Anime 動漫

Things about anime


Disclosure, I’ve been to the Suzume exhibit in Tokyo before seeing the movie. To the exhibit’s credit though they really didn’t spoil much. I was aware of some of the characters that showed up, and they showed two edited clips from the movie’s two climaxes, so I knew roughly that something was going to happen but had no idea of the context nor the words that accompanied those scenes. 

Now on to the movie itself. 

First impression is how short the film felt. The movie started, went right to the plot then never stopped, kept up the pace and tension all the way to the end, which did feel a little sudden. From a pacing perspective this is very different from Your Name or Weathering with You which both had a distinct intro, musical montage transition, reveal, buildup then climax, with notable pauses in between them. Suzume instead came in very quick segments owing to its road trip structure. There is a late climax reveal followed by a longer segment but even that was fairly short. 

It is debatable whether this new structure made the film better or worse. It’s better in that it definitely kept things moving, the flipside is it never quite gets enough tension built up to blow it up in magnificent fashion like Your Name did. It’s more gripping throughout the experience but doesn’t leave as strong an impression, at several points I’m left wanting the scene to last just that much longer to properly absorb what was on the screen. 

Thematically Suzume is as predicted, Shinkai’s retake on Child Who Chase Lost Voices, about coming to grips with deaths and losses. It’s a very difficult theme which Shinkai flubbed in Lost Voices. In Suzume, there are still some issues; the foreshadowing isn’t laid out too well and the emotional beats felt like they were moved on a tad too fast for them to land solidly. The problems are mostly in the execution rather than how they are envisaged, tonally and story wise they are incredibly well for what is a very difficult topic. 

There are a few other elements that played to varying degrees of success. Suzume’s relationship with her aunt was a surprise; it was hinted at early on and still caught me off guard how heavily Shinkai leaned into it, with some of the best dramatic and poignant scenes of the film. The romance with Souta (seriously Shinkai did you really have to give him long hair too like Shun?) is good but not great, their interactions are very cute and sweet and the first climax did hit quite hard (but not hard enough). There’s not enough runway to let it reach the same depth as Your Name with Suzume’s main focus elsewhere. 

Your Name had at least 4 dramatic rollercoasters that were all devoted to Taki and Mitsuha’s fate and relationships (Itomori reveal, sunset to pen drop, train scene, open hand) followed by 10 minutes of masterclass trolling at the end with a final ultimate gut punch and name drop. Suzume only really had two, one at each of the climax sequences and the closing scenes were fairly tame. It had to lend other dramatic moments to Suzume and her aunt’s climax and Suzume’s past reveal, and let Suzume have the final moment for resolution too.

Suzume’s romance isn’t the focus and perhaps it’s unfair to judge it too much on that. At the same time I do recognize that Suzume didn’t lend enough moments for Suzume’s personal journey to fully land either. Essentially there were two main plots. The romance and Suzume’s relationship with her past and those around her, each done well but not enough to shine as brightly as the magnified focus of Your Name.

Shinkai apparently mentioned that he originally wasn’t going to have a romance in it and it was going to be two girls on a road trip. From a PR perspective it does explain why romance took a backseat but I’m not convinced the film was going to have no romance at all, two girls on a road trip sounds yuri-tastic to me. The playful relationship between Souta and Suzume with some edits make for the perfect more-than-senpai-kouhai relationship.

Music wise it is the weakest of the three films by RADWIMPS. To be precise it’s the one with the weakest song. Since Shinkai dropped the MV styling this time there isn’t a place for RADWIMP to insert a song. The Suzume theme song is quite hummable and recognizable for the short segments they are allowed to shine through, but won’t be revealed in full till the credits. 

Ignore the songs, the music score is much better than WwY and better than YN in places, if not as recognizable as something like the Itomori tune or Date. It’s interesting that Shinkai chose to rely on music and not song to carry the emotional weight of key moments, perhaps a signal that he is more confident in his ability to let a scene speak for itself. 

A departure from the whimsical jpop of the previous two, there’s added elements of traditional instruments, chorals, that all gave a very different feel. They evoked a mystical, unsettling atmosphere and fuels the tensions during the action scenes. During the Tokyo scene the music instilled fear like invisible tendrils that reached beyond the screen, still the air and caressed one’s spine. 

In terms of visuals there are some notable call backs to Your Name with the starry skies of the other world, and a few harbour town seagulls and boat scenes practically lifted out of Crossroads. 

