is going to be the continuing trend, then it is unavoidable that 2D would disappear, but personally I do love 2D animation style. It is something I am more familiar with, growing up and watching it. I myself would definitely love to continue drawing it.

I understand you studied Japanese literature in college, and there is an introspective, literary quality to a lot of your work, particularly in the way you use voiceover and monologue. Do any particular live action filmmakers, directors, cinematographers, etc., that you admire? Is live action a medium you wish to work with in the future?

Speaking of live action, I do go and enjoy it, but I go as a fan/viewer. If you ask if I am ever inspired by any particular action director, then that would be Shunji Iwai. His way of using light and shadow is quite inspiring.


The trend of your professional is unique in starting from video game to animation. Now many directors do move from animation to video games. What do you think the anime industry can do in attracting new talent?

From what I can see, the video game industry in Japan is more stable and they treat their workers better than the animation industry is. However the people who currently work with me, love working in animation, so of course I treat them well in working for what they love, that is a personal opinion. If you ask on how the industry is on this trend, then of directors moving, then it is something I never thought about. Since I am not an industry representative, but personally what I think is that if we can continue to make great animation films that people or society can think is great, then we can increase the amount of people who is more interested in working in this industry.


The time frame of を追う子ども is a little unclear. Was there a particular reasoning or a non-descript one you were aiming for the movie to have?

There is an intention for the time frame for this work. I placed the time frame in a way that it would be the minimum requirement for the audience to know. I would like the audience to feel satisfied when they first watch the film, but at the same time I want them to have certain questions about the time frame, and want them to watch the film two or three time more to have more questions, so the time frame is in a way made more complicated to be understood.

Your movies have slightly ambiguous endings, is this intentional and what do you want your viewers to come away with?

Yes, my works in the past have the lingering question of whether it is a happy ending or not. This is intentional because I want the audience to decide for themselves whether this is a happy ending or not. in Japan, that is not a major style on how the endings are done. Upon making my own films I want to make a unique one to other existing ones, on the other hand を追う子ども this one, the ending is a bit more clearer compare to my past works.


Looking at the reactions of the audience now for your movie, would you have changed it?

I always have certain regrets or certain rethinking after a movie. So yes if I have a chance to remake the film, I would like to make it twice as more fun, even for my past work of 5 Centimeters per Seconds, perhaps I would make it five times more interesting. So as time goes by, I would have gain more experience, but the audience who have paid and watch the film already, so I try not to think about it as much, rather it was the best I can do at the time.


Can you describe the transition from making a one man project to a large scale project with a larger staff?

The big difference is when making it alone, there is less stress. What I imagine and intend to draw, I draw. So there is no stress at all, on the other hand with working it alone, the outcome would be only my own and it would be my own limit. When working with a group, there is stress, and at times there is a background produce not to my liking, so there is communication stress. Sometimes though, my staff comes up were brilliant ideas, so it can become more fleshed out and beyond my own limits.

In what ways have you developed as a director and in the future what would you like to expand?

Ever since I debuted with Voices of a Distant Star, I am not sure if I should call it directing since I made it myself. I was called director, but at the time I didn’t understand what the position means. After that I was working with other people, still I wasn’t so sure what director means. I drew pictures myself, and directed others, it was a learning process. After two years working on this current project, I finally got the vision of this feeling like an anime director, so I finally feel this project is my directorial debut. Now I have learned how this feeling is, my next project I want it to be an anime project. So I am looking forward to what I can do for my next show.


(Shinkai was asked on his feelings/perceptions on how)Animation and computer software have changed in the last twenty years for an aspiring artist.

True today the circumstances are much better, there is more powerful computer and better software, however the truth is what you like to tell in your work is the basics. When you are self making it, the effort goes in the quality of how you would like the project to look. Though the circumstances are better, if the self making artist does not understand that you need to talk about what you really want to show then it has not really changed much from ten years ago.


Is there any reason why you have used young people to explain your overall theme of loss? What does the introduction of an older character mean and can imply for a future work?

Morisaki is the adult, but the main character is Asuna who is 11-12 years old, so I want to clarify that. The basic purpose of change is because I want to have a broader audience, in my past movies the audience was more of a 20-30 year old male. That is fine, but I want the challenge is for a broader audience to watch my movie like a teenager to watch and enjoy it. So this is why I include an adult in my current work.


