An interview with Makoto Shinkai

In October, Film Director Makoto Shinkai made a surprise appearance at the screening of “The Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below”. We took that opportunity to request an interview with him and if possible if he could answer questions from fans.

Mr Shinkai was ever so kind to agree to this and reserved some time from his busy schedule to answer the fans questions, posted on the Anime UK News forums.

[fan Sparrowsabre7] Your films have a very distinct visual style and colour scheme, is there a particular reasoning behind such a “house-style”?
[Makoto Shinkai] I want to affirm the reality of the visible world. Depending on the feeling I have at the time, the landscape looks different. When you are happy the landscape will look bright, and when you are sad it would look dull. So, on the contrary, I believe it is possible to make the audience happy by depicting the landscape beautifully.

[fan Sparrowsabre7] Your work often ends on a rather bittersweet note in each case, is this always an intention or is it just how the story ends up turning out? Have you ever thought of a more traditional style of ending?
[Shinkai] I am not consciously creating a bitter-sweet ending. In fact, as far as I am concerned, I have been writing endings which are the natural extension of the story.
With regard to the traditional style ending, I think it doesn’t have to be me, I’m sure there are lots of outstanding works out there with traditional endings already, so I’d rather continue creating works a little different from others.

[fan Rui] I have read a lot of comments by creators in Japan that they are surprised when their series are popular in the west, due to differences in culture and a perceived lack of familiarity with references, places or themes. Because of this perception, in rare cases it is obvious when creators try to appeal to foreign audiences by giving their works very ‘general’ settings.
Even though your films cover themes that people can relate to no matter where they live, there is also a lot of detail in the Japanese settings you create, which adds a lovely atmospheric feeling. Even simple settings or objects are brought to life and depicted with care. As you have spent some time in England and spoken to fans here, do you think it’s a problem that the fans here might not have the same familiarity with the scenery you create, or do you think it’s exciting that they might be experiencing these beautiful, exotic settings through your work for the first time?
[Shinkai] I believe it is not unusual, but often that the setting achieves universality – e.g. Christianity is one, Islam another – they both have been created closely related to their specific region or land and culture, and yet, they both have become worldwide religions. You can take Greek mythology, Grimm brothers’ fairy tales and the Tale of Genji, if you like. We can quite appreciate them without knowing the social background of those stories at those times. Japanese manga and anime often become popular overseas – beyond the intentions of the creatersproducers. Universality and Local setting: they don’t necessarily have to oppose each other, but actually they include each other within themselves, I think. The extreme universality becomes (local) setting and vice versa.
I hope my works are enjoyable overseas as well as in Japan, however, for that to happen, I believe it is Japanese culture that I should take a good and close look at, as it is where I live.

[fan Hopeful Monster] When directing do you try and create something you would want to watch or something that you think the public/fans would want to watch?
[Shinkai] What I want to watch is the first thing I think about. Because I don’t think it is possible to make something that I don’t feel like watching, as it is time consuming to make one.

[fan Hopeful Monster] What would you create if you had unlimited funds, access to talent, etc?
[Shinkai] Well, in reality, however, “No limits” is not possible. It would not be possible for me to imagine (laughs). With 100 % freedom, I may not feel like making one even.

[fan Hopeful Monster] Do you think that the increase in fan focused, self referential shows exclusively for anime fans is harming the industry, as opposed those aimed a wider audience?
[Shinkai] I don’t know very well about Japan’s anime industry. I think both ‘deep’ works (targeted for fans) and ‘light’ ones for general audience are necessary. My impression is that, lately, both types of works coexist in an equal number.

[fan Hopeful Monster] Why is there a decline in mecha shows despite the successes of Eva, Macross, and Gundam?
[Shinkai] Well, I don’t know too well about the industry, but I would imagine the following for the reasons.
(1) Due to the increase in the number of films, robot anime films simply don’t stand out as much as they used to.

(2) Gundam, Macross and Evangelion have continued to be made, so the fans are not looking for brand-new robot animes.

(3)The “Battles of a robot against a mighty enemy” type of story has become gradually obsolete and no longer needed in the Japanese society.
(4 ) Due to the low birth rate, the market has diminished, there is also diversification of the hobby by the Internet.
Well, I’m sorry; I haven’t thought much about robot anime so I don’t really know.

[fan ilmaestro] There were some brief glimpses of train tracks in “Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below”, but not nearly as much technology in the film as in your previous projects. Did you consciously chose to make a film with mainly “natural” components?
[Shinkai] Yes. Since the debut I’ve been making animes digitally, but with “Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below” I wanted to deal seriously with the traditional method of the analog era. In fact, of course I have used computers and 3D CG quite a lot; however now, I certainly use pencils and paper more than ever. And I think it is what created the “natural” atmosphere. However, I’m not considering to continue the same way from now on. In terms of the method of how we make a picture, I’d like to decide for each individual work.