Two things stand out. There isn’t a scene that was made just to show off visually like the firework scene in WwY or the falling comet in YN. Overall the quality was raised higher even if the lack of a showcase piece made it hard to point out any scene specifically. 3D effects are used more liberally (and perhaps too liberally, some places especially flowers could better have been done as 2D composites). The 3D animated Shouta as a chair is a thing of marvel, and I was surprised how much emotion the chair could convey as a wooden chair without deforming into an anthropomorphic nightmare. 

The other is that the cuts are long. Shinkai’s previous works tended to have rather quick cuts as transitions, but Suzume had a lot more tracking and zooming shots from the use of 3D and long action sequences. There is so much running and flying Shinkai has to be testing the waters for a more action oriented film, a brave direction as that is not his forte definitely. 

Two scenes really stood out to me, one is the skies over Tokyo with the visual intercut and doom it managed to evoke, that disaster is ever so near yet people went about oblivious and hapless. 

The other scene is Suzume in the shower and then getting dressed, fine as a hairlined and unbroken vase. 

Suzume is a film with a lot more subtleties and plays with a more delicate touch compared to the laser focused Your Name. While Your Name contains more symbolisms and layers, as a theme that is being tackled, the approach is a lot more direct. With Suzume’s theme Shinkai had his work cut out for him, it’s much harder to distill down, or to even describe. Best exemplified by the tagline. Your Name was simply Searching for you whom I have yet to meet. Suzume’s was… On the other side of the door exists all times, which while true it’s more a descriptor of something that exists in the film than its theme. And it seemed the promotion team couldn’t decide either and sometimes promoted with the words ittekimasu.. Ittekimasu, which roughly translates as “going now”, “I’m leaving and will be back”, are words that actually prove to have multiple meanings that ties into the theme. 

On the surface level, it’s a word to suggest Suzume starting out on her journey, throughout the film it also relates to Suzume finding her determination to depart on her last quest, then somberly for all those who said the words in the morning but could never say “tadaima” or “I am home/back” on 3-11, and finally for closing the wounds of the past and moving forward to a bright tomorrow. 

It’s a faceted tagline fittingly viewed from many many angles, the problem is by itself without context, it doesn’t evoke that same poetic beauty. At least it’s better than Weathering with You. 

Back to the tagline, there are too many ways to look at the overall message of loss, acceptance, remembrance and embracing the future, it’s hard to be distilled to a single sentence. 

A lot of things that happened or shown throughout the film adds their light touches that weaves finely on the side of the line that is the obscure. It feels like a lot of elements could be removed without impacting the plot, but ultimately makes the film weaker overall. And I think that is what makes Suzume such a hard film to assess, because it is a film not just about a single story or an event, but about society, about people, about experiences, about the past and future and connections.There’s many mundane moments in Suzume that works in the end because they provide a portrait of daily life in the past, present and future. Ask people what makes a society, and there will be an infinite number of responses. 

For me, Shinkai did succeed in conveying the message he wanted. In a very strangely reminiscent of the Shinkai of old, that tranquil emptiness. I wasn’t happy, nor particularly sad during the first viewing. None of the moments brought me to tears or made me cry out with amazement. But something lingered long after I walked out the theatre. A calmness, full and unfulfilling. That made me thinking back again and again to what happened, enough to drive me into going back to watch it again the next day, even at full ticket price; something I had never done before. 

I am not from Japan. Though I love Japan and go there almost every year, my understanding and affinity to the country is distant. I was not there when 3-11 happened. My memory of that event was the horror of seeing the tsunami on the news, that Madoka (and many other animes, but mainly Madoka) was postponing their episode release. Followed by the lengthy distant worry of happenings at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

I went to Japan the first time later that year, at the close of the year. Already then the earthquake felt like a distant memory. The Christmas light shows in Tokyo went on as usual. There were prayer candles as part of the light exhibit in memorial and solidarity with the Touhoku regions. But like the dirtied banners draped across pedestrian walkways, they felt more ceremonial than heartfelt, at least to me. 

When I later visited the Touhoku a few years later, the aftermath of the earthquake felt a little more real. Sections of the local train lines remained inoperable, and there was a sense of economic hardships long from the bubble collapse exacerbated by the quake. 

3-11 was always distant to me, it was something I understood, but never affected.

