Makoto Shinkai & Scotland Loves Anime 2016
As Scotland Loves Anime returns this month with a programme of great animation from Japan, we focus in on talented director Makoto Shinkai, who looks to break away from Hayao Miyazaki's considerable shadow with new film Your Name
One of the most common epithets given to Japanese director Makoto Shinkai is ‘the next Miyazaki.’ As the Ghibli co-founder puts down his paintbrush, the search for his spiritual successor takes on a new urgency for anyone seeking mature, wonder-inducing anime that it’s OK for the 'serious cinephile' to enjoy. The comparison is a trite one, however, as the two directors share only a few things in common: they both work in animation; they are both Japanese; they are both masters of their medium. That’s where the comparisons end, however, as Shinkai’s preoccupations and style feels a world away from Miyazaki.
Although famed within the animation world, Shinkai is yet to have the the kind of crossover success Miyazaki enjoyed with films like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. As the annual, increasingly impressive Scotland Loves Anime festival runs a mini-retrospective of Shinkai’s work alongside his latest film, Your Name, it’s time for that to change. Shinkai is a major talent and deserves international attention for his work.
The first, most obvious element of Shinkai’s films that people notice is the mind-boggling beauty of the animation. There’s a kind of hyper-realism to the look of his films, where unpolluted night skies contain whole galaxies and train stations gleam constantly beneath the sun. His finest film, Garden of Words, is set mostly in a city park with shots of trees and lakes that look almost like live action, yet are somehow too perfect to pass as real.
Shinkai’s glistening compositions, however, aren’t just a show of his animating prowess, they contribute to the central theses of his films. One of his greatest preoccupations is the way teenage drama can seem, at the time, like cosmic, world-changing events. Take his calling card, 5 Centimetres Per Second. This largely plotless tale follows a boy, Takaki, as he experiences love and frustration throughout high school and college.
His faintly ludicrous, hyper-emotional narration plays over the images, as he says things like: “Right then it felt like I finally understood where everything was, eternity, the heart, the soul.” It’s overbearing, but captures perfectly the way teenagers can so easily feel like their emotional world is overwhelming.
Shinkai’s stylised animation matches the inner lives and thoughts of his characters, so when a 15-year old believes he is experiencing something transcendent, the aesthetic aims for that, too. Shinkai deftly balances key adolescent experiences such as falling in love for the first time with much bigger ideas like the launching of shuttles into the cosmos or battles in space, light years away. Journey to Agartha, his most fully fledged fantasy film, has the trappings of an epic adventure with a journey to a ruined underground civilization, but at its heart it is a fable about coping with loss.
It would be easy to dismiss Shinkai’s work as yet another bit of anime about the trials of high school, but his stories work because of the sincerity with which they are told. He takes emotional moments in the lives of his protagonists and makes each one seem like the most important thing in the world. By the end of his films, you might believe they are, too.
Scotland Loves Anime's Makoto Shinkai retrospective: A guide
Shinkai's new film, a body-swap mystery that's already dominated the box office in Japan, promises to be his most mature yet. 22 Oct, Filmhouse
The Place Promised in Our Early Days
This moving, allegorical film combines, in classic Shinkai fashion, the everyday experience of high school friendship with the thrills of a gripping sci-fi. 17 Oct, Filmhouse
Voices of a Distant Star & Garden of Words
Shinkai's two shorter films are possibly his best. Voices is a love story that stretches across the time-space continuum, while the only distance between two people in Garden is age. 18 Oct, Filmhouse
Scotland Loves Anime: Our Top Three Picks
Anyone who watched last year’s Miss Hokusai at the festival will know that Yoshimi Itazu is a formidable talent. The lead animator on that film (and erstwhile protégé to legendary director Satoshi Kon) has since stepped up to directing with his debut, Pigtails. It’s playing with other shorts and at the Glasgow screening Itazu himself will be there for a Q&A. 15 Oct, GFT; 23 Oct, Filmhouse
A Silent Voice
One of the most frequent settings in anime is high school, but A Silent Voice takes a look at the darker side of teenage years. The story follows a bully who torments a deaf girl in his class and charts how his peers eventually turn against him. Expect big emotions and a dramatic conclusion. 22 Oct, Filmhouse
Who doesn’t love a good mystery? The programme promises a premiere in Glasgow and gives little else away. While it’s unlikely to be anything as prestigious as The Red Turtle, the programmers at the festival know their stuff, so it’s sure to be an exciting pick. 16 Oct, GFT
Scotland Love Anime runs 14-16 Oct at Glasgow Film Theatre and 17-23 Oct at Filmhouse, Edinburgh. For full listings, go to lovesanimation.com
Your Name screens across the UK in Vue and Showcase cinemas from November 24