In the race for anime box office domination (a race largely reserved for studios, and the occasional anime industry wonk), the unexpected can often be the most telling barometer of where art and commerce are currently merging. A dance that can often illustrate, befuddle, depress, and justify. But after finally stepping from the dark, and mulling about Makoto Shinkai’s runaway blockbuster, I am again reminded that sentiment, no matter how awkward, can be a powerful force for escapism. Adding to my still controversial relationship with the auteur’s output, the sentiment exuded in often bizarre increments by Your Name, remains a concentrated reminder that for all one’s diet for japanese animation, it takes a specific openness to quirk to overcome what has become something of a signature. Your Name, while the most standard across the surface of Shinkai’s work, stands as a veritable carnival of his best and worst tendencies.
Taking the term, En Media Res to it’s most most absurd conclusion, Shinkai throws us into the plot with all the swift-cut ferocity of an anime television teaser.(Seriously. This is a film with not one- but two segues into anime television opening montages.) City boy, Taki(Ryunosuke Kamiki) awakens, but something isn’t right. His body is swollen in some strange places, his home is now in the sticks, and he has no idea how he got there. Meanwhile, country girl, Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) is again occupying the body of a young high school boy with a yen for architecture, a crush at work, and some perplexed buddies. Especially in regards to his ability to suddenly talk with girls, and needlepoint. Both sides of this 1980s style body-switch scenario are taking in that both kids are indeed acting strangely, and that they seemed rather out of sorts the previous day. To both Taki and Mitsuha, there are no clues as to what is causing this, but handy mobile phone blog apps are providing clues to these bodies they are forcibly borrowing, and the confusion they’re causing. But can either of them ever permanently retain their respective bodies again? What kind of irrational hocus pocus is behind this shared affliction? And will Shinkai ever be able to maintain a cohesive narrative without falling back to his safe zone – the wistful, longing voice-over?
Without spoiling too much, the film does come at the audience fast and with greater energy than is common for the filmmaker’s more glacial speed. We are quickly granted glimpses into the lives of our protagonists, and their respective backgrounds. Especially true of Mitsuha, who’s father abandoned the family business of priesthood for township mayor, in a town with only a few friends, no real hangouts, save for their idea of a cafe, which is a rural bench near a coffee vending machine. These moments are endearing, but are often too brief to properly absorb. And while we do get a little background on Taki, his background does feel the real end of the shrift. He is well-to-do Japanese city boy, which is an archetype that is never given any proper background outside of the occasional crush. The film is often too busy to marinate, which is strange for Shinkai, who attempts to get out of his safer first gear, only to imitate a teen with a new car; endless stops, starts, and sudden leaps forward. Your Name, never seems to find a footing until the third act, in which case finds itself in a pacing quagmire that threatens to render the film numbing.
There are the expected sentimental images of dynamic skies, a reverence for tranquil nature, and a yearning for some form of grounded meaning amongst youthful recollection. Like the last twenty years of anime, there is a neverending nod toward some nebulous past that drives Shinkai’s work that echoes a cross between Anno and perhaps even the often forgotten Tomomi Mochizuki, but lacking in the same complexity. His works often feel like an echo rather than a spark, and with Your Name, there is this ever growing sense of the familiar that reeks of everything that has come before, without a terrible amount of freshness. Even as the film attempts to reconcile the plight of our heroes with the cosmic, and the musubi threads that bind us together, the notion never truly finds a place to be properly absorbed. The notion in a story is vital, but like proper sun and moisture, it becomes hard to effectively feel anything that is to be felt. We can gawk all we want, but to truly feel, that is at the heart of what it is to come away from a work forever changed. Which is why it’s one thing to talk about that feeling, and actually experiencing a sensation. Your Name, spends a lot of time trying so hard to obtain this, yet never allows the reins to its world, allowing viewers to take in more than a pat ideal about connection and resonance. By the end, I had no real understanding why these characters would or should find resonance with each other beyond the confines of the story.
