Otakon 2011: Shinkai Makoto Press Conference

The press conference for Shinkai Makoto-san was held in the Sheraton on the 2nd floor. Many people were in attendance and below is the verbatim transcription of the interview.
Shinkai Makoto-san gave his introduction that has become very familiar in a comforting way.

    Makoto: Hello, everyone. My name is Makoto Shinkai. I am an animation director. Thank you for coming today. I can’t speak English very good, so him. So please ask me anything you want. Thanks.

    Q: There seems to be a difference in titles between the Japanese and English for Hoshi O Ou Kodomo, you mentioned it during the Opening Ceremonies on friday, instead of about a star…Voices From Deep Below. Would you be able to explain if that is an actual difference and why the decision was made to go in that direction?
    A: The Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below is actually the subtitle put on the Japanese title. Currently, when we were releasing it to the English market, we are using that one as a sort of temporary means of a title. So there is in the future a possibility that the title might change more to a direct translation of the Japanese title. I’m sorry I made you confused.

    Q: *acknowledging that it was asked during the Q&A panel* What are your literary and film influences?
    A: First of all, as an anime, I’m getting a lot of inspiration from Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki’s old works. A few in particularly to choose one that would be Castle in the Sky: Laputa. For the books I would be getting a lot of inspiration from Murakami Haruki.

    Q: You seem to have a very small staff now. I’m wondering if you wish you had any of that staff available when you did Voices of a Distant Star?
    A: Right now as you have said, I have some staff people who are working with me right now. But in comparison, when I was doing Voices of a Distant Star, that was pretty much selfmade Indy film. Including the fact that I voiced it shows that it was handmade by myself. And I did at that time felt a very good deep satisfaction that I was able to make this whole film by myself. On the other hand, currently I already have staff members almost like my family. When I’m working alone right now, sooner or later I will be feeling a little lonely. Rather, I would feel like going back to the family studio. If you ask me whether if I ever think about the time when I was making Voices of a Distant Star, if I wanted to have the current staff with me, that’s kind of a ‘what-if’ type of question and that kind of question never came to my mind. So I’ve never really thought about it.

    Q: Is there a goal or purpose that you wanted, a professional or personal goal for your latest movie, Hoshi O Ou Kodomo?
    A: I’m not sure if my answer will be an answer to your question, but The Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below was perfected early this March and it was released in Japan in May. It has been only three months since it has been completed. Currently I’m still not sure what I should do from here on. Currently I get these opportunities to go see the reaction from the audiences, including Japan and going abroad. I’m glad to use this opportunity to think and decide on what I will do after this, both professionally and personally.

    Q: Your previous films had simple themes with complex emotions, such as distance or time. What would you say is the overarching theme of Hoshi O Ou Kodomo?
    A: It’s very difficult to put the theme into one word. If I could do of course, I wouldn’t be making two hour animation. However, if you want me to say it then that would be how to overcome from the things lost. Ones sense of deep loss, how to overcome from it. That would be the theme.

    Q: The action scenes in your films demonstrate a new aspect of your film making that I haven’t seen very much of. What sort of films and other works have you looked at in establishing your action style?
    A: As I said earlier, of course I did study on alot of Miyazaki’s works as well. Since we were using the sword this time for the action scenes, I studied a lot of Ruroni Kenshin/Samurai X. I also studied Japanese chanbara, the sword fighting tv shows in general. Among it, there is a particular called ‘Mugen no Jounin’. This one had been put into animation a couple of years ago and I also watched this one to get the idea.

    Q: Unlike alot of other animators working today, you started your career animating on computers rather than using handdrawn animation. What do you think of computer animation as opposed to handdrawn animation?
    A: Although it has been said commonly that I started working in computer animation, but when I started out, I actually upon making the characters, I drew with pencil and pen and I scanned them into the computer. By means of tradition, the method I used just happened to be exact same as how the 2-D animations are made. On the other hand, as you said, yes, 3-D is totally different looking and different method from what we do in 2-D. Like it’s toally different from the ones like Pixar or Dreamworks are some of these are doing. Its true that there are more of a trend today, there are more of those made right now, for the moviewise. I feel if that is the way the direction generally goes and maybe even some day 2-D might disappear, that is something that is unavoidable. But personally I do love 2-D animation style. That’s something I am more familiar with growing up watching it and I would definitely like to keep on drawing it with 2-D animation by myself.

