It’s 2021 and being into anime today is more acceptable than it ever has been. Now there are a lot of factors to this, rather it is Netflix funding a ton of series, or Crunchyroll and Funimation each trying to bring more and more content to the US. But there is one overarching shift that I believe was a major force when it came to normalizing anime as a medium, and furthermore, I give a lot of credit to one man in particular. I am of course talking about the massive amount of critically acclaimed cinema films that have come out of Japan in the last 2 decades. Movies such as ‘A Whisker Away’ ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’ or “A Silent Voice’. Films that tell heart-touching stories, picture-perfect animation, and cinemaphotography. The production and pure quality of animated films are at an all-time high creating an environment where even non-anime fans enjoy them. Of course, there is a massively broad reason for this but I do give a lot for this to none other than, Makoto Shinkai.
Being coined as the modern age Miyazaki, it isn’t hard to find praise and respect for this screenwriter/ director. Shinkai has penned and directed movies such as ‘Your Name’ ‘Weathering With You’ ‘5 Centimeters Per Second’ and ‘The Garden Of Words’ this is by no means all of them but some of his most recent and popular. Chances are you’ve heard of one if not all of the films above. I am still ironing out how exactly I want the “Who Is” series to play out, I believe my Jun Maeda take wasn’t really a good one and I am going to try to approach this one a tad bit differently.
Briefly Shinkai, Makoto was born on February 9th, 1973 in Koumi-cho, Nagano. He dug into animation early on in life, releasing his first (written) short in 1999, a five-minute monochrome bit titled “She and Her Cat” and his first full film “The Place Promised in Our Early Days” in 2004. Writing and directing a fair amount of films, I think he actually wrote one of his best works just three years later in “5 Centimeters per Second” a film that ascetically for being released in 2007 is stellar.
This is where I think Makoto has his strongest point. Much like Maeda, Makoto writes stories that all pretty much play around love and tragedy. Having two people pulled apart by some sort of third party, usually ending in them never being fated to meet again. In the respect of storytelling, I would rank him as a good storyteller, but not much more than that. His stories are whimsical and typically force the narrative of tragedy, honestly, his style is very similar to Maeda in many aspects, which is by no means a bad thing, Maeda is regarded as one of the masters of melodramatic tragedy, so many may even consider that a compliment. In short, I like both of their styles, they leave impressions, but that impression is usually something along the lines of “Oh that’s sad” or “bummer” not much else.
So what is it exactly that puts Shinkai, Makoto in the presence of some of the greatest anime directors and writers of all time? In my opinion, it is simple, he has a vast understanding of animation and screen cuts. Makoto never wastes a scene, every second of his films is damn near perfect in aspects of purpose. His angeling, camera pans, colors, design, lights, honestly, all of it is amazingly on point. I am no animator, I know little about it on the professional level, but I have seen a lot of anime, I have seen a lot of anime films, but there are only two people on this earth that if I watch their movies, I can tell you without a doubt who directed it. Shinkai, Makoto, and Hayao, Miyazaki.
I am by no means comparing the two, honestly, I think that comparison isn’t a good one. The veins of those two directors are vastly different, I mean just go look at any Studio Ghibli film than any Makoto film, it’s obvious. But getting back on point, what I think Makoto has done is create cinematography that is so vast, vibrant, and beautiful that even the most casual, or non-anime fan can appreciate what is playing out on the screen. And that honestly is an insane feat that my words will never be able to convey. Makoto has and is still changing the anime film industry, bringing the masses to cinemas all over the world, putting anime front and center on the global stage and I truly thank him for it. If he never dived so heavily into film creation, directed, and wrote the stories he has, anime as a whole I believe would be in a very different place today than it currently is.
As I mentioned above, I am still trying to figure out what I want to do with the “Who Is” series, I think it is a great opportunity for me to inform others about creators they may not know have many works. But I am also hinged by how I address these people, I am an American, honorifics aren’t a thing here. But I know if I ever meet Makoto-sensei my addressing of him would be much different than the lax style within this post. I could just be overthinking it, I do that sometimes.
But nonetheless, thanks for the read!