It’s a gorgeous film for sure. It’s just too bad that for all it’s greater aspirations, the final piece never finds comfort in prolonged immersion with these charming characters. Every time a gag begins to work, the narrative grinds gears once again, skipping pertinent information that would be better explored in clearly animated terms. Very often, all we get are the occasional line explaining what happened. As if apologizing for a scene that simply had no time to be made. As a result, the film feels helplessly incomplete.
If the goal was to treat humans as proxies for collated data, we could easily watch Ghost In The Shell, but what Your Name implies within the premise, never runs further than skin deep. And if this is what passes for a complete entertainment experience, I’m quite curious about what it is they are seeing. Because for me, I see a grand missed opportunity to tell a tale of better understanding one another via cosmic circumstances. Which still feels like a goal worth exploring. Maybe five more films will be the charm?
Makoto Shinkai admits to not knowing why he is drawn to stories about koi–“lonely sadness” or longing. “if you want to psychoanalyze me, there might be various reasons, but even I don’t know what they are that clearly,” he said in our interview with him. Like many artists loathe to explain the motivation of their work, he declines to name any personal history or other factors that play into the common emotional chords he keeps playing in most of his films, including his latest, The Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa).
It helps, of course, that no one in the anime industry is better at what he does, and The Garden of Words is his best expression of his life’s work to date.
Some critics, myself included, have accused him of repetitiveness. Since his first short film, She and Her Cat, and through Voices of a Distant Star, 5 Centimeters Per Second, and now this film, his stories have often focused on the travails of young people in unrequited love. Closer examination reveals that they are more complicated than that, but, often accompanied by common stylistic trademarks such as a piano-driven soundtrack (here not done by Tenmon), monologues, and the most beautifully lit and detailed backgrounds of contemporary Japan in anime, they do share similar moods. There has always been a suspicion that he is a sentimentalist who is only good at one thing.
What’s more, it is clear that his two lengthier films that attempted to break the mold–the time travel story The Place Promised In Our Early Days and the Ghibli-esque fantasy Children Who Chase Lost Voices—were less successful: the former was curiously detached emotionally, and the latter a bit meandering, and both felt overlong. Shinkai seems aware now that his strengths are limited, and he has consciously chosen to focus on what he believes he is good at.
Which brings us to The Garden of Words. Aesthetically, his backgrounds, the depiction of the rain, and the use of light are as strong as ever, though not terribly different from his past work. What has changed is the subtlety and unity he brings to his characterization and storytelling. The two leads, Takao and Yukino, do not speak very much in the film, despite the title; however, like the great short story writers, Shinkai is able to reveal so much about their character through small, carefully chosen details: the way Takao looks so stern and focused when he sketches and carves. Yukino, sprawled on her bed in exhaustion and despair, or kicking her heels on a park bench.
Rain, and classical poetry associated with it, provide the visual and literary backbone of the story. Shinkai, who had previously done these sorts of stories only in segments of 20 minutes or less (She and Her Cat was 5 minutes; Voices and each of the three parts of 5 Centimeters were 20), is able to convey a complete story of a summer love in 40 unnoticeable minutes. Every scene contributes to the whole, and not one moment felt wasted. If anything, the conclusion felt a touch abrupt, because Shinkai had drawn such a vivid portrait of two different people that I wanted to know more, much more, about their lives.
