Makoto Shinkai

This week in Director Spotlight: Makoto Shinkai



Makoto Shinkai strikes a nice contrast to Hosoda from last week. One came up through the industry, learning and growing through other great artists and working on their series, the other choosing to go solo. Shinkai is quite impressive in this regard, producing some of the most detailed and rich animation around today. His storytelling is so far on a pretty basic form, but his unique focus on small relationships and the depths that it can hold, feels very fresh. Finding his own style, and pace, that is making waves in the industry.

A Man of Short Works

She and Her Cat

I think this is fitting to use as the first marker of Shinkai’s vision. Through many of his other pieces, we inspect relationships and “romance” from perspectives different from your expected romance leads. You can already see highly detailed shots and the slow pan work, that is his signature style.

Someone’s Gaze

Like with Mamoru Hosoda, we get treated to a lovely commercial that encapsulates the artists stylistic approach. This comes in 2013, compared to She and Her Cat in 2002, and you can see Shinkai’s growth of focus. Spreading out from unique perspectives, and attempting to find the touching moments within the characters he’s given. A subtle shift, but it’s nice to see.

Voices of a Distant Star

First things first, respect to Shinkai’s passion. He quit his job, and in 7 months produced this fantastic 30 minute OVA. This film was written, directed and produced entirely by Makoto Shinkai on his Power Mac G4. Makoto and his wife, Miko, provided the voice acting for the working dub (A second Japanese dub was later created for the DVD release with professional voice actors). That’s always impressive to hear.

Second things second? Myself, and others around the web, like to point at this short as the birth of the recent Nolan film Interstellar. Paprika to Inception, Voices to Interstellar, the Nolan’s seem to enjoy taking very interesting anime and making slightly above average box office films that start with I.

In this short you can see the idea of Interstellar’s failed “love conquers all” plot, and Shinkai’s dedication to let relationships be what they are. Unlike Hollywood, there isn’t some demand for the message to be stated and things can be left without a happy ending. He provides an interesting Sci-Fi setting (just don’t look into the details too much) and uses it to inspect the idea of communication and distance. The short is touching, and a great first step into the Anime world.

5 Centimeters per Second

MAL | 

As the film is commonly known, 5 Wallpapers a Second is still one of the most beautiful set of images I’ve experienced. Adding to the film is the amazing Yamazaki Masayoshi’s One more time, One more chance that perfectly melds this sorrowful tale.

Through 3 short OVA’s, we follow a boy in love with his childhood friend. The different relationships, loves, perspectives, and overall melancholy of going through life. Distance, dedication, communication. The story gives us a relationship separated by these ideas, no longer tied to the distance of a star but a train ride through the snow.

The characters don’t go through some big arc of growth, and the overarching story isn’t that well connected. But as with *Voices* and *She and her Cat*, the goal is to have you reflect on the relationships you encounter in life and to value them. Shinkai makes you fidget in your seat, twist your gut, and scream internally as he takes you through a story of missed connections.

The most common complaint levied at Shinkai is the lack of romance and closure within the stories. Shinkai is a man of old romance, making us ache for the characters and the circumstances they experience. His focus doesn’t end with a nice wrap up or happy endings, he just wants to be in the moment.

Oh and it’s stupidly,



The Place Promised in Our Early Days

Children who Chase Lost Voices

Early Days MAL | Trailer | Lost Voices MAL | Trailer

So here we are, the two real feature films of Shinkai’s career so far. I think both films are interesting, and of course the art is fantastic, but both feel very different.

Early Days is the better of the two, a continuation of the idea used in *Voices*. The separation between people, the missed connections, the specific relationships, it’s all here but is punched up with action and extended.

Lost Voices really seems like Shinkai being forced into the “Miyazaki” role. It has all the standard fare of the Ghibli works; girl on adventure, uplifting hope, folk-tale spirits, and expanding world. Something is just missing here though. The pacing seems inconsistent, the message doesn’t come across as well, and overall it feels like a “failed” Spirited Away rather than Shinkai’s own work.

Garden of Words

MAL | Trailer

No love story about a couple, but a story about the romance that can arise between two people. There’s no sex, or adventure, there is only two people in the company of one another. They do nothing. This is Director I signed up for. With another fantastic theme song, and crazy good animation, Garden of Words delivers a great romance piece in the true Shinkai style.

A boy and a woman both come to a park within Tokyo on mornings that it rains. They sit and enjoy the park, sometimes reading, sometimes writing, always with beer and chocolate. Though not a love story, the relationship between the two grows and they come to understand the connection. Shinkai uses his fantastic artwork to let the entire film simmer in beauty,

and the characters are allowed to exist quietly within it.

As the ending comes, much like life, the emotions explode outward and a new glorious relationship is made.

The change in focus from missed connections to forming them, is a step in a direction that I like. Seeing Shinkai create a Her or Mother would be my ultimate goal, but he’s still young.

Final Thoughts

*She* presented the relationships all around us in a very simple way. *Voices* explored the distance between people, and how it doesn’t change the relationship. *Gaze* showed us how distance can effect a relationship. You get the idea. Shinkai is a romantic at heart, and he takes a very old fashioned look at romance in a highly detailed world.

A bright young artist, Shinkai has made a point to be unique within the industry. Taking hard to sell stories, animating them well past industry standards, and finding emotions in places few people see. As close as can be found to an “Indie Darling” within anime.

He’s already announced the finished storyboards for his next film, “More beautiful, fun, and reaching further than ever before” (rough translation) and I can’t wait to see it later this year some time.


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