Otakon 2011: Shinkai Makoto panel

Shinkai Makoto is a native of the Nagano prefecture in Japan. While in middle school, exposure to manga, anime, and novels birthed his desire for creation. One of these anime was Castle in the Sky by Hayao Miyazaki which he describes as his favorite. This desire led to his studies in Japanese literature at university.

His works include the award winning She and Her Cat, Voices of a Distant Star which was written, directed, and produced entirely by himself and in which he voiced in the original, the critically acclaimed The Place Promised in Our Early Days, and the multiple award winning series of short stories in the film 5 Centimeters Per Second. ~Otakon guest info

    Shinkai: *in good English* Hi, everybody! Nice to meet you! I’m Makoto Shinkai. Thank you for coming today. So I can’t speak so I need translator.
    Yoshida: Are you sure? It’s fine, I can go…. *audience laughs*
    Shinkai: Uh…no… *patting the table* Stay here.

    Koishiro: Hello, nice to meet you. My name is Koishiro Ito. I’m the producer of Shinkai’s films.

They polled the audience to the number of people who saw the premiere, Children who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below (Hoshi O Ou Kodomo) that morning. They complimented the movie and applauded it.

    Shinkai: I see, many people. I’m so happy. *in Japanese* So, since so many of you have seen the film, I think I’d like to talk about it if that’s okay with you. The movie Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below is a movie that contains very many themes, and I think with only a single viewing of the film, you might come out thinking ‘Now that was very complicated.’ But underlying this, it’s a simple story about traveling to one place and coming back. So like I said it’s a simple story. Old themes going back to the fairy tales of Japan and mythologies. Reaching back like Urashima Taro or more recently in anime, Miyazaki’s Spirited Away about being whisked away to a mysterious world and coming back. The question is what happens when you go away? When you go away, you realize the worth and the values of things you left behind. You realize how beautiful your hometown was or how much your family meant to you only when you step away fromt them.

    As I spoke on this a little earlier, Asuna needed to make the journey to Agartha because near the end of the movie, she admits to the others, the Izoku that she was just lonely. It required for her to make this trip to realize that Shun was no longer around. That Shin is not Shun and she would never see him again.

    So this story is based on a simple traveling adventure story that encompasses all these themes, but I wanted to make this film more widely acceptable to wider audience. I wanted to sorta go back to the classic themes so the character designs are slightly different then the other movies. It goes back to the designs that you see from Ghibli films or some of the other classic pieces. I don’t know how it will actually perform overseas, but fans response was very positive and I’m very grateful. But business is business, and I’m a little worried to see how it will perform businesswise. That pretty much covers what I wanted to say about the movie that some of you have seen this morning, if there are other things you would like to know about this film or about my other past films, please feel free to come up and ask.

The Q&A began with a long line in the middle. Anyone who asks a question is given a piece of film from The Place Promised in Our Early Days.

    Q: You produced Voices of a Distant Star [on your own]. What made you decided to go ahead and produce that yourself rather than going through the industry route to get it produced?
    A: The truth of how that came to be is that at the time, I was working at a game company and my job was to create the opening sequence to the game. But as I realized at doing the job of creating the opening animation, how great it was to create my own animation. While I was doing the job, I started to make my own animation. That’s how Voices of Distant Star came about. At that time, cell phones were starting to become widely available. As I was working on this movie, I bought my first cell phone. And so I used to send mail through the phone to my girlfriend. No longer with her, but as I sent these emails, it would take 3-4 days before she would respond. We live in the same town. It felt like she was on another planet. So that became the basis of the story for Voices of Distant Star. It was me realizing how fun it was to create animation and my first cell phone is the reason Voices From a Distant Star was created.

    Q: I noticed that all your movies always involved hopeless-sorry-star crossed lovers and it’s always involving romance. In the future, are you planning on diversifying your work? Something in the future involving different themes.
    A: Well…I haven’t really thought [about it]. I guess my titles do invovle alot of lost love and such. Hard to say what the next one will bring. But I did mention at the after the film Q&A session that the next film I’m considering is a little bit of a love story involved, but about a boy who leaves his home. It might sort of reflect the situation happening in Japan right now. As things in Japanese society change, it will reflect the storys I may tell. It’s undecided but I’m thinking about a boy who leaves town and then realizes what he had and lost.

