Otakon 2011: Makoto Shinkai’s Fan Q&A

Video shot by our friends at Dragonfish Films. Please visit their website!

Makoto Shinkai was a featured guest at Otakon 2011, and a majority of my press coverage was focused on his appearances. I do hope that before reading this transcript, that there is a fair warning on there being spoilers for the latest Shinkai film. Dragonfish Films was present at this panel, so you can check out their excellent video/post. However as my usual style. I usually take the longer way of transcribing, for archival purposes. If you notice the time notations in this post, those were for time notations I made for a reminder, since I transcribed this dialogue from that video.

There was a screening for Shinkai’s latest movie, Children who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below 星を追う子ども so the fans who were at this panel had all seen the screening.

Makoto Shinkai was introduced with an enormous round of applause and cheers. Koichiro Ito, producer from CoMix Wave also sat next to him during this panel. This is a very long thoughtful drawn out fan panel.

Hi everyone, nice to meet you. I am Makoto Shinkai. Thank you for coming here today, I can’t speak English I need a translator.

The interpreter playfully said that he can go, Shinkai said to please stay. So the q&a began again, as the interpreter asked audience to raise their hands if they caught the screening.

Ah, many people. Arigatou gozaimasu. I am so happy. Now since so many people have seen the film I would like to talk about this movie with you.

The movie, Children who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below is a movie that contains very many themes. So with a single viewing of the movie, you may come out thinking that the movie is quite complicated. So underlying this movie is a simple story of traveling to one place and then coming back. All themes can trace back to being inspired by Japanese fairytales and mythologies, such as the story of Urashima Taro, or more recently in anime: Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. All with the theme of being whisked away to a mysterious world and then coming back.

So the question is what happens when you go away. When you go away you realize the worth and value of things you left behind. You realize how beautiful your hometown was or how much your family meant to you, only when you actually step away from them.

As I said earlier (after the movie Q&A) Asuna needed to make this journey to Agartha because near the end of the movie as she admits to others (Izoku), that she was just lonely. It required her to make this trip and realize that Shun was no longer around. She’ll never see him again. That Shin is ultimately not Shun. So this story based on a simple traveling adventure story encompasses many themes, but I also want to make this film a bit more acceptable to a wider audience. I wanted to go back to a classic theme, so character design might be different from my other films. It goes back to designs that remind audience of Studio Ghibli films or other more classical pieces.

I still don’t know how it would perform overseas. The fan response was really positive and it gives me great hope. But business is business, so I am a little worried on how it is going to perform business-wise.

So this covers pretty much I want to say about this movie that you’ve seen this morning. If there are other things you want to know about this film or past films, then I want to feel free to come and ask.

Films clips were available from Shinkai’s earlier films, available as a reward for people who asked questions. A huge question line formed, so at this time of the convention, there was still no indication of a Makoto Shinkai press panel, so I wanted to ask a question, and waited on this line. Questions are in bold text, with answers in block quotes.

You’ve produced Voices of a Distant Star among others, what made you decide to produce this way instead of going through the normal industry route?

Around that time, I was working for a game company, where I was responsible for creating the opening animation to the game. As I was completing that job, I realize how great it was to create your own animation, so while working at that company, I started to create my own animation. This was how Voices of a Distant Star came about. Also at that time, cell phones became widely available in Japan, as I worked on this movie. I brought my first cell phone, and so I use to send mail to my girlfriend at that time. We are no longer together. Yet at the time when I sent these emails, it would take three to four days for her to respond. We lived in the same town, and it felt like we were living on another planet, that became the inspiration for the story of Voices. So this fun of animation and my first cell phone experiences brought about Voices of a Distant Star.

I notice your movies always involved star crossed hopeless lovers. I hope that in the future you would diversify your work in terms of themes.

My titles do involve a lot of lost love…and such. Hard to say what my next film would bring. I can disclose that my next film considering is a love story…but the main story is a boy leaving home. It can reflect the current Japanese situation now. So it would be a story of a boy going on a journey and realizing what he had lost.


Regarding the guns featured in Voices of a Distant Star, what firearms were those based on?

