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Otakon 11: Makoto Shinkai press panel interview

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Long delayed, but nonetheless, here is the first part of a series of write-up promised about a man who waxed poetic about loving at a distance in anime film. You might know him as Makoto Shinkai, but I know him as a humble guy trying to make films about the things that moves him, as his films moved me. 

Hopefully on top of this press panel I can also soon share a piece of what is to come ashore to North America: his new film about children who chase lost voices from deep below, or more pertly called Hoshi o ou Kodomo. At Otakon this year Mr. Shinkai also participated in a public panel as well as a directors' panel in which he shared more about his films and the stuff that moved him, and soon we will see something from those panels as well. Enough words! Please click on for the first installment!

There's a difference in the meaning between the Japanese title and English title of Hoshi o Ou Kodomo, why is this?

Shinkai: The Children who Chase Lost voice from Deep Below is the subtitle to the Japanese title, and we are using it temporarily as the English title for the western market. In the future the title may be changed, so we apologize about that.

What are your influences from literature and other works?

Shinkai: When I was young I was inspired by Ghibli and Mr. Miyazaki's old works, such as Laputa. For novels, it would be Haruki Murakami's works.

You seem to have a small staff now, would you have liked a staff when you were working from Voices from a Distant Star?

Shinkai: As you've said, I have a staff. When I was working on Voices, it was a self-made independent film. I even voiced it, so it feels like a hand-made work by me. I was very satisfied that I was able to create it on my own. On the other hand now I'm working closely with a staff, and they're like a family to me. Now even when I'm alone now, when I return to the studio I won't be alone anymore. So if you ask me this "what if" question, I never really considered it.

Is there a personal or professional goal for making Hoshi o Ou Kodomo?

Shinkai: I'm not sure if this answers your question: Hoshi o Ou Kodomo was completed in March and released in May, so it has only been three months. I'm still not sure what I should do from now on. I'm currently taking this time to look at people's reactions both in Japan and abroad. I'm using this opportunity to think and decide what I want to do after this, both professionally and personally.

In your films, there are simple and complex themes and feelings regarding distance and time. What is the overall theme for Hoshi o Ou Kodomo?

Shinkai: It's really hard to describe the theme in one word. If I could do that, I won't be making a two-hour film. But if you want me to phrase it then it is about how to overcome a sense of deep loss.

In your film, you demonstrated animation action scenes. Can you tell us about the films and other works that inspired your style for action?

Shinkai: While I study a lot from Miyazaki's works, for the sword scenes, I studied a lot from Rurouni Kenshin and also a lot of Japanese sword fighting TV shows (Chambara). Specifically, Mugen no Junin (Blade of the Immortal) in particular, which was animated a few years ago, which was another show I studied.

How do you think of computer animation as opposed to hand drawn animation?

Shinkai: Although it is often said that I started in computer animation, when I design the characters I still draw it with a pencil/pen and scan it in. Typically that is how I create 2D animation. On the other hand, 3D animation is a very different method from 2D and it is the trend in films today. If that is going to continue it is unavoidable that 2D animation will disappear. Personally though I love the 2D animation style. It is something I am more familiar with, having grown up with it. I personally would love to continue to do 2D animation.

Do any particular live action filmmaker, director or cinematographer that you admire? Is live action a medium you wish to work with in the future?

Shinkai: I do enjoy live action, but as a fan or a normal viewer. If you ask if I am ever inspired by any particular live action director, then it would be Iwai Shunji. His way of using light and shadow is quite inspiring.

The today is that creators move from animation to video games, where as you started in the game industry and now work in the animation industry. What do you think the anime industry today can do to attract new talent?

Shinkai: Video game companies tend to be more stable and treat their workers better. However the staff that are working with me are people who really love to create animation, and I try to treat them well so they can make a living doing what they love. That's the limit of what I can do personally. As for the industry trend, I never really thought much about it because I am not really involved representing the industry. But I think if we can continue to create great animation that society think is great, then maybe we can attract more talent.

The time frame for Hoshi o Ou Kodomo is a little unclear. Was there a particular reasoning or a nondescript one you were aiming for the movie to have?

Shinkai: The time frame is intended. I described it in a way that is the minimum for the audience to get the era. I would like the audience to feel content about it, but also I want them to have questions about these details, so when they watch the film again it would start to expose these questions, and make it more layered and complex.

Your films tend to have slightly ambiguous endings. Is this intentional and what do you want your viewers to come away with?

Shinkai: In my past works, I did intend the endings to be ambigious because I want the audience to think about if it is a happy or a sad end. In Japan, this not a common way on how endings are done. When I made my own films, I wanted to end like this. For Hoshi, I made the ending clearer.

Seeing your audience's reaction now, what would you do to change Hoshi o Ou Kodomo?

Shinkai: I always have certain regrets or second thoughts after finishing a movie. So if I have a chance to remake the film, I would make it twice as good. Even for my past work like 5cm, perhaps I could make it five times more interesting today. As time goes by, my experience has increased and I gained skills, but when the audience have already watched something, I don't think about it as how I could make it better but just how it was the best I could do at the time.

How is it transitioning from working alone to working with a staff?

Shinkai: The big difference is that when I am alone there is less stress. What I want to draw, I draw it. So there's no stress. On the other hand when I work with a group there's a lot of stress; people don't always create what I want them to create, and there's a lot of communication between the staff. However when I create something it is only as good as my limitation, when I work with the team, the staff come up with brilliant ideas, so the work can become more fleshed out beyond my own limits.