    Q: I understand that you studied Japanese literature in college and there is an introspective literary quality to a lot of your work, particularly in the way you use voice over and monologue. Do any of these particularly live action filmmakers or directors or cinematographers that you admire? Is live action a medium that you’d like to pursue in the future?
    A: Speaking of the live action, I do go to see the movies and enjoy it. But that one I go just as one of you, one of the viewers of the movie and enjoy it. I’d probably go see the Hollywood movies like ‘Batman’ or something like that once a season. If you ask me if I’m ever inspired by it or owing on any particular action movie director or in that field, that would be the direction, Shunji Iwai. His way of using light and shadow is very inspiring.

    Q: You seem to be a notable exception in that you are someone who came from the video game industry into the anime industry. It seems like the larger trend is for people to go from anime into video games. What do you think the anime industry can do to either maintain or attract great talent?
    A: True, at least in Japan from what I see, video game industry companies are much more stable and they tend to treat their workers much better than the way the animation industry treat their working people. However, the staff currently working with me are those people who really love making animation. Of course, I treat them so they can live working making animation, but that’s about what I can do right now personally. When you ask about how the industry in general can change the trend, that’s something I never really gave a big thought about it since I am not even the industry’s representation or anything. Personallym I think that if we can make on making the great animation film that people or society really think that is great, then perhaps maybe we can increase the number of people who would be more interested in making the animation.

    Q: The time frame in which Hoshi O Ou Kodomo takes place is a little unclear. Is there a specific time frame that you were aiming for that to happen or is that in general?
    A: Yes there is an intention in the way I have established the time frame for this work. I put the time frame in a way that would be the minimum required for the audience to understand the time frame. I would like the audiences to feel satisfied when they first watch. But at the same time, I want certain questions to remain in their minds about the time frame and would feel like watching it two or three times more in order to understand more in details about what they have just watched. So that’s purposefully made a little complicate to understand.

    Q: Your movies usually have a slightly ambiguous ending. Is this intentional? What feeling do you wish viewers to get at the end of your films?
    A: Yes as you have said, in my works in the past, the ending was purposefully made kind of questionable about whether the impression was a happy end or supposed to be a sad end. That’s because I wanted to have the audience to think about the ending by themselves, whether it was a happy or it was sad ending. In Japan that is not the major style of how the films are ending and upon making of my own film I wanted to make something that is unique compared to other works. On the other hand, my Children Who Chase Voices from Deep Below, this one we have made the ending a little bit more clearer, compared to past works of mine.

    Q: Looking back now that you’ve seen the reaction of audiences, is there anything you would have changed about the film?
    A: Yes, I always have certain regret or rethinking as the time goes by. As I said earlier, the time it finished was in March, May and it’s been 3 months since I keep on watching the reaction from the audience. So if I say so then yes, if I try to remake, probably I can make something twice more fun. Even for the past work of 5 Centimeters Per Second, if I were to make that one over right now maybe I might be able to make it five times more interesting. Or the works older than that, maybe I can make it ten times more interesting. So as the past goes by, I might have gained more skills and thinking thoughts on how to make it better. But the audiences who had paid and watch those works, have watched it already, so I try to not think about how I could have done better but rather that was the best that I was able to do at the time.

    Q: Could you describe the transition from making a one man project, like Voices from a Distant Star, and making a larger scale project with a team like 5 Centimeters Per Second or your new film?
    A: A big difference would be when I’m making it alone, there’s less stress. Basically, what I imagine and what I intend to draw, I draw and then it comes out. So by means of stress, there is no stress at all. On the other hand, if you are making it by one’s self then the outcome would not be more than what I have at all. It would stay within my limit. When you are working with a group, there’s going to be tremendous stress. Sometimes people might not come out with the picture I want and I have to re-write it or ask them to re-write it again. So there is going to be tremendous communicational stress comes up in order to make my vision come true. However sometimes those staffs come up with much more brilliant talent than what I had expected. So the work will go beyond my limit and become much better work than my own limitation.