I was there in Taiwan on the night of 9-21 quake, when I was still little. I still remember being woken up by my mother, and running down the stairs of the apartment. Driving our car out to an area clear of highrises while the orange flames of the oil refinery burned against the dark cloudy skies. We didn’t know whether the refinery had exploded or not at the time, fortunately the flames were from burning off excess fuel as part of the shutdown procedure. 

I remember the next few days watching the news of search and rescue going through collapsed buildings. Not much more beyond that, I was still too little to understand the gravity of the situation.

Maybe in some small ways the scenes of earthquake and the loss in Suzume struck me more than I realises and its message burrowed deep within.

The theme and the goal of remembering the event and other unfortunate events in life, and how to find closure and continue on, was worthy of praise for even daring to tackle. 

There’s a lot of small details that adds to that sense of loss, wrongness and overcoming them. The chair is missing a leg, the butterflies that accompanies Suzume, the red spider lily flowers, the odd things about Suzume that’s hard to put a finger on the first time watching.

Shinkai poured a lot of detail into Suzume and it’s without doubt his best and faceted character.

Her design isn’t as recognizable as Mitsuha with her braid or Hina with her hooded vest, which made her characterization all the more amazing. 

She is very colourful both in personality, expressiveness and appearances. She’s a bit more mature but doesn’t lose that youthful girlishness. Throughout the film she does what she likes, whether it’s skipping school to look for a handsome young man, or running up a departing ferry chasing after a cat and a chair, or deciding to hitchhike across Japan. She relies on Souta as Souta is the closer who knows about the mimizus and doors, but is also quite happy to pull him in directions she wants, pointing out Souta is just a chair and in no position to refuse her help, pulling Souta over to sit on him so as to not leave him out of the party. 

Yet she’s still vulnerable and have that youthful innocence to her; not being able to tell wine glass from water glass when pulled to help out at the night bar whose owner had given her a ride from Shikoku to Kobe, being frightened when she almost fell out of a ferris wheel, or longing to see her mother, or at the end shriveled up shyly not sure if Souta is going to just leave her on the platform. 

In outfit she has two main sets, a school uniform and a casual outfit with an open denim jacket, white T and short culottes, and switches often between unkempt hair, ponytail, braid and a very sisterly half-up small ponytail, and a fully down straight hair. 

It’s a really sweet combination, especially with the hair, that allows her to be presented in many different ways, whether it’s mature, frail, playful, frightened or forlorn. 

She is the most human of Shinkai’s characters so far, her lack of a distinct style makes her memorable, not as a striking poster girl but deep within the heart, how much like a regular person she is. She is very plain, and very special. 

She’s the one actively driving the story forward as the main character. Souta is arguably a side character. And that goes for the romance also. 

From the first moment Suzume crushes hard on Souta, skipping school to look for him, calling him a handsome man, before laughing at herself for basically hitting on him. Throughout the journey their relationship remain one sided, Suzume tries to kiss Souta on multiple occasions, sits and steps on him, admittedly with him as a chair. Souta on other hand felt like he appreciated her as a companion but hadn’t gotten to inspect his own feelings. 

And throughout, the way she calls out Shouta’s name shifts gradually, and notably in one scene multiple times in very stricken longing fashion. In short, Suzume is likely a little rotten inside but that’s just fine with me. 

More than her general appearance though, it’s what’s deep beneath her that is troubling and captivating. 

At the very start, the moment her eyes saw Souta, she was immediately drawn to him. When she went to search for him in the abandoned resort, she called out that she feels she has seen him before. This was immediately brushed off by her laughing at herself for making a cringy pick up line. This ended up being much more by the end. 

When the worm came out the door, she ran to help Souta without much hesitation despite facing a danger never seen before. This happened again at the abandoned school, and Souta admonished her asking is she not afraid, to which she replied curtly she is not. Suzume said this again and with more elaboration to Souta’s grandfather, that she is not afraid, and death is only a matter of luck. 

This is a pretty odd take from a 17 year old girl in hindsight, even if initially it might be seen just as the heroine effect. 

After losing Souta, she falls out of the darkening sky in a mesmerizing scene of tearless quiet. Her eyes covered by wind swept hair, her beautiful form still and accepting, embracing the death that is to come. Full of distress and terrible beauty.

This aspect of Suzume is something Shinkai could have emphasized more, that there is something odd about her view of life and death. It’s there, but too subtle. 

Suzume isn’t afraid of death because of her survivor issues which skewed her view on life. To her it didn’t matter if she ends up in a situation that cost her her life, it was all a matter of fate and luck, and she was more than willing to give her life up for Souta.