Can you talk about the relationship between Morisaki and Asuna, when there is a dialogue, and later conflicting feeling occur in relation to that line?

Asuna has lost her father, so traveling with Morisaki, she has an familial emotion to Morisaki. Morisaki on the other hand is a very selfish, yet pure person who has lost his wife. Upon dying his wife told him to keep on living, but Morisaki being pure can’t move on without her. Perhaps he knows that it is impossible to bring the dead back to life, but with traveling with Asuna and in the end he realizes that his purpose was bring back a life then sacrifice would have to be made. So in being selfish and pure, then he would have to follow his dream to keep on living. This is controversial, I can’t say that he is a bad and selfish person, he is a complex person and I can’t deny him this.

(A Japanese question was made, and this is a summation of what the interpreter did)

With Shinkai’s background in literature, and ambitious ending stems from Japanese literature, would Shinkai continue to create movies that have a typical Japanese ambiguous end for audience to ponder? Since this is a Japanese style, it was understood that 30-40 years ago it would have been impossible to think of this ending becoming known for the western world.

(This is tie in with the previous question, so this is going to be what the interpreter sums up.)

Morisaki is a complicated character on who believes that retrieving the death is more important. Shun said that the living is more important, and Asuna feels that living is a blessing. She does not deny either of the other two character’s beliefs, and this is how I personally feel and think of often. It is with this thought I want to leave the audience to think.

If you ask me if there was any ambiguous Japanese literature ending, then yes If you asked if there was any literature that influence my coming to this type of ending, then there is none. Upon seeing reactions of audience abroad, I am getting the feeling that this style can be accepted worldwide, if the entertainment is more perfect, then the ending does not have to be so clear. Technically it is possible to make the ending more easily to understand to make the audience feel better, and if it is required then it is possible that in my future works I would make the ending less un-ambiguous. I can’t, however change who I am and the literature I have grown up with, perhaps the way I think and the way I make an ending would not change that much, technically possible to change though.


Your works center around communication, what makes this theme attractive to you? Are there any particular aspects of humans and society that you get your inspiration from?

Simply put in Japan and most of the word today, the majority of people are interested in communication. Today in Japan, people don’t watch as much television or play as much games. The communication is becoming more of an entertainment in itself. In the society that I live in where the communication is so important, taking the place of entertainment it has became my center point of my works.


Would you want to use this current setting of Agaratha in later works?

I feel rather honored if other creators would want to use my setting of Agaratha. を追う子ども currently has two manga that is in magazines, created by two separate individual artists. I didn’t make any particular requests for those two artists. So I have no problems with more creators to use my world.


Your films have highlight commitment as a virtue and obsession as related to commitment. Commitment is positive and obsession as negative. A distinction between those two a lesson you want to teach your audience?

I think it depends on the time my work was made. Perhaps your question indicates 5 Centimeters per Second. In my current work, I have made Morisaki as being unwavering in his obsession. The character who continues to have that commitment and obsession can create enough input for himself to keep on living. It is possible to make an obsession a source of living will.


Do you feel that a younger international audience would make your work appeal on a broader level?

To be honest if I made my current work to appeal to a broader international audience, I never thought about that. Toward making を追う子ども I wanted to make a different world than my previous works. In enjoying my older works, audiences have to know a certain amount of details, with existing Japanese culture and background. I want to make it different than 5 Centimeters per Second, so people, who don’t know about Japan, can also enjoy. This is my main reason for making something different this time. It is true that I want a younger audience for this movie, and if those accept it abroad is that audience then I am already quite happy to know that. Yet when I was making this movie, I never intentionally made it for the world market to enjoy. I just want to make a work different than my previous ones.

Now Makoto Shinkai is announced to be a guest for NYAF 2011, so as I said this is a great opportunity to check out his latest work, if there is time then I would definitely love to see his latest movie again.

2 thoughts on “Otakon 2011: Makoto Shinkai Press Conference”

    1. He is one one of the many professionals! Hmm I always thought that Yutaka Yamamoto was also an Otaku, and he was at Otakon several years ago. Thanks for the comments and the RT’s!

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