    Q: Throughout the course of your career, in what ways have you developed as a director and what ways would you like to further develop in the future?
    A: Ever since I debuted on Voices of a Distant Star, I’m not sure really if I would call that directing, because I made it by myself and that’s it. Yes it’s my work and so I was co-director of Voices of a Distant Star. But it was self-made and I really didn’t understand what a director is at the time. All the works after that, yes I have been working together with other people in order to bring the works come out. But then still I was not so sure what directing means. I draw the pictures myself, I direct others to do certain things. But that was a learning process. After two years working on the current project, finally I think I get the vision of “Oh, so this is what being animation director is about.” So I have finally have a feeling that this is my directorial debut as a feeling. Now I have learned how to be the animation director, I feel like, yes I want to make the next movie as animation director. So I’m looking forward to what I can do as a director for the next show.

    Q: With more powerful computers and software for animation now being available, do you feel as though the role of small independent animation films has changed in the last 15-20 years?
    A: True, today’s circumstances are much better. More powerful PCs, you even have internet to distribute, there’s much better software. However, the truth is what you’d like to tell in your work I think is the basis of your work. The tendency is, when you are selfmaking, you tend to put more effort in the quality of how it looks unfortunately. Even though the circumstances are better, if selfmaking artists do not understand that you need to talk what you really want to show, then it has not really changed much from ten years ago.

    Q: In your previous works, you’ve used younger protagonists and in your most current movie you actually have a more adult, mid-thirties character as well. Is there any reason you’ve used young people to display your overarching theme of loss in the past? What does the introduction of an older character now mean for this work and possible future works?
    A: First of all, yes there is Morisaki who is adult on this show but the main character is Asuna who is an eleven/twelve years old girl. First of all, I wanted to clarify about that. The basic purpose of the change was because I like to have a broader audience this time. Simply put, my past work was more watched by the 20-30 year old male audiences. That’s fine, however, I wanted to challenge a little bit more this time to the broader audiences might be as young as teenager children to watch it and enjoy it. So that was the main purpose why I have made a change to include the adult in my current work.

    Q: I wondered if you could talk a bit about the relationship between Asuna and Mr. Morisaki. At one point in the movie, Asuna tells him he’s pretty much like her father and he doesn’t react much to it but later he seems very emotionally conflicted at the possibility that Asuna might need to be sacrificed for his dream. I wondered if you could just talk about how you see their relationship and whether you feel Morisaki has accepted the outcome at the end.
    A: As you know, Asuna had lost her father. Upon traveling with Morisaki, she has this feeling of a family-like emotion, like he’s like her father. Morisaki is a very selfish but yet very pure person. He had lost his very loving wife. Upon dying, his wife told him, “Please, even after my death, please keep on living your own life.” But those words made him harder to keep on living. He loves her so much that he cannot live without the purpose of making her come back to life again. That’s how pure he is. That’s the only thing he has. Perhaps he knows that it’s almost impossible to bring the dead back to life again. Upon traveling with Asuna, he too feels this family-like emotion towards Asuna. But at the end he chose to, in order to bring his purpose or dream of bringing his wife back to life again, he had sacrifice Asuna for his dream. But this is, as I said, because he is so pure, because he is so selfish that he had to follow that in order to keep on living. Although it is controversial, I cannot say that he is just simply that selfish of a person. I think he is a very complicated, yet very pure person and I cannot deny him.