The era for the guns is around 1975, and guns that appeared were supposed to have existed at that time. However even though the setting is 1975, Ark Angels are supposed to have the latest and greatest of guns, so it might seem ahead of the time.


Can Mr. Shinkai contrast key difference in his process or creative direction, from his early works working by himself up to now when he is starting to have a traditional larger staff.

Since I have a large staff now to work with, I can say one thing, it is lonely to do it alone. But when you create things by yourself, there is no stress, but it can’t move beyond your own imagination without input from others. So it is pretty stressful with additional staff, but some of those staff members would come to you with designs or art that you haven’t consider, and that can be amazing. My work with a devoted staff means that they are expending a year or two of their lives to create something with me. So that gives me a sense of responsibility to see it to the end. This film took a period of two years to make with a staff, and if it was Shinkai himself, it would take ten years to make.

I notice in a great deal of your films, a notice for detail, (examples given from Voices of a Distant Star), so my question is, do you try to go and take real life footage of things by yourself to get the inspiration?

I don’t take video, but I take photographs. So I took a staff of 20-30 to Nagano prefecture. There we took thousands of still photographs, and felt the texture of the rock or the warmth of the days. We tried to absorb what the details of the locale before even starting. So while I am not saying that I am not influenced by video I see, what has caught my eyes recently is usage of lens flare, like either in the recent Star Trek film or the Transformer film. This might be the first time in an animated film to use such a technique.

In the movie when Asuna and Mimi are parting ways. I never had pets, but I know that Shinkai has own pets. Is there a particular reaction or emotion you want to convey on why you had that one cut?

Growing up we always have pets, dogs and cats. Inevitably pets are not long lived, so I will always remember growing up, and always going to mountain to bury deceased pet members. When designing Mimi, one design I wanted to convey was inspired by Linus of Peanuts, who is always dragging around his security blanket.

The whole concept of security blanket brings feelings of comfort and safety to the person. Inevitably people have to grow up, and no longer need that safety blanket. Mimi was a security blanket for Asuna, and at that point of the story, she reached the point where she no longed needed it.

What was it like to work with a variety of voice actors like Shimamoto Sumi (Lisa in film and past works include, Castle of Cagliostro and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind) or Aikawa Juri. (Asuna in film and known for Ika Musume)

In regards to Shinmamoto Sumi, since she was Clarisse and Nausicaa, I felt really nervous working with her. Since the character of Lisa was dead at that point. I wanted to get a recognizable voice by many, and a clear voice to convey that she was no long a character of the world. So I can’t think of anyone else fitting other than Shinmamoto Sumi. What hurt my heart the most though is that Shinmamoto is in her mid 50’s and Lisa is in her mid 20’s…so to tell her to sound younger really hurt my heart.

I didn’t cast her as a voice for Asuna, because I like her voice, we audition for her voice before Ika Musume. So at the audition, I asked her what she was doing, she responded, Ika Musume where she would be ending each of her phrases of “Ika” or “Geso”, so I thought this is interesting.


Your grown up in a rural setting has an inspiration or impact to other parts of the film?

As a child, I didn’t listen to radio a lot, but the movie’s outcrop of rocks existed, so I found myself there a lot. The view out there was just surrounded by mountains, as a child, you can’t help but wonder what was beyond those mountains. I wasn’t unhappy with my life, but as Asuna who has a satisfying life also wanted to expand beyond.

The ending for Five Centimeters per Second was sad, and the manga showed a slightly different ending. This can also be seen on the DVD, viewing the three alternate takes the ending, and you’ve mention in past interviews on selecting three out of ten parts of the whole story. What is your take, counting the other missing seven parts to the true conclusion of Five Centimeters per Second.

Five Centimeters per Second was my first movie, and then someone wrote a manga for it, then a novel, so there have been many adaptations on the Five Centimeters per Second Story. I created this movie to be a mirror, that you would put yourself in the world of Takagi, where you can reach a certain conclusion yourself. For me, the ending of the novel for Five Seconds reflects my mirror. Where Takagi rushes by Akari at the rail crossing, but he’s not sure if he did or not. Just thinking the possibility he did something miraculous gives him a foothold to move forward, and that’s the ending for me.

