Art Space Japan: Shinkai Makoto
A native of Nagano Prefecture, Shinkai Makoto / 新海 誠 is an Japanese animator, filmmaker and ‘manga’ artist who has risen to fame in recent years, in both Japan and abroad. His 2017 film ‘Your Name’ surpassed Studio Ghibli’s ‘Spirited Away’ as the highest grossing animated film in history, and in doing so, heralded the arrival of an animator whom many see as the heir-apparent to the iconic Miyazaki Hayao.
Born in the small town of Koumi, Nagano in 1973, Shinkai Makoto describes his childhood as an idyllic upbringing surrounded by nature. As a child, he painted with watercolours and would become lost staring at the clear and star-filled sky above his home at night. Born into a family in the construction industry, as the eldest son he was expected to take on the business and though he didn’t have a clear vision from a young age, he knew that was not the right path to follow.
Through his schooling, Shinkai loved reading, ‘manga’ and ‘anime’. A member of a literature club, he drew his own picture books and loved the films of Miyazaki Hayao of which ‘The Castle of Cagliostro’, ‘Laputa: Castle in the Sky’, and ‘Nausicaa’ ranked amoung his favourites. Upon his graduation from school, he enrolled to study Japanese literature at Chuo University, leaving his beloved hometown and moving to Tokyo.
Finding His Own Path
After his graduation from university in 1996, Shinkai had fallen into line with expectation and was set to enter a construction company in preparation for eventually taking on the family business. To the ire of his family, Shinkai abandoned those plans at the last minute and instead took a job at video game company Falcom, where he would work for the next five years producing web content and video clips for games.
During this time, Shinkai enjoyed the process of matching images with music and as a side project, produced a short film titled ‘She and Her Cat’ in 1999. The film won the grand prize at the DoGA CG Animation Contest in 2000, and with that, his path to a full-time career in the industry became more apparent. Following the award, Shinkai began working on his second animation ‘Voice of a Distant Star’ and it wasn’t long before he was contacted by company ‘Manga Zoo’ which offered to collaborate with him. As a result, Shinkai quit his job in 2001 to focus fully on his second animation.
‘Voice of a Distant Star’ was released in 2002 and followed by the 90-minute ‘The Place Promised in Our Early Day’s in 2004. Wining critical and popular acclaim, Shinkai’s profile as an animator and film-maker was rising quickly. He would go onto produce ‘5 Centimeters per Second’ in 2007 before taking a break from animation away from Japan. His next projects would catapult him to fame and acclaim globally.
A Rising Start Ascends
Releasing ‘Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below’ in 2011, Shinaki followed-up with ‘The Garden of Words’ in 2013 before going to release ‘Your Name’ in 2016. Hugely popular with audiences, ‘Your Name’ was the fifth-highest grossing film of all time in Japan by 2017 and in 2019, surpassed Studio Ghibli’s ‘Spirited Away’ as the highest grossing anime of all time.
Directed by Shinkai, the film tells the story of a high school boy in in a rural town who is bored of her life, and longs to live in Tokyo. Inexplicably, she begins to switch bodies with a high school boy in Tokyo; experiences they both believe to be dreams at first before realising they can communicate with each other as they move on a journey toward each other. Aimed at a younger audience, the film found popularity throughout Japan and abroad for its masterful storytelling, classic themes and captivating beauty – winning many fans of all generations.
In doing so, ‘Your Name’ established Shinkai Makoto as one of Japan’s most acclaimed animators and heir-apparent to the officially retired (yet still working) Miyazaki Hayao. Shinkai’s next film, ‘Weathering with You’ was released in 2019, also winning popularity with audiences and critical acclaim and cementing his place as Japan’s highest-profile and successful contemporary animators.
THE ‘NEW MIYAZAKI’? SHINKAI MAKOTO’S RISE TO FAME
Shinkai Makoto’s rise to the top of the animation industry appears at first glance to have occurred quickly. Unlike his often compared predecessor Miyazaki Hayao – considered Japan’s greatest living animator and anime film director – Shinkai has no demonstrable and long apprenticeship with traditional animation companies to point at in explanation for a steady rise to prominence. In many ways, his success appears overnight and in stark contrast to those who came before him…
In truth, Shinkai is just the most famous of many younger animators who have taken advantage of increasingly capable animation tools and software that are available to people in their homes. Having cut his teeth on video game animation and learnt the skill of matching graphics to music to express emotion, Shinkai Makoto was able to take control of all aspects of his own projects. Unlike Miyazaki, who was pioneering in his incorporation of computer graphics into his still largely hand-drawn animations, Shinkai exists in a world in which almost all aspects of his films are computer-generated yet following an aesthetic and tone that is familiar to Japanese audiences.
The films of Shinkai Makoto employ beautiful scenery, shifting light and music to convey the emotion of characters and propel the story. In doing so, they avoid dialogue that way work with one audience yet alienate another, allowing the viewer to fall into his films and see his beautifully crafted worlds as though through their own eyes. Nature plays a prominent role in his animations – as it does in the films of Studio Ghibli – and in doing so, connects with Japan’s deep emotional ties to the natural world and a longing for a purer, simpler time.
WHERE TO EXPERIENCE THE WORLD OF SHINKAI MAKOTO
At this time, there is are no museums dedicated to the animation of Shinkai Makoto however for fans of his work, many of the locations depicted in his films are real and can be visited including his most famous film to-date:
THE REAL LIFE LOCATIONS OF ‘YOUR NAME’
Shinkai’s most successful film to date, many scenes in ‘Your Name’ are real locations. Many are in Tokyo with other in his home region of Nagano. Perhaps the most iconic spot is the Suga Shrine stairs in Tokyo.
Often used in promotional images, this location will even be recognised by some people who haven’t seen the film. The distinctly New York-esque appearance the NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building is also immediately recognisable, seen in the scenes centred around the pedestrian footbridge nearby a Shinanomachi Station.
The intersection behind the Shinjuku police station is another prominent landmark the the film – easily identifiable by its distinctive ring construction.
Away from Tokyo, Shinkai’s home region around Suwa in Nagano features strongly. Most prominently, the expansive waters of Suwa Lake can be seen from Tateishi Park.
Finally, moving further into Central Japan and the scenic region around Takayama, Hida-Furukawa Station is featured when Taki departs Tokyo in search of Itomori.