[fan ilmaestro] What is your opinion on the current state of the anime industry in Japan, in terms of young creators coming through to take over from people like Miyazaki Hayao and Kon Satoshi? Do you think there is enough upcoming talent to see the industry through the next twenty years? Also, what do you think when people call you “the next Miyazaki”? Of course, it is a great compliment, but does it hold back the industry to constantly compare new directors to older ones?
[Shinkai] I feel tremendously honoured to be called next MIYAZAKI but that is overrating me, to be honest. Truly, I don’t even have 10 % of the skills or talent that he has. I think that from the bottom of my heart. Also, I think his goal and mine are different, simply different. Having said that, his works have reached all ages from children to adults, which is an exceptional phenomenon for Japanese animes. I wish I could create works like that, that’s my dream.
I don’t know very well about the current situation of the anime industry. I haven’t been communicating or socialising much with other directors, and also I don’t think I am in the position to think about the anime industry. Making my own works requires my full dedication, energy and concentration. If I may say as one of the spectators, I think there are always young and diverse talents coming into the industry.

[fan Genkina Hito + AUKN] The beauty of your films is quite clear and a lot of attention has gone into crafting scenes with perfect lighting, positioning of characters and colours. The details of weather and the worlds you build are pretty incredible. How integral do you feel landscapes are to your stories and do you take more pleasure in crafting worlds than you do in other elements of your works? Where did this drive to create beautiful landscapes come from? Was there a particular film or film-maker that inspired you?
[Shinkai] I think the first answer answers this question as well (“drawing the beautiful landscape makes audience happy.”etc.)
Shunji Iwai and Victor Erice inspired me in terms of the way I depict landscapes.

[fan Genkina Hito] This question is in connection with your background in video games: Who is the most inspirational art director in video games and which video game do you find to be the most beautiful?
[Shinkai] I don’t know very much about the art director of the games. The most affected the game visuals are, Famicon (NES) version of “Dragon Quest” series and the 8 bit computer version of the “Ys” and “Sorcerian” from 20 years ago. Famicon had 48 colours, 8bit PC had only 8 colours to output, but the limited colours and pixels represented the green meadows and the blue sea, in the eyes of a child like me it was brighter than the reality. Those are the game screens which taught me how to view the landscapes.

[fan Dax + AUKN] Do you think that the Fukushima events will eventually have a place or influence in your his future movies?
[Shinkai] Yes. In Japan, after the disaster of the earthquakes, there have been many things that have unravelled in society, and even personally, it has aroused feelings and emotions that I wasn’t even aware of. For example, feelings towards my home and country… Also some vague sense of “guilt” that I live in Tokyo. Reasons and emotions that people need stories for. I haven’t come to terms with it yet, but I can’t say they won’t affect my future works. I think it is not just me, the same thing can be said about many writers.

[fan mangaman74 + AUKN] Which up & coming director(s) are you most impressed with (if any)?
[Shinkai] I’m sorry, I can’t think of any. I don’t know that much about directors. The animated film that I have seen most recently and been impressed was the Disney animation “Rapunzel”.

[fan mangaman74] Which is your favourite scene from your films and why?
[Shinkai] One scene in “The Place Promised in Our Early Days ” – Hiroki and Sayuri reunite, hand in hand in the hospital. “The Place…” was, I must say, quite immature both story-wise and technically, so not exactly excellent (shrug), but at least that scene managed to depict the loneliness and salvation of adolescence, I believe.

[fan mangaman74] If you could redo a scene from one of your films (George Lucas style) which scene would you redo and why? [Contextual note from AUKN – George Lucas release a new version of the original Star Wars Trilogy, with several scenes remade]
[Shinkai] I don’t think I will do it really, but I would like to completely redo the “Voices of a Distant Star” when I have more technique. My skillsThe technology couldn’t keep up with the ideas, in that work, I think.

[fan qwertyuiop] Outside of your personal work, what are your favourite types of anime?
[Shinkai] I quite like Love Comedy, like love stories for the age of high school students. “Urusei Yatsura”, “Ranma 1/2”, “Chaos 1/2,” or “Fruit Basket” or “Kare Kano” and “Tora Dora!.” etc.

[fan Mohawk52] I’ve seen all of your movies that have been released to us here in the UK and I’ve notice an underlying theme of unrequited love in all of them. Do you have any ideas that would show your talent in a different light, for example like a happy ending for once?
[Shinkai] I didn’t particularly mean to make sad endings, but somehow when I make them they happen to have that kind of ending. I don’t know if there is anything I can or should do about it, I suppose?

[fan Mohawk52] Also have you even considered producing and directing an OVA series or a TV production?
[Shinkai] Well, no I haven’t. I think that’s a lot of work. I don’t think I have the ability, to be honest.

[AUKN] Would you like to share a thought with your fans in the UK?
[Shinkai] United Kingdom is, although it was not for a long time, the first overseas country I have lived in. At the HMV shop in London, I saw my DVDs for the first time – I can never forget how I felt right there and then. I have many memories I can remember in the cool and beautiful summer and dark and cold winter; truly unforgettable. I am so glad that the people who live in the UK, the beautiful country, enjoy my works and I feel honoured to have returned something to the country, perhaps. Thank you for all your support!

Thank you very much for your time, Mr Shinkai and a special thanks for Miss Takahashi from Comix Wave for making this interview possible!