    Q: Regarding the guns depicted in Voices, they don’t seem to be guns from the same era. What firearms were those gun designs based off of?
    A: So the ages ranges is set around 1975 and the guns don’t exist in real life, that design. But I was thinking of the era and the design based on existing guns. Even thought the world setting is set around 1975, the special forces of archangel have the latest and greatest, so it might seem it’s ahead of the time.

    Q: Can you tell us about the key differences between being your ability to express your creative vision. The process in earlier your works when he was famous for doing all the production by himself and the later works which has more traditional staff?
    A: Well, I have a large staff that I work with to create the films, compared to doing it alone, it’s lonelier doing it alone. But when you do create something by yourself, there’s no stress. But if you do do it by yourself, it can’t move beyond what you imagined without other people’s input. It’s stressful when you have to work with staff, really stressful. But some staff members will come to you with a design or piece of art that you haven’t even considered which is amazing. By working with the staff, I have a devoted staff that’s expending their youth. Spending years of their lives to create something with me and that gives me a responsibility to see it through to the end and that’s fun too.
    Ito: This film took about 2 years to make, but if Shinkai did it himself, it would probably take 10. *audience laughs*

    Q: In alot of movies, you have a great attention to detail. For example in Hoshi O Ou Kodomo, the fireworks scenes of Asuna on the train tracks and glimmer from the traint tracks or the trail of the plane in the glimmer of the night sky. Do you actually go out and try and get footage of this yourself to get an idea of what it looks like in real life?
    A: I don’t take video, but we did take a lot of photographs. I took a staff of about 20 to Nagano prefecture where the surface world setting is supposed to set and we took thousands of pictures. We thought about the texture of the rock, how warm it was, we tried to absorb much of the detail of the locale before we started. Of course, I’m not saying I’m not influenced by video that I see. One of the things that caught my eye recently is the use of lens flare. It really is a super thin lens flare like in the new Startrek or Transformer movie. I really like the way that looked on film, so I put it into the most recent film, probably the first anime film to do use such techniques in the program.

    Q: When watching the movie this morning, I noticed the scene when Asuna and Mimi are parting ways. I personally don’t have any pets. I know that Shinkai-san you had pets. Is there something special you are trying to convey during that one cut where it’s showing that Mimi leaving is really hurting Asuna. Though maybe that is something people without pets will not realize.
    A: Growing up we always had pets, dog and cats and inevitabley dogs and cats don’t live as long as people. I remember many times going up the mountain side to bury our family cat or dog. When designing Mimi, one of the concepts I wanted to convey was the American animation Peanuts. There is a character, Linus who is always dragging a security blanket with him. As you understand the whole concept of a security blanket is something that has to be with the person to give them comfort, to make them safe. But inevitably one would have to grow up and would no longer require said safety blanket. And just like Linus’s blanket, Mimi was a security blanket for Asuna. But at that point in the story, she no longer needed it. But it was the blanket that told her she no longer needed it.

    Q: What’s it like working with a wide range of voice actors? Like Shimamoto Sumi….
    A: Considering Shimamoto Sumi was the voice of Clarisse and Nausicaa, I was real nervous working with her. Since the character Lisa was a dead character at that point, we couldn’t just have an ordinary voice. I wanted to have a voice that was recognizable by many but has such a clear voice that could convey that she was no longer of this world. I couldn’t think of anyone better for the role. What hurt my heart the most is that Shimamoto-san is over 50 now and the character Lisa is in her mid 20s. And me having to say to her from the recording booth, “Can you make her sound a little younger?” It hurt my heart. *audience laughs*

    Q: What is like working with Kanemoto Hisako who voiced Ika Musume. I hear you actually like Ika Musume.
    A: You guys know what Ika Musume is? *resounding applause* The voice actor for Asuna was the lead in Ika Musume tv series. I didn’t cast her as Asuna because I was a fan of the show. I’d like you to know, we auditioned her for the role before the show was on the tv. When I ask her during the whole process of auditioning, “What are you doing next?” Kanemoto-san answered, “I’m going to play Ika Musume and I’m going to put ‘ika’ and ‘geso’ at the end of everything I say.” And I’m like “Okay, that’ll be an interesting show.”

