As far as directors go, Makoto Shinkai is one of my top choices to hear talk about his work. So imagine my delight when Otakon announced his first U.S. appearance would be right there in Baltimore. Despite being relatively young in the business, nine years, he has produced memorable and beautiful films. To top off his interactions with his fans, we were privileged to see the English-language premiere of his latest movie Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below.
There was one Japanese guest that everyone was looking forward to (unless you are a major Hetalia: Axis Powers fan) and that man was Makoto Shinkai. He is known for his mostly solitary work on Voices of a Distant Star, his longer work on The Place Promised in Our Early Days, and his stellar work on 5 Centimeters per Second. His distinct visual style and reoccurring motifs make him stand out in people’s minds. So when he came to the U.S. to promote his latest movie, Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below, even people outside of the normal mega geek blogging circles took notice. Narutaki was able to attend the premiere and a panel while I had a chance to hear him speak at the press conference.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below was somewhat of a departure from what we’ve come to know Mr. Shinkai for. He still explores the themes of emotional and physical distance, but he does it through a more literal journey with fantasy and adventure. CWCLVfDB (omg, look at that acronym) is not totally successful and feels a bit more derivative than reasonable. It has a simple theme about loneliness and realizing the living are more important than the dead. But it becomes overly complicated with too a large cast, an unclear path for the heroine, and a high running time. It still contained beautiful images and quiet, touching moments. It was a valiant first effort that gives me hope for the next film at least. After the showing, Mr. Shinkai came out to talk about the movie. He spoke about struggling against or accepting life and fate and how he wanted to explore this with the different generations in the film. He also mentioned how much traveling to the Middleeast as well as seeing an exhibit about Quetzalcoatl at the National Gallery influenced the setting. In the end, he hoped to show that loneliness doesn’t disappear all at once but rather bit by bit and even through being lonely with others.
Apparently no matter what Q&A you went to you got certain questions that were always asked. Everyone wanted to know the difference between working alone and working with a team. He always said that working alone gives you complete freedom but working with a team gives you the ability to create a work outside your normal boundaries. Also people often asked about his feelings on digital vs. cell animation. So while he admired cell animation and the feeling it provides, he was clearly a child of the digital age. I asked him if his endings were purposely open to interpretation to which he answered he preferred endings that were ambiguous and wanted the audience to really think and decide if his works were happy or sad. But he decided that with CWCLVfDB he would shoot for a wider audience by using a more definitive ending. In fact, changes to his normal formula like more action and a wider range of character ages was also to get a bigger crowd to see his newest movie. His action style came from studying the works of Hayao Miyazaki, chanbara movies, the manga Mugen no Juunin, and the anime of Rurouni Kenshin. I thought the most interesting fact mentioned during the whole press conference was that he only truly felt like he had become a director as opposed to an artist working with a team during CWCLVfDB. I think it speaks quite a bit to the changes in his style with this movie.
There was a wealth of information at the Directors and Producers panel. Mr. Shinkai admitted to being nervous on stage with Noburo Ishiguro, this was just the start of his many humble answers. When asked about working solo (Voices of a Distant Star) in comparison to a collaboration (all films thereafter) he said it was really only out of necessity. He much preferred groups because of the encouragement as well as being able to expand ideas. Mr. Shinkai revealed just how in-tune he is with youth as he explained as he sees it, Japanese youth experience the pain of life through anime and manga a lot now. Going on to say that this is a new initiation into adulthood and it was the same for him. He elaborated by saying that facing reality seems a lot easier in fiction and anime is a way of reflecting on this. When an audience member asked the panel about their approaches to non-verbal communication, Shinkai shocked everyone by saying he wasn’t very good at it to which the translator exclaimed, “but you do it so well!” and everyone heartily agreed. When his mecha design came up, he said he pretty much wholesale lifted it from Gundam which was embarrassing to mention when he met the designer a couple of years later. The Q&A wrapped up with a question about digital animation where Shinkai said he wished new animators would look at and appreciate analog more.
If you are super upset that you could not seen Makoto Shinkai, do not worry, all is not lost. He will be appearing at the NYCC/NYAF this year as well. So everyone in the U.S. has another chance to see him. I myself hope to get enough free time to see his new movie but with the crazy NYCC/NYAF schedule I might have to just wait for it on DVD.
The best thing about meeting Mr. Shinkai was discovering how humble he is and the attention he gives to his fans. During the autograph session he stayed an hour and half later to accommodate everyone in line. Not only that, he personalized the autographs, shook everyone’s hand, asked where you were from and whether you were going to see his new film (like we wouldn’t have!). I am looking forward to hearing him speak again at NYCC.