My question begins around 36:30

Some regard your latest work as bearing similarities to works by Studio Ghibli. You’ve also been called “the next Miyazaki” by others. What do you think about such comparisons? What do you think you have learned, perhaps, from the work of Studio Ghibli and/or Hayao Miyazaki?

Personally I have never met Director Miyazaki, though some of my staff has worked with him in the past. Hayao Miyazaki as a man doesn’t interest me, it is his movies that have always inspired me and if you look at my latest movies. You’ll see some scenes that were definitely influenced by his film. I remember seeing Castle in the Sky, Laputa when I was in junior high, and the emotions I felt after seeing the film inspired me so great to want to do a similar movie. If someone like a junior high student would see my movie and feel the same way then that would make me feel happy. Regarding the comparison, I don’t believe I can reach up to that greatness. I can only make films and someday look back and say these were pretty good.

From the variety of Shinkai films out there, is there a preference for what type of setting that you have completed? Were there any challenges you’ve experience for the action packed sequences vs. the teary scenes of the others?

Growing up, I was a big science fiction fan, and my favorite author was Arthur C. Clarke of 2001: A Space Odyssey. So Voices was inspired by Clarke, and to be able to depict the distance between man and space, really allows focus on the person by that storytelling. So my current favorite author is Greg Egan, and it is a perspective to expand one’s viewpoint into the universe, I would love to depict that in animation, however I realize that it only possible because it is written in words, and the limits are the imagination, so I don’t know if I would be able to satisfy a writing, but it is something I would like to do.

We’ve heard your takes on what influences you so far, but can you elaborate on what has inspired your films the most.

Haruki Murakami is a big inspiration for me. So there is a mish mash of all of what influences my film, Ghibli, and science fiction.

In 5 Centimeters per Second with the scene of the train moving and stopping with Takagi, this probably parallels the difficulties of the character later. Where did writing this part come from, writing the book or making the movie?

Okay, I never thought about this parallel, so keen of you to notice. In the past I had a girlfriend who would be living far away, so when I visited her in the wintertime, I was delayed by the snow, so that is one reason why that scene exists in the movie.

In your movies, you mentioned long distant relationships, what’s personal reason for the prominent theme of distance.

Email is the prominent means of communication between young lovers in Japan, so the faster you respond to emails, is a gauge on how you much you care or love the person. On this indication it can be a sweet or a cruel thing. How much email sent is just how close you are. It can be either one email or a thousand.


What words do you want to say to fans who are inspired by your films?

I have been influenced by other animators and work, though I never imagined getting into anime films, so if my works inspired others then that is great, the flow moves on in a cycle.


Your works has a great watercolor aesthetic, did you ever receive training or what has led you to use such an intense coloring scheme?

I have never been trained in art whatsoever. All I can say is that I love looking at scenery, and growing up with the scenery of the mountains around me, it was a great influence. When I was 18, I left for Tokyo, but before I left my hometown I went and looked around, and since I know I would miss this scenery, my movies are later influenced by this.

In 5 Seconds per Centimeter, for the third section what inspired the music video quality and how your relationship with music changes as your staff grows?

The third story is the shortest, and it acts almost like the promotional music video of the series. As a child growing up, days can seem long, but as your grow older, the day can go by. So three years as an adult can past by in an instant vs. how it can feel like an eternity for a child. I want to depict his adult life like that, so that is how the third episode came about. I was pretty limited when I was by myself, but as my staff grows there is more options, like I want to use this person’s music or have others do something for me.

Your works varied in animation length, is there a preference for length of work, whether 5 minutes or 2 hours?

Since my company is quite small, and with no deadline of a weekly animated television program. We have the freedom to make works as long or as short as we need, so it depends on the story. So the most recent work, needed two hours to tell the story, it really depends on the time I need to tell my story, and since it was such a hardship creating these two hours for the current film, I believe my next film would be shorter.

62:20
At this point, Koichiro Ito spoke up with his viewpoint.

A production back story, originally the movie was supposed to be a 100 minutes long, but it wasn’t enough time, so an extra 16 minutes was added.

