Makoto Shinkai’s New Film Continues His Legacy

By  · Published on January 2nd, 2017

With Your Name., Shinkai has finally reached worldwide recognition.

Not exactly a household name in America, Makoto Shinkai has been making films since 1997. He has been building a resume; ranging from heart-wrenching short films to beautiful feature-length films that have never garnered that much commercial success. There’s no question he has just had his biggest hit ever with Your Name. (Kimi no Na wa), the Japanese animated sensation that is now Japan’s second-highest grossing film ever. Whether or not he is the future of Japanese animation, his stories touching upon distance reach emotional heights that few of his contemporaries can match.

Shinkai found success in short features at the beginning of his career. In 1999, he released She and Her Cat, a short that follows the perspective of a cat and how he sees the world around him. Following the success of the She and Her Cat winning the grand prize at DoGA (an independent non-profit that encourages animators), he would begin work on his next short, Voices of a Distant Star.

Voices of a Distant Star is really the blueprint for all of Shinkai’s films. He got the idea from drawing a picture of a girl holding a cellphone in a cockpit. The film follows Mikako Nagamine, who has been recruited into the space army to fight a fictional alien force. She leaves her friend Noboru Terao on Earth and the only way they can communicate is through their cellphones, but as Mikako goes further into the galaxy messages take increasingly longer to reach Noboru.

He would continue to explore the distance between people in his many feature length films as well. The Place Promised in Our Early Days explored crossing borders and illness to start anew. 5 Centimeters Per Second was separated into three different acts of a love story that just can’t overcome lives that have taken an alternate course. Children Who Chase Lost Voices has its characters struggle with the finality of death and if they can’t reverse it. Finally, Garden of Words shows the vast distance between a student and his teacher.

There isn’t much about Your Name. that strays from the ideas established in Shinkai’s previous films. Mitsuha, a high-school girl, dreams of a life in Tokyo where she can be a handsome boy in her next life. Taki, a high-school boy, has discovered that somehow he is switching bodies with an unknown girl. They might live in different parts of Japan, but that isn’t the only problem. Discovering just who is inhabiting their bodies is the biggest mystery of all.

With Your Name., Shinkai has crossed into mainstream appreciation. His previous films always left a little too much unsaid or were too suppressed. Most of his work is known for its distinct visual style and the musical collaboration of Japanese composer Tenmon. Instead of working with Tenmon on Your Name. he enlisted Japanese band Radwimps to create the soundtrack. That combination has led to the hit song Zen Zen Zense nearing 100 Million views on YouTube. He has also made Your Name. much more accessible compared to his other efforts. There is no lingering melancholy throughout, that has pervaded his films. He must of found humor as well since this film is usually funny for Shinkai film. He knew he might’ve overdid during Your Name.’s first showing at Anime Expo. He said, “The audience laughed, then they sobbed … I had drawn a graph when I was making it about how the audience might react, and it was just like that. Obviously I was happy to see it worked but at the same time I was afraid that it had worked too well. I said to myself, ‘Damn, maybe I overdid it’.”

Mainstream success isn’t always the best for filmmakers though. Recently Makoto Shinkai has expressed wishes that audiences stop seeing Your Name. This level of success is a monumental barrier to his future work, as expectations for his next feature will be sky high. He is fighting off comparisons to Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki at every turn, as the media is frantically trying to find a find a replacement for the animation maestro. The film as yet to open in America and it is already being positioned as an Oscars contender thanks to its win with the LA film critics as best animation. Modesty is common among the Japanese which could influence his reluctance for the continued success of Your Name., but Shinkai has made a film that shows no signs of slowing. Funimation Entertainment holds the rights to the theatrical release of Your Name. and hopefully soon US audiences will have a chance to experience the film that has reached monumental success and worldwide acclaim for Makoto Shinkai.

Related Topics:

News Writer/Columnist for Film School Rejects. It’s the Pictures Co-host. Bylines Playboy, ZAM, Paste Magazine and more.