How have you developed as a director, and what would you want to do in the future?

Shinkai: When I debuted with Voices, I wasn't sure if I could be called a director since I created it myself. But I was the director. I didn't really understand what the position means. After that I was working with a team, but I still wasn't sure what that means. I drew pictures myself, and directed others. It was a learning process. After working on this project for two years, I think I finally got the image of working as an anime director, so I finally feel that this project is my directorial debut. Now I know how it feels to direct, I want to create the next project as a director. I'm looking forward to what I can do for the next project.

With the changes to animation and computer technology, how have things changed in the past 20 years as an artist?

Shinkai: Today the circumstances are better, the hardware is better, and there's the internet to help distribute. There's better software. The truth is what you want to express in your work is still the basis of that. When you are creating it on your own, the effort goes into making it look good. So even today even when the circumstances are better, if the artist doesn't understand that you need to express through from what you want to show, then things hasn't really changed much.

Is there any reason to use young people to expand on a theme about loss? What is it like introducing an older character?

Shinkai: To clarify, Morisaki is an adult, and Asuna is an 11 or 12 years old girl. The basic purpose behind this is that I want this work to reach a broader audience. In the past my audience was for the 20-30-year old male demogrpahic. That's fine, but the challenge this time is to create a film for a broader audience that they can enjoy, such as teenagers. This is why I include an adult in this work.

Your works centers around communication as a theme, what makes it attractive to you? Are there any aspect of society that inspire you?

Shinkai: Today in Japan and many parts of the world, people are interested in communication. Today in Japan, people don't watch as much TV or play as much games, where as the communication itself is becoming more of a form of entertainment. In the society I live in where communication is replacing other forms of entertainment, it has become a main point of my work.

Would you want to use the setting of Agaratha in later works?

Shinkai: I would feel honored if other creators would want to use my setting for their works. Hoshi currently has two manga series that are seralized in magazines, created by two different artists. I didn't make any particular requests for those two artists. I have no problems with more creators to use my world.

Your films have highlighted commitment as a virtue and obsession in face of separation. Virtue as a good thing but obsession as a bad thing. Is there a distinction that you want to tell your audience?

Shinkai: I think it depends on the time when my work was made. Perhaps when I was creating 5cm, I was thinking that about the difference between obession and commitment. But in Hoshi o Ou Kodomo, Morisaki is very obsessed but I do not deny him. He is a character who has used that commitment and obsession as a force to keep himself living. So it is possible to make an obsession a source of power.

Unlike many anime directors you do care for international audiences, and unlike many anime directors you are also much younger. Do you think that is related?

Shinkai: To be honest I never thought about how my work could appeal to international audiences. When I was creating Hoshi, I wanted to make a different work. My older work needed some knowledge about Japanese cultural or have a Japanese background. So I created Hoshi so younger people can enjoy it, and those who don't have Japanese background can also enjoy. If the international audience can enjoy it, then I'm also happy about that. I just didn't intend to make it so the international market can enjoy it, just that I wanted to create something different.

And that's it... Except for the below two questions, which are separated from above because they are spoilers for his new movie Hoshi o Ou Kodomo! While we've included them here for completion, you might just want to avoid them until you have seen the film yourself.

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Can you talk about the relationship between Morisaki and Asuna?

Shinkai: Asuna has lost her father, so while traveling with Morisaki, she acts that Morisaki is like a father. On the other hand, Morisaki is selfish, yet pure. It is the only thing he has. Despite being told to keep on living when his wife died, Morisaki is too pure and cannot live without his wife. Maybe he knew that it is impossible to bring his wife back to life, but during the trip with ASuna he realizes that a sacrifice has to be made, despite having bonded with ASuna. The internal conflict in Morisaki is that being both selfish and pure, he has to keep on living yet follow his dream. Perhaps it is controversial, I don't think Morisaki is a bad person. He is a complicated yet pure person and I do not deny him.

With the way how the ending is ambigious, it is a typical way how Japanese literature end. Maybe this is something from your literatry background. 30-40 years ago it is impossible to think that this kind of ending to be well known in the world, but would you keep on creating this kind of ending?

Shinkai: Morisaki is a complicated character who believe that retriving the person lost is more important. Shin said that the living is more important. Asuna feels that being alive is a blessing. In this way she doesn't deny either of the character's beliefs, and she doesn't deide which one is true. That's how I feel about it. I thought about it a lot and the more I think the harder it is to come to a conclusion. It's with this idea that I want to leave the audience to consider.

Shinkai: If you ask me if there is any ambiguous Japanese literature that lead me to this kind of ending, maybe. But there wasn't one specific work that lead me to this kind of ending. When I see the reaction of audience abroad about these kind of ending, I get the feeling that this style is acceptable worldwide. If the work is more perfect, then the ending doesn't have to be so clear. It is possible to make the ending easier to understand and to make the audience feel better, and if it is required then in the future I can make it less ambiguous. I can't however change who I am and the literature I grew up reading, so perhaps the way I think and the way I create ending would not change much.

 

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Jeff Chuang
Jeff ChuangAssociate Editor   gamer profile

Yet to be the oldest kid on the block, this East Coast implant writes cryptic things about JP folklore, the industry or dirty moe. Attend cons and lives the "I can buy Aniplex releases" life. ... more + disclosures


 


 



Filed under... #anime #Makoto Shinkai #Otakon

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