Otakon 2011: Makoto Shinkai and Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below

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 majorĀ 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 onĀ 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.

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The Shining Darkness Series: 5cm Per Second

One of the major questions I have always asked myself is whether or nor it is worth reaching for an seemingly impossible goal? At what point is grasping at some thing that you may never reach stop being noble and start being self-inflicted misery? At what point are you giving up before the fight truly started? Are you clinging to memories that are merely holding you back? Is fighting for a noble and impossible ideal running towards something or running away? 5cm Per Second looks at that same question and weaves a beautiful but heart breaking tale from it.

This was actually the first work by Makoto Shinkai that I watched. And honestly I don’t know why I hadn’t watched the others. I knew of them for so long, but grabbing up this film made me desperate to go back and watch the others. And I honestly don’t think the order of films is important in terms of his ability to tell a story. However, you can clearly see the progression of the animation and character designs.

5cm Per Second is broken into three distinct parts each with its own title but they are all part of the greater story about Takaki Tono. It starts with Cherry Blossom Extract which introduces us to Takaki Tono and Akari Shinohara‘s blossoming long distance relationship. Cosmonaut skips ahead a few years to high school where we see Takaki and his friend Kanae Sumida. She is in love with him but cannot bring herself to tell him. 5cm Per Second concludes the tale and we see how Takaki and Akari have grown up and how the events of the first story have effected their lives.

Takaki is very single-minded and while in the first short this makes him endearing, by the end it is his greatest flaw. He shows that the things you think and want as a child have to change as you grow up or you may never get anywhere. It also makes me think of a fleeting idea that the things you love about someone, you can come to dislike after a period of time. It is a very honest lesson and a very difficult one to reflect upon while watching. Contrastly, all the girls in the film seem to understand the concept of letting go or reaching for someone that can never truly be there. Kanae I found to be very relatable (though all the characters have extremely empathic qualities) because she has the passion for something, in this case, surfing, but displays indecision of where she is going in life.

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The Shining Darkness Series: The Place Promised in Our Early Days

There are simple love stories and there are complex love stories. Both of them have their place. Sometimes you need a simple boy meets girl story. Sometimes you need a love story with a little more dimensions and depth. I won’t say more real because sometimes love is not all that complicated. Angst does not make things more real. Love may be powerful, there might be numerous obstacles blocking it, and there might be hard choices involved with it but it is not necessarily complicated. Makoto Shinkai has progressed in his career and as such his love stories have gained more complexity.

I was so looking forward to this film. Seeing Makoto Shinkai jump from his little-over-half-hour creation to a full film was a very exciting prospect. What sort of story would be tell with a full cast, crew, and a more liberal budget? He brings the themes he cemented in our minds so well in Voices of a Distant Star and combines it with a more complex vision.

Japan is a divided nation. Southern Japan is allied with America and Northern Japan is allied with the Union. Since the division the North has created a mysterious tower that scrapes the heavens which can be seen from miles away. Two best friends, Hiroki Fujisawa and Takuya Shirakawa, decide to take a downed fighter drone they found and turn it into an airplane so they can examine the tower. One day the girl they both like, Sayuri Sawatari, tags along to visit them and becomes involved with their project. Sayuri disappears and it kills any momentum the boys had for working on the project. They grow up and go their separate ways each leading different lives and each dealing with the events of that summer in their own way. But what happened to Sayuri and what was her connection to the mysterious tower?

Sayuri’s first interactions with the boys, from the audiences perspective, are very different from each other. However, through them we see a girl who is full of life but constantly running from an unknown force. Everyone in the story is connected around the tower whether it is through relation to one another or helping to get there. While the story takes place in a warring and dysfunctional era, it is merely the back drop for an endearing story about love and friendship.

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