Perhaps the film’s greatest triumph is the mature depiction of love, which is something far beyond the usual teenage romance, or even the accurately depicted bittersweet regret of 5 Centimeters. The kind of love depicted in this story is not romance in the usual sense, as Shinkai explained in his director notes (and a fine blogger at Beneath the Tangles has written about here). Tinged with sexuality, yes; a genuine form of love, yes–but not romance in the modern mode. Takao is in love with Yukino, as he says plainly, and there is no doubt that Yukino also loves Takao in a real way. But what their love does is to help each other to, as another motif used throughout the film puts it, walk on their own feet down the path. They come into each others’ lives with very different sets of pain and concern, because Takao is still a teenager and Yukino is an adult. Both understand deep down that a conventional romance would not work, yet each also discovered that the other was exactly who they needed in that point in time. That time is temporary, painfully fleeting–especially once the fuller truth comes out–but necessary. That is why Yukino’s confession at the end is not that she loves Takao (though she does); rather, it is that he has saved her. It’s a lot closer to phileothan eros, more about care and attention and acceptance than kisses. It is sad and lonely because it must end, but that is also where its beauty lies, accentuated by the wondrous backgrounds that make even rain-soaked streets and train stations seem limned with light and magic. It’s sehnsucht, mono no aware, and koi all rolled into one. That it is conveyed in a mere 40 minutes is a wonder of compact artistry, and becomes more evident on multiple viewings.
I conclude by returning to the concerns I expressed at the end of my 5 Centimeters review: is Shinkai a one-note director? Does he need to move on to do some other sort of story? A first viewing of The Garden of Words reinforced those concerns, because at first I only saw a love affair between a boy and a grown woman, something that was the stuff of my own adolescent fantasy (albeit emotionally accurate fantasy). But watching it at the premiere at Anime Expo, and then again to listen to the commentary, revealed the detail and subtlety that I missed the first time and that his motivations were deeper than simply telling a sentimental tale. Despite the beautiful backdrops, both Takao and Yukino are too nuanced, flawed even, to be mere idealizations, something that might be fairly leveled at some of his past characters (particularly the girl in 5 Centimeters). In fact, Shinkai states that getting Takao out of self-absorption and into seeing Yukino as a human being–rather than, as he put it “the key to all the mysteries of the world”–was the whole point. This is about the opposite of sentimentality. Not that it is not positive–it’s perhaps his most positive film yet–or not hopeful. But it’s far from being glib or cheap.
It is, in short, the work of a mature artist. Shinkai said that his next film will probably be science fiction, and my hope is that he will carry the characterization, storytelling, and concision he has honed to such a refined edge in The Garden of Words with him, since his other forays into genre fiction have often been problematic. And perhaps the unmistakable voice or feel he brings to all his films is less uncreative repetition and more an auteur’s signature. As he put it, not every artist has to do every kind of work, and he just wants to do what he is best at.
Out of all his films, The Garden of Words is his best. And I am eager to see what he will do next.
We had the privilege of speaking with noted anime director Makoto Shinkai at Anime Expo 2013. Noted for his lush background work and wistful themes, Shinkai first came to fame with the home computer produced Voices of a Distant Star. He has gone on to make several acclaimed anime films such as The Place Promised In Our Early Days, Five Centimeters Per Second, and Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below. This year, he has released his latest work, The Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa), which is perhaps his most refined statement about romantic longing (koi) yet. We decided to speak to him about that movie, its vision and the casting, as well as his artistic approaches and influences and what he thinks about his place in the anime world.
NOTE: this interview contains very mild spoilers, or at least hints, about The Garden of Words.
You seem to have a unique ability to capture the beauty of ordinary life. What things around you make you say, “Wow, I want to capture that!” in animation?
It’s not that there is always a particular moment, so, it’s hard to answer in a one word…it’s not that I’m always thinking that “oh, this scenery is beautiful so I have to cut that part out and make it to art.”
And speaking of The Garden of Words…the first thing you make is a story. Then you decide where the location of the story will be, and how the story will develop. And then, when you think how the visuals will be in this process, then you finally think about how you take something from the setting and use it, how to depict it, and how to make the setting beautiful. That’s when you begin to think that. So the story always comes first.
So the visuals come last in the process.
Yes, that’s right.
The way you use lighting is a distinguishing feature of your work. How do you approach lighting, and do you have any influences in that area?