    Q: You mentioned that you growing up in a country setting had an impact on the images like the night sky. I was wondering if other aspects of the film where growing up in a rural setting had an inspiration to other parts of your film?
    A: As I child, I didn’t listen to a radio, but there was an outcrop of a rock like that near where I live. I went out there alot to look at the scenery. Of course as a child, the view I would have from there was just mountains. Where I lived was surrounded by mountains, and as a child, you can’t but help imagine, wonder what kind of world lies beyond the mountains. It’s not like I was unhappy with where I was or with my life, but I couldn’t help but want to see what was on the other side of that mountain. And like that, Asuna had a fairly good life. She had friends, a good mother and she liked to do the things she liked. She also wanted to see what was out there. That is definitely in the film.

    Q: *starts comparing the different mediums of 5 Centimeters per Second* In a past interview, you said that you have selected 3 out of the 10 parts of the whole story for the animation. What do you think of the true conclusion, including the 7 parts that were cut from the animation? Can you touch upon the missing 7 parts from the animation?
    A: 5 Centimeters Per Second was my first movie. It’s also something I wrote a novel about. Then someone else did a manga on it and someone else wrote a novel about it. There has been a lot of stories told on the 5 Centimeters Per Second story. I created this movie to be a mirror. A mirror that reflected so that you would put yourself into the role of Takaki and for you to see yourself and for each of you to draw conclusions to figure out what happens next. And for me, I guess the novel reflects the ending I would see in the mirror. It would be at the end when Takaki brushes by Akari at the rail crossing. But he’s not sure if he did or not, but just thinking of the possibility he did, the miraculous possibility gives him enough of a foothold to move forward. That’s the ending for me.

    Q: Some regard your latest work to be similiar to Studio Ghibli and you have also been called the next Miyazaki by others. What do you think about such comparisons?
    A: I personally have never met Miyazaki Hayao. Some of the people on my staff have worked with him in the past. And frankly…Miyazaki as a man, I’m not so interested in. It’s his movies that have always inspired me and that I love. If you look at my latest movie, you will see some scenes that definitely were influenced by his films. Like I said, I’m not too interested in director Miyazaki as a man. I think his films are amazing. I remember seeing Laputa in junior high. The emotions that I felt after seeing that film made me want to do something similar. And if a junior high school student would see my film and get that same feeling I had, that would really make me happy. Regarding the comparison, I don’t think I could ever reach his greatness of the films. But all I can do is keep making films and someday look back and say these were pretty good.
    Yoshida: One of the scenes I noticed was (if you saw the film) when went over the side of the cliff and was inside it as they fell down the aquavit/waterfall and then it disappears. When they were going down, they locked arms…that was so laputa! *audience laughs*

    Q: In Voices you had a science fiction setting. In 5 Centimeters you had a more realistic setting. In today’s movie, you had a more fantastic and filled with action scenes. Is there one setting you prefer writing? Is there a challenge to do more action packed fighting scenes we saw today versus the more “I want to cry alot scenes” from the other movies?
    A: Growing up in the teenage years and before that, I was a big fan of scifi. My favorite author is Author C. Clarke and ‘2001: A Space Oddessy’ and such. Like Arthur C Clarke story, Voices of a Distant Star was heavily influenced by his writing. Having able to depict the distance betwen man and space and the greatest of the distances really allows you to focus that person’s viewpoint in the story. My current favorite author is an American [Austrailian?] author called Greg Egan. Just the fantastic viewpoints of how one can depict, just expands one’s point of view into the universe…. I would love to depict that in animation but I have to think that it’s possible because it’s words and the only limits are from your imagination. I don’t know if I could actually depict it, but it’s something that I would really like to do.

    Q: We learned a few influences like Studio Ghibli and where you live. Is there one influence in your mind that you can say is greatest on your films?
    A: The japanese writer Murakami Haruki has a pretty heavy influence on me. Since I read sci-fi in my teens, I read Murakami in my 20’s and enjoyed Ghibli films, so…a mishmash of all of those… the love aspects from Murakami, the settings of sci-fi and the wonderment of Miyazaki films are all influences that create my films. I’m sure his works are translated into English and I highly recommend his books.

Shinkai-san asked the audience if they read his books and got a few hands with an answer of ‘Kafka’. He remarked in disappointment that, “I guess he isn’t as popular as I would have hoped.”