Through of her experience with Souta she realized how much she wanted to live. What she said to Souta’s grandfather that she was afraid of a world without Souta, and what she said when saving Souta were.. a little awkward, to be honest, during my first watch. They were strange to say even in a romantic context, you’d expect something more direct, more about the importance of the person, not about being scared. But on reflection, the scene isn’t as much about her love as about her finally finding something to grab on to, to fear losing, especially since it followed grandfather’s question on is she not afraid of going to the afterlife. 

On her romance with Souta, it’s definitely a little quick and can be unconvincing. On first watch it did feel forced to me, especially the aforementioned scene about being afraid. On later viewing I had time to notice the subtleties and with the knowledge of what is to come, her infatuation with Souta actually feels really sweet, even more than Taki and Mitsuha. The problem is it really takes the full context fo Suzume’s past and that won’t be revealed till the end. I don’t know if there’s a better way to portray it, either beating over the head with foreshadowing or giving up the reveals early and lose the impact.

It’s an innocent first crush rather than a full blown romance. Souta being turned into the chair was an interesting take, on surface it seems to make some audience hard to understand the infatuation, but in a way shouldn’t love be about what’s within and not outside? 

I find the chair being a brilliant way to bring Suzume closer to Souta. The meaning of the chair (being the last memento of her mother) would have transferred in part to Souta, and with Souta being a chair, Suzume can be more daring in expressing her feelings. There’s no way she would try kissing, sitting or hugging Souta if he were in his human form. 

Souta comes to her aid multiple times and never blames her for releasing the keystone that ultimately led to him being cursed. Even as a chair his gentle and thoughtful nature shines through, and after the ferris wheel incident Suzume visibly becomes much closer to him. 

He incited the events that led to her running away from home and embarking on this amazing journey across so many different sights. To her, he came into her world and change everything. 

On subsequent viewings a lot of the initial issues was lessened. For Your Name, the plot twist was so great the first viewing was incredibly entertaining even without knowing the subtle things. I think that’s the problem Suzume has. A lot of issues aren’t issues in full context, but they feel weird on first viewing and the other things aren’t interesting enough to keep them in the back of the mind. 

It’s a film with more issues and less entertaining than Your Name, but Suzume is one that I love a lot more and look forward to seeing again and again more. 

I long to see Suzume being swamped by the two little devils and Souta stepping out to her rescue, to see Suzume falling asleep while hugging Souta on the shinkansen and later complaining about missing the chance to see Mt Fuji. To see Suzume leap after Souta onto the mimizu. To watch Suzume cry out in despair in the sky over Tokyo. To see her broken and fall through the air. To see her wash and dress herself with somber and fierce determination. To hear her cry out for Souta again and again. To see her blackened diary, and her little self search for her mother. To see her launched into the air, invert and tumble against the backdrop of a burning world, and prepare to drive back the mimizu.

With Suzume, Shinkai has branched into even more cinematic tracking shots and almost action like sequences, something rarely seen in his works. I think it’s a good balance between the new and the familiar, and with Suzume almost a closure on his message regarding disasters, the next film looks to be a new chapter in Shinkai’s life. 

Mirai no Mirai

1. That house is a baby danger course, all that level difference and stairs?

2. Hosoda need to rethink his character style if he wants to keep using 3d environments this way, it’s incredibly jarring. He favours plain untextured muted palettes for hand-drawn but goes very shiny and reflective in 3d.

3. The movie lack focus, as if it was meant to be released as 15min episodic web clips. Each episode have barely anything to do with the previous one, rarely sharing characters or plot devices, other than the one with the dog and Mirai (incidentally the two I like most). Worse it renders the whole experience very flat, yet very little individual moments to make things entertaining, I hesitant to say they ruin the build ups because there’s none to begin with.

4. Is Kun 4 or is he 6-7? The problem is he talks (in voice and mannerism) and have understanding (in his surrounding and what people tell him) like a 6-7, yet have reaction and tantrums like a 4. But he is not cute and adorable like a 4 year old would be, so I’m a lot less sympathetic to his antics and he just ends up grating.

5. The episode with the shinkansen is just … off. I’m not sure what Hosoda is aiming for here, it’s not been set up either tonally or thematically. Again it feels like this should have been an episodic release.

6. There are better ways to talk about family. Hosoda got greedy, shouldn’t have thrown every idea into the blender.

7. Given this is the movie and those promo trailers… yeah, no wonder audience wanted their money back.

8