There is a famous Japanese director of live action art film, Shunji Iwai [director of All About Lily Chou-Chou, Love Letter, and star of Hideaki Anno’s live action film Shiki-Jitsu]. And his films are not anime, but he shoots beautiful scenery, so I think there is some influence from Iwai-san.
And being 40 years old, I am part of the 8-bit video game generation, like the Famicom, or in America, Nintendo Entertainment System. (You call it the NES, right?) My generation loved Famicom and PC games, but at that time the computers couldn’t use as many colors as today–[some] PCs could only use 8 colors, and the Famicon only had 64 colors. I think there were many ideas of how to depict nature or characters with limited colors, and I think I was influenced from that as well.
How have you changed as a storyteller since your early works?
I want to believe I am getting better with my storytelling skills. I don’t know what the audience thinks about me, though.
Well, compared with 10 years ago when I was making She and Her Cat and Voices of a Distant Star, I have come to be more aware and conscious about the structure of the story, or what the driving force of the story is. What’s the engine, what elements moves the story forward? So I think I am more aware of that compared with 10 years ago.
You’ve done both sci-fi/fantasy works as well as contemporary “slice-of-life” stories. Do you prefer one or the other?
I like both. For Garden of Words, I made the film about really ordinary life, but I have a desire to make an SF story my next film. Before Garden of Words, I made a fantasy story, Children Who Chase Lost Voices, and since I made a fantasy film then, I made a film about ordinary life this time. So, there is always a pendulum of desires: since I made a realistic film this time, I want to make a different film next time.
So what genre do you want to do next?
But I always think that there are many movie directors, and many animes, so there is no need for one director to make all kinds of films. Everyone has something they’re good at, and what I’m good at is depicting the tightly focused relationship seen in The Garden of Words, as well as scenes from contemporary life. So The Garden of Words is like my speciality. I’m playing in my home turf, using skills that I excel at. Sure, I still do have a desire to make SF and fantasy; I’m interested in them. But if I try to do mystery or comedy or anything else, I think that will be beyond my powers. That’s how I feel.
What kind of emotions did you depict that you hadn’t previously in The Garden of Words?
To put it simply, I hadn’t really depicted characters screaming out their emotions at each other in my previous works. I think I had a lot of works where you might carry a lot of emotions inside but you suppress them; you can’t say what you want to say. But this time, at the climax of the film, I wrote a scene where the boy screams at his crush Yukino-san. He throws his emotions hard at her, and personally I think I hadn’t made something like that before.
Also, [another] difference from my previous works is that they were about the characters searching for who they are inside, for their self-identity. I had wanted to write stories that explore the kind of inner emotions a character might have. But on reflection, this film became not so much about self-discovery as about discovering the other. So Takao [the male protagonist of Garden ofWords]is not trying to find out who he is, but is trying hard to find out who Yukino is instead. That’s one significant difference from my prior films.
We heard from [screenwriter] Mari Okada yesterday at her press conference, and she said that she wrote scenes of characters shouting at one another in AnoHana to send a message to the current youth that they need to be more honest and expressive, not repressed. Did you have the same agenda with your climactic scene?
Mari Okada is here at Anime Expo?
Yes, she is here too.
Oh, okay. I have met her before. I don’t feel the same way as Mari Okada, that youth should be more expressive. Rather, I think the opposite. My impression is different, and while I don’t think you can hastily generalize about all “youth,” I think young people [especially] in online communities express inconsiderate snap judgments too much. Like, “that’s creepy,” “I love this,” that is BS.” They say that stuff so easily and without hesitation; that’s my impression at least. So don’t scream your thoughts right away; digest them first. I want them to have more thoughtful communication as a form of expression. That’s how I feel about youth.
Well, if I must say one more thing about Mari Okada…I love Toradora, which she wrote the screenplay for, a lot. And I think that Garden of Words is influenced by the way the characters express their emotions in Toradora. I really do think that.