    Q: About 5 Centimeters, when Takaki is on the train going to see Akari and the train keeps stopping, that paralls with later in the film when he’s stuck and can’t move forward in his life anymore. Was that something you thought up while writing early or something that came up when you were making the movie?
    A: You pointing that out, is “Hey, I guess that makes sense too!” *audience laughs* I can’t say it was a conscious decision. Truth be told, I had a girlfriend who lived far away from me in the past, and I went to visit her in the winter time. I was delayed just like Takaki with the train stopping because of the snow. That’s one of the reasons that scene exists in the movie.

    Q: You said before that you would love to hear someone in junior high tell you how inspirational you are for their lives. My dream is to be a film maker and your movies have been an inspiration to me. 5 Centimeters Per Second is personally important to me in my life. In your movies there are lots of themes about lost distant relationships and texting and all that. In Voices of a Distant Star, in 5 Centimeters Per Second. They’re important to me personally because I have a long distant relationship and texting is the only communication. In 5 Centimeters Per Second, I’m a little terrified of how easily it is to lose contact from far away. What really personal reason do you have for putting it in your movies? It must be personal because it’s such a prominent theme in your movies? What do you think the film does for people suffering from long distant relationships?
    A: Well first of all, in japan you send emails through your phone; it’s not text. One of the aspects of young love in Japan right now, but depending on fast, how quickly he responds to your mail to you is a guage to how much you actually love them. And I feel that when you get mail from someone you like, you can’t help but respond right away. If it’s from someone you don’t actually care about, you might put off the response. In that sense, mail as a communication can be a very good thing or a cruel thing. And like in 5 Centimeters, there was a line in there that “Even though I sent a thousand emails, I feel that my heart hasn’t gotten even 1 mm closer.” Like that, I think it could turn out that way or it could be that one mail that gets you as close as you need. I like the differences between the two. And good luck on your relationship. *audience laughs*

    Q: Any advice to anyone inspired by you as a film maker?
    A: I’ve gotten so much inspiration from so many other film makers and creators, I never imagined that I would become one myself. But I think that if that happens, that would make me very happy. And by that person being inpisred from my work inspiring another person, it moves on. I think it could make on very happy and I wish you the best of luck.

    Q: Could you elaborate a little bit more on how and why you got into creating animated films and what kind of challenges you had in your early years?
    A: First of all, like I said, I started out in a game company. I never actually worked for an animation studio before as I began doing this. And pretty much everything I learned, I learned by studying by myself, on my own and copying others. At the game company, the two softwares I worked with most was Photoshop and Aftereffects. I really loved using those two pieces of software. I’m sure it’s popular, I’m sure most of you are aware of it. I came to think how much can I accomplish using these two pieces of software. Teaching myself all those techniques, and copying what I don’t know. I really wanted to see what I could accomplish. I never set out to become an animation director. I was 30 before I even considered what I wanted to do. It just sort of a turn of events, and before I knew it, I knew how fun it was to create animation, and I found myself directing movies now.

    Q: Your works have a beautiful kind of watercolor aesthetic to them. Did you have any training in painintg that led you to do that or if you didn’t, what led you to go for that very intense scheme?
    A: I’ve never been trained in art whatsoever. All that I can say is that I love looking at scenery growing up in the country. I spent alot of time gazing at the scenes around me. Since I love scenery so much, but even at the same time, I wanted to go to the other side of the mountain. When I turned 18 I went to tokyo. Before I left, I wanted to burn in the images at home because I will miss it. And because I did that, it has a heavy influence on the work I do now.

    Q: In 5 Centimeters Per Second, the third section about his adult life, what inspired the almost music video quality to that? How does your relationship with the music in your films changes as your staff grows with each film?
    A: As you said, of the 3 stories of 5 Centimeters Per Second, the third story is the shortest, and it’s almost like a promotional music video of the series. When you think about the time you spent as a child, once you’re an adult, they days were much longer as a child. When you grow up, the days just go by. And the reason we did that was because 3 years in our grown up lives seems to past us in an instant while 3 years as kids seem like an eternity. So I want to depict his adultlife that seems to go by very quickly and that is the way I wanted to depict the third episode. Of course, in regard to the second part of your question concerning music videos, I was kinda limited when I was doing it by myself. As the company grows, we started getting more options and I can say “Hey, I can use this person, or maybe I can get this person to do it for me.” Those options are open before me.

