One of the directors who has risen to prominence in recent years, the small but high quality freelance output of Makoto Shinkai promises much for the future; he has been referred to, despite his protests, as “the new Miyazaki” before. Despite this comparison, however, the work of the two directors differs greatly.
Shinkai was born in 1973 in Nagano, a picturesque setting that he would later claim had a profound influence on his work. After reading Japanese literature at Tokyo, he began to work on videogames. He dealt with creating the more visual aspects of the games’ narratives, such as short anime-based cut scenes, something that influenced his thirst to create lengthier animated work.
The first step towards his current fame came in 1999, with the 5-minute OVA She and Her Cat, which won first prize in the DoGA CG Animation Contest 2005. The feature was monochrome, but infused with beauty, portraying the day-to-day life of a cat and its emotions.
Shinkai took this as his opening, and quit his full-time job to work on the breakthrough OVA, Voices of a Distant Star. Despite offers from numerous companies, Skinkai took a huge decision to remain freelance, and create the whole anime through his own efforts. Mainly self-created, but using a small pool of friends, the 25-minute showpiece appeared in 2002 and rapidly proved a success. With some of the most crystalline and expressive animation in history, and using the voices of himself and his fiancée, Shinkai truly made a name for himself with a short work that, with only a handful of staff, was beyond the quality offered by many large studios.
In December 2002, The Place Promised In Our Early Days was announced, purporting to be a 50-minute film that would take a year to create. It emerged, an hour and a half long, almost two years later, and received an adoring reception. Despite the opportunities for large-studio production, Shinkai still stuck with a small staff, rare in the modern anime world.
Hopefully Makoto Shinkai will continue to produce such heart-tugging stories in the future. His two masterworks have turned him into one of the most influential and famed figures in anime, but he remains freelance, working on projects he personally feels attachment to. Only time will tell the direction he takes next.
Voices of a Distant Star (2002) was noted on release for its breathtaking CG animation. It could be hard to believe one man had created such a vibrant, detailed setting. Beyond the style, however, lurked a heart-wrenching story of long distance love; Shinkai proved himself to be made of more than presentation, with a particular flair for crating characters. Famously brief, but nothing less than a modern anime classic.
The Place Promised In Our Early Days (2004) shows Shinkai clearly in his element, weaving a tale of relationships and character interaction against an alternate reality backdrop. Expanding the style pioneered in Voices, The Place Promised is another triumph of visuals that manages to appeal to the emotions.
Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised are available in the US separately, or as part of a “Shinkai Collection,” which includes art books and the Voices soundtrack. In the UK, only Voices is available but The Place Promised should appear in the near future. As an aside, the Voices releases contain the She And Her Cat short.