Well, one thing about Toradora is how well it depicts the longing of the characters for love and friendship. I see a similar thread of longing, koi or ko-hi, in your own work. What continually draws you to that theme?
I’ve been asked this question many times…why do I keep going back to that theme? Hmm. It’s like asking, “Why do you make sad stories more often than happy stories?” It’s hard for me to explain even to myself, why do I keep depicting this strong yearning or unrequited love? Well, if you want to psychoanalyze me, there might be various reasons, but even I don’t know what they are that clearly. I just seem to be constantly drawn to it.
Speaking of ko-hi, are you influenced by the “Tora-san” series of films? They are about a man who is always turned down by the main woman in the end.
No, actually I’m not influenced by Tora-san either, I have never watched those movies. But I do love stories where the character always get turned down. Speaking of getting turned down, there are a lot of novelists that I like who write that type of story, but if I had to choose one, I love Mitsuyo Kakuta, a female novelist. She is a writer of “real” or “pure” literature—not light novels, but “real” prose novels like those by Yukio Mishima. Kakuta has a collection of short stories where a character gets turned down, and I love it.
But the thing about getting rejected is that you reflect and think and analyze about why you got turned down. You learn a lot more from stories about getting rejected than stories about becoming happy. That’s why I prefer those stories.
How was Kana Hanazawa chosen to play Yukino? Did you write the part with her in mind from the start, or did she audition for the role along with others?
Well, we just had a typical audition, and we had about 20 people come in. We chose the one that we thought was the best among them, and it was Kana Hanazawa. But I heard a lot of opinions that casting her as Yukino was an unexpected choice. Hanazawa is 24 years old right now, but Yukino is 27 years old. So Hanazawa’s voice playing the role of an adult woman might sound too childish. That’s what I heard often.
But during the audition, Hanazawa’s childish voice—actually it sounds more like a teenager’s voice—I thought it was very charming or appealing. And she can do not only childish voices but, since she is a woman in her 20s after all, she can do a mature woman’s voice too. In fact, when she is off screen, she doesn’t sound like an anime character at all in daily conversation. Instead she talks with a calm, rather low tone of voice, as one might expect. Moreover, I thought Yukino’s character had both a childish side and an adult side, which Hanazawa reflected well—so we chose her.
Where do you see yourself in the anime world today—someone who belongs more to the otaku fandom side of things, or someone who stands outside of the scene, like Hayao Miyazaki or Mamoru Oshii? Personally, I see you as having one foot in both…
Perhaps that’s what it looks like when you see me from the outside. But I have a question for you instead How am I seen on the outside, like overseas, in America? if we suppose that there is a fine line between those two sides as you just described, which one do people think I belong to?
Well, you’re regarded as one of the most promising directors in anime—the most common comparison is that you are “the next Miyazaki.” I remember that Voices of a Distant Star made a splash among hardcore fans, the moe and SF type. However, I also know people who are not hardcore anime fans, like animation students, who know about She and Her Cat (but not much else).I think people who know your name tend to be hardcore fans, but there are still people who like animation in general who also recognize your talent. Hence my thinking about both sides.
To me, I don’t think I belong to either side, and personally, I want to make films that belongs to neither one. Maybe, for lack of a better term, there’s a “Miyazaki side,” or [Mamoru] Hosoda or [Mamoru] Oshii side, and there’s is a deep maniac anime fan side, but there are people that don’t belong to either side and I want to do things that neither side has done.
For example, there’s groups who don’t usually watch anime—like working women in their 20s or 30s that usually only read women’s magazines, and I want to make anime that makes this group feel “oh, I didn’t realize that Japanese animation was this beautiful!” or “Oh this anime is interesting!” At the same time, for the chuunibyoupeople who love Kyoto Animation’s works, who are very deep hardcore fans, I want to make them feel “oh, there is also that kind of expression or depiction in anime”—that there isn’t just KyoAni-like or Macross-like anime, that they get to know or discover my style of expression and come to love it. Ultimately it’s not about deciding where I come down on; I want to make work that reaches an audience that’s neither on the “Miyazaki” or “hardcore anime” side.