    Q: I’ve always noticed that your works have varied in length from all the way 5 min. to 2 hours. Do you have a preference for the length for your work?
    A: Since my company is such a small production company and we don’t do TV programs, we have the freedom to make it as long as we need or short as we need. It depends on the story. The most recent work, Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Down Below needed about 2 hours to tell the story I wanted to tell. There might be other stories I can tell in 5 secs or 15 secs or maybe 20. It really does depend on the time I need to tell the story. Since it was such a hardship to create a 2 hour film, I think my next one will be a little shorter.
    Ito: To tell you a little production backstory, originally the film was supposed to be 100 minutes long, but it just wasn’t enough to tell it so it go 60 min. longer.

    Q: Have you ever been considered or been offered to do a tv series?
    A: This was answered earlier in the film panel, but I’ve had several offers to create a tv seires, but in order to create a weekly show, it is beyond my personal capabilities at this point, so we’ve been turning them down.

    Q: In the latest movie, you used the elements of a fantasy universe along side a love story. You used the aspect of more of a first love with Asuna and Shun. You used more of a worldbuilding with this other society. Are you going to use these aspects in the future? What is your process towards worldbuilding from scratch since you usually use actual locations?
    A: It would really depend on the story I want to tell. To go back to the beginning of this panel, I said this story is about going somewhere and coming back. To do that you need to have a world that I know and I needed a world for her to go to and come back from. Like I said, the homeworld for Asuna is the Nagano prefecture and it’s a very familiar setting for a Japanese person. But for Agartha, I wanted it to be something different. I had done some work that took me to the Middle East, so I used the experiences that I had there. I searched the internet for various locales and went to the library, so alot of the world of Agartha was influenced by the Middle East and places like Tibet.

    Q: What would you consider one of your most difficult challenges starting your film career and how has that changed now that you gain more experiences?
    A: Lets see, my difficulties. When I first started out, it was basically creating something I wanted to do, so I had turned my hobby into work. If your hobby becomes your work, what do you do when you need to relieve stress. You no longer have a hobby. As I had turned my hobby into work, I still love creating animation, but there are business obligations, social obligations, working with everybody, you gotta straighten it out within yourself and prioritize everything. That was difficult at first.
    Yoshida: So what’s your hobby now?
    A: Hobby? That’s difficult. I still don’t really have one. But I had a child about a year ago, so watching my child has become sort of a hobby for me. *audience applauds*

    Q: Could you tell me about Tenmon and how you came to collaborate with him?
    A: He’s done music for me in 5 Centimeters and with Children. I first met him when I was working at the game company. When we had worked together, he had done the music to an opening animation I had done. Even though he was more senior in the company than I, whenever I go to him and say “Can you do this part of the music a bit differently like this?” he would always listen to me and never frown over the request I give. It was something I like working with him. I mean he definitely is a musical talent, but the fact that he doesn’t complain when I asked him to change something may be the main reason I work with him.

    Q: Can you share an episode of one time you felt like you couldn’t make it or how you worked through it?
    A: There were so many episodes, but what first comes to mind was the reviews for my most recent film. It only came out 3 months ago, and there were reviews that are said it was amazing, that iwas fantastic. But there are also reviews that say its the worst film he’s done. With moments like that, I question if I should be an animation director anymore. Sometimes I wonder to myself that there could’ve be a more suited job for me, but I don’t think I can do something else at this point, so I think I’ll continue to be an animation director for the time being and do what I can.

    Q: A general anime biz question. As an independent creator, I’m interested in your opinion on the critism that I hear in Amercia (as well as Japanese people) say that anime in the past 10 years has sorta been focused on the hardcore otaku contingent. What do you think of that critism and would it take to make anime more widely accepted amongst the Japanese populace, or do you think its better that it’s a niche thing?
    A: First of all, I think the otaku culture in Japan is sorta spreading right now. In this growing otaku cluture, I think shows like Madoka Magica and K-on were created for that otaku culture and were a big hit. Amongst those shows, there are other shows like Ghibli film or Pokemon, those are shows for kids. But the film that I create, I would like to appeal to otaku as well people who love films in general. I think there is a wide variety and that it’s all a good thing.

    Q: What kind of advice can you give to people who were in the position you were in, trying to produce their own work as far as computer programs and breaking into the industry?
    A: I think the advice for someone who wants to create their own work is that you’re not constricted by trying to make something good for business. You get to create something for your vision and do what you want. That’s a good thing. I’m sure if you create something that you wanted to create, there would be other people who want to see what you created as well. I wish you the best of luck.