    Q: *in Japanese* The way your works have been ending (the ambiguous way of letting the audience think of the ending,) is a very typical way of how the Japanese tend to end. Perhaps you got that from the literature that you read from college. Will you keep on doing this Japanese styled ending, ambiguous, leaving the ending to the audiences mind. 30-40 years ago it would almost be impossible to think of this Japanese styled type of ending to be known to the rest of the world. But now it is a very possible truth, fact and possibility that this ending will be ending will be wellknown. Will you continue on this style?
    A: Let me answer the second part of your question. Morisaki is a very complicated character, as I have said. He rather think of his deceased wife, who is dead is more important than anything else. On the other hand, the boy Shin, towards the end screams out that the person who is currently alive is more important than the dead. Asuna on the other hand, thinks this is a blessing. She does not deny (neither one of them,) she does not make a decision on which one is true and that is how I feel too. I think about these things a lot, but I cannot come to the conclusion either. The more you think of it, you cannot come to a conclusion. With that in mind, I left the ending to the audience to decide, because I want the audience to think too. If you ask me if there were any Japanese literatures that led into these ambiguous ending, then perhaps maybe because I have grown up reading all these Japanese literature. But if you ask if there was any particular work of literature that affected me upon coming to the ending of this, what you call an ‘ambiguous ending’, there is none. Upon seeing all the audiences reaction abroad, outside of Japan I am getting the feeling that this style could be accepted worldwide. If the entertainment is more perfect, then the ending does not necessarily have to be so clear. Technically, it is possible to make even the current works ending to be a little bit more easily understandable in order for the audiences to feel a little bit better. But if it is really required of for my future works, it is possible that I’ll make ending to be a little more unambiguous, a more little easy to understand ending. But I cannot change myself, I cannot change what I have already read and grown up with so perhaps the way I think, the way I make the ending will not change that much…but technically possible to change.

    Q: Your work typically centers on a theme of communication between humans. What is it about this concept that you find so interesting? Is there any particular aspect of humans or society, that you get your inspiration from?
    A: Simply put, I believe that in Japan or the most of the world of the world today, the majority of the people are interested in communication. Today, in Japan people do not watch tv that much and they don’t play games that much. The communication is actually becoming more of an entertainment itself. So when the society that I live has this tendency that communication is so important and that it has taken the place of entertainment, then naturally it has become my center of point interest when making my works.

    Q: You left a great deal about Agartha unsaid in the film. I was wondering if it’s a setting you might want to return to later on in your works or let other creators, directors or authors work in it?
    A: I feel rather honored and would like other creators use Agartha, very much. In fact in Japan, Hoshi O Ou Kodomo has two manga in magazines. Upon Hoshi O Ou Kodomo being placed in manga, there’s two totally different individuals/artists drawing the manga. I did not put any particular request on how Agartha or the world would be featured. I really welcome more creators to use Agartha and there’s no problem with it.

    Q: Your films have always highlighted commitment as a virtue in the face of separation and loss. But it also draws a line between commitment as a positive and obsession as a negative. Is the distinction between the two a lesson you want to teach the audience?
    A: I think it depends on the time my work was made. Perhaps when I was making 5 Centimeters Per Second, I was maybe thinking just as you have stated, maybe commitment being the virtue/good and obsession being bad. But currently in my work of Hoshi O Ou Kodomo, I have made the character Morisaki, who never gives up, who is totally obsessed. But even then I did not deny his existence. The character who keeps on thinking very strong might become his own power to keep on living. It is possible to make that obsession as a source of his living will. This way of change of my thinking is reflected upon my works. Maybe it will keep on changing as time goes by to my new work.

    Q: In stark contrast to what many other anime directors have said, your answers this morning suggest you put significant thought into international audiences. Also a contrast of others, you’re much younger. Do you feel this is true as one follows the other? That since you’re younger, you think of interactional audiences?
    A: To be honest with you, whether I have made my work towards younger audiences and whether my wish to be that it would be watched all over the world…is it equal, I have never truly about it. Towards making Hoshi O Ou Kodomo, I wanted to make the work different from my prior works. In order to fully enjoy it, my older works require people to know certain details of the Japanese culture and Japanese background. But I wanted to make it different from 5 Centimeters Per Second so that people who do not know about Japan could also enjoy. That was my main reason to make something different this time. It’s true that I wanted younger audiences to watch this and if those were accepted abroad and as a result of it then, I am very happy to know that. But when I was making, in the process I really never intentionally thought about, “Okay I’m making this for the world market.” I never thought about that. I just simply wanted to make something different from my prior works.