Photos by Shizuka and Laszlo Dudas. Translation and some questions by Rome. Thanks to Makoto Shinkai and David Del Rio and Kim McKee from Sentai Filmworks for making this conversation possible.
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 ofRurounin 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.
Released in Japan around May 7th, 2011, Otakon had the honor of being the place and event to debut Makoto Shinkai’s latest film in North America. A trailer for Children who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below (星を追う子ども) can be viewed here. Prior to this film, I have never fully watched any of Shinkai’s other films and in watching this film, I was quite pleased. The movie runs for an hour and 56 minutes making this the longest project that Makoto Shinkai has worked on.
This movie centers on Asuna, a rather ordinary girl who enjoys heading to a nearby rock outcrop and listening to her homemade radio. One day she happens to meet Shun from the mystical Agartha, and from there she begins a journey with her teacher to discover how to say goodbye. There that is the extent of how much I would talk about for the plot of this visually sweeping film.
People would definitely compare this film to watching something similar to a Hayao Miyazaki film in superior backgrounds, mood ambience, and characteristics. However I felt the themes elaborated in this film was quite similar to Final Fantasy X, and with death of loved ones and afterlife.
Now it is always neat to watch a movie, and be in the presence of the director. Meeting Shinkai in person, one of the best reactions I read was what Ink tweets:
After meeting Makoto Shinkai this weekend, I’m gonna go right ahead and call him a poet. His work and manner both reflect it. #crushing
Following the movie, and an hour before his fan q&a panel, there was enough time to take thirteen questions. Each fan who got to asked a question, came away with a movie poster.
Prior to the convention, Mike mentioned a curiosity to see how much fan noticing/adulation or coverage there was going to be, and I am safe to say that there were plenty of fans. Originally I was planning to write up my experiences on the autograph line, but seeing as I wasn’t at that event as a press capacity, and because an image I took there ultimately is for the viewing pleasure of my friend, I decided to forgo that article. An autograph session is ultimately for the pleasures of fans meeting a person they admire, and have a very short time with them. I saw many people I met on that autograph line at this screening. The screening was 10AM on Saturday, so definitely after breakfast, I made it over to HD Video 5, and saw this line.
Inside the venue was pretty big, but if you ever have the experience to view a foreign movie with lots of other fans. Some advice, be sure you take an take an aisle seat toward the middle. This event was not lucky as FMA did in getting an encore screening on Sunday. The film would definitely be making another screening at the New York Anime Festival, so if you get the chance to attend NYAF, please take the time to check this movie out. I definitely would recommend this movie to be viewed, by not just the majority of male fanboys I saw at this event. Shinkai was quite happy with how much fan love there is, yet this movie is his attempt to appeal to a more broader audience.
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.
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.
Wow, I didn’t know this one has been on Youtube for a couple of months already. Hats off to those of you who have already seen it and have been panting for yuri for a couple of months…I mean been anticipating some great drama and friendship issues. Anyway, I just watched it and here are my thoughts.
I can see the color is quite bright even though they tried to tone that down a little. CG colors are never muted, dull or earthy. In any case, a little bit of Makoto Shinkai nostalgia in the colors and background, and I also got the vibe of Eva and Rahxephon from it. The shots remind me of preview animations for large-scale graphical novel games. Actually the setting itself reminds me of Sci-Fi graphic novel games for some reason. Anyway, it looks like it will have some serious introspections and reflections. But we also get that huge space battle ship.
There’s a good but lonely feeling emanating just from the preview. This definitely looks like it’s going to be a thoughtful show.
I’m looking forward to the yuri and other elements. Let me know what you think.