Hello dear readers and welcome to the second edition of my In Focus series where I take a deep dive into the careers of some awesome names from the worlds of anime and video games. This time I’m looking at the works of one of the most famous anime directors around – Makoto Shinkai.
I suspect many of you will have seen a Shinkai film or two already. After all his breakthrough film that propelled him into the world of ultra-super-stardom has been seen by practically everyone. That film is Your Name, which has just celebrated its fifth anniversary. How time flys!
Your Name was of course not his first (or last) big screen outing and throughout his career he has showcased the depth of his storytelling skills and his interesting penchant for exploring human relationships alongside supernatural ideas. If you watch a number of his films you can see him developing these themes and seeing what works before putting it all together in spectacular fashion in his most recent films.
The best way to get to know his work is of course to watch it, however before you do let me give you a little introduction to a few of his films so you can consider where to start.
Your Name is the best known film in Shinkai’s filmography and with good reason. It is a masterpiece that excels at pretty much everything it tries. It is part-fantasy, part-romance with liberal sprinklings of humour, drama and heart, not to mention having one or two breathtaking visual moments. The soundtrack too is pretty popular, although I will admit it didn’t stick with me the same as it did for some people. The characters are likeable and it is easy to become invested in their individual stories, never mind the romance element, and the way the story builds is paced perfectly. Your Name is an awesome achievement which Shinkai may never better in popularity terms, although it is worth noting that it clearly owes a lot to its predecessors, a couple of which I’ll take a look at now.
The Place Promised in our Early Days
Another story about human relationships, another story (at least partly) about teenagers and another story with a strong fantasy element, The Place Promised in our Early Days carries some similar ideas to Your Name even if the setting and overall story are quite different. This film has more of a military slant, even wandering into the territory of alternate history.
It has a darker feel than Your Name and the fact that the film frequently involves hospitals and international security agencies means that the supporting cast have quite a different feel to Your Name. Yet there are still similarities in what Shinkai achieves with this film. It has a compelling setting, a story built around teenage friendships and a whole lot of mystery, and whilst none of these things are accomplished as well as in Your Name, it is still a well made and interesting film.
5 Centimetres per Second
5 Centimetres per Second came out a few years after The Place Promised in our Early Days and is quite a different film, but it does display a few themes and features which are evident in other Shinkai films. For one thing, I found 5 Centimetres to be a very beautiful film, with a few particularly memorable scenes involving weather and nature. It also has some of those recurring themes like romance and teenage friendships, but this film does it in quite a different way to the other films I’m discussing here.
It is episodic in structure, with each episode focusing on a different time in the characters’ lives. I have to confess that after the first episode I found the rest quite difficult to follow, but the whole thing has an emotional depth and relatability which leaves you with a bittersweet aftertaste. There is one particular scene at the end of the film that reminded me of the ending of Your Name and it would be interesting to know if that was a deliberate decision by Shinkai.
Weathering with You
Weathering with You is the most recent film made by Makoto Shinkai and the only one to be released after Your Name. Following such an acclaimed film was always going to be difficult and from the general chat I’ve heard in the anime community Weathering with You has not had the same impact as its predecessor, however I enjoyed it immensely and find it difficult to pick between them. It is much darker than Your Name, with more real-world jeopardy and unfriendly faces. Once again we see fantasy (or perhaps spirituality) combined with romance, friendship and a big sprinkling of tension.
The place I feel Weathering with You wanders off-course is that at times it is too fantastical. The ending is also a bit of a strange one as it is difficult to see how the main characters reach their decision, although once they do it definitely has a bittersweet vibe. For all that though I love the characters, I adore the city setting and it is in places astonishingly beautiful in a way that nicely fits the story. It also seems to be a film with a real world message about the impact of global warming, and I’d be interested to see if this is something Makoto Shinkai will explore in his future films.
Other Works: The films I’ve described only represent a small proportion of Shinkai’s work and other notable films include The Garden of Words and Children who Chase Lost Voices, as well as a number of short films. Make sure you check them all out!
So there is my in-depth look at the career of Makoto Shinkai and some of his stand-out works. But what about you? Have you seen and enjoyed many of these films? Are you excited to see what he might be working on next? Let me know your thoughts below in comments and join me next time for more anime and video game discussions.
Thanks for reading,