Have you been considered or asked to do a television series?

I have had several offers, but in order to create a weekly show is beyond my personal capabilities at the moment, so we have been turning them down.


In the latest movie, there were elements of creating a new world, so what is your process and possibility of creating new worlds for any later films compared to using real places in your past works?

It really depends on the story I want to tell, so beginning from the starting point of telling of a world that I already know of, so the home world of Asuna is the Nagano Prefecture, a familiar setting for a Japanese person. For Agartha I wanted a different setting, so I have done some work that took me to the Middle East, so I used the experiences I had there. I had then searched the internet for some locale and went to the library, so the world of Agatha is influenced by the Middle East and Tibet.


What were you considered to be your most difficult challenges starting your film career, and how has that changed with your experiences?

When I first stared out, it was creating something into what I want to do, turning a hobby into work. When your hobby becomes your work, what do you do when you no longer have a hobby to relieve stress? I still love creating animation, but there are more obligations, and priorities to be completed, so adjusting to that was difficult.

The interpreter asked what Shinkai’s latest hobby was.

I don’t have a hobby as of yet, but I had a child about a year ago, so watching my child has become sort of a hobby for me.

Can you talk about your collaboration with Tenmon?

He’s done the music for me with 5 Seconds and Children, so I first met him at the game company. When we had first worked together, he had done the music for an opening I have completed. Though he was much more senior than I was at the company, whenever I went to him with suggestions for music, he would always hear me out and never frowned about my requests, so that is what I liked about him. He definitely is a musical talent, so when he never complains when I have requests is something I really enjoy in working with him.

At the point you realized you wanted to create animation, due to maybe financial worries or other, can you share an episode of this and what you did to cope with it?

So many episodes, but what comes first to mind is reviews for my recent films, it only came out three months ago, there are mixed reviews of the movie being fantastic, or this is the worse film completed. With moments like that I do question my suitably to being a director. There could have been a suitable job, but at this time I don’t believe I would be suited for any other job, other than this.

There has been an industry criticism here in the United States, and creators have spoke about it before. Anime has been focused on hard core otaku, what is your opinion on this criticism, and what would you think it would take for anime to be more accepted by the general public or is it better to be accepted as a niche industry.

First I think, Otaku culture in Japan is spreading, with series like K-On or Puella Magi Madoka Magica was created for that otaku culture, and they were a big hit. There are other works like Pokemon or Ghibli films, created for kids. For the films I created, I want to appeal to otaku fan base as well as the general populace, so I do believe all these are a good thing.


What kind of advice would you give to people who want to start their own project to get into the industry, what computer programs etc.?

Advice for someone who wants to create their own work, to not be constricted by something that is for business, so there is creativity for their own vision, and sure if you want to create something you want to complete, there are surely others who would want to see this vision.

Thought it is not reflected in the video, I believe I have in my own notes that Makoto Shinkai did mention his own usage of Photoshop and After Effects, to work on creating animation.

7 thoughts on “Otakon 2011: Makoto Shinkai’s Fan Q&A”

  1. Very informative Q&A. It’s great to know how his background and life experience influenced his works. His countryside hometown, moving to Tokyo, and romantic experience. Yes, Quixotic adventure is everyone’s life theme! Reminds me of a French film, La Vallée, soundtrack by Pink Floyd. What really hit me is how we communicate, the current youth have romance by email, texting, totally IT technology based. And long distant relationship, but by skype, you can talk from anywhere in the world.

    1. Yes! Thank you for your comment MLM. ^_^ Communication was definitely something that was talked about more in his press conference. Shows off the fact that relationships can be developed even further than with one on one time. Though I imagine that with voice/talking and conversation can strengthen a relationship. I recently read Bakuman v5-6 and is reminded by the main character’s own relationship.

      1. You’re very welcome. That’s pretty interesting. Bakuman’s pretty unique, dating based on marriage. Yeah, recently I watched PBS’s Frontline about Digital Age. The program covered video game convention and suggested that online gaming communications or virtual romantic relationship is more human than people just using texting, email. Yes, I think online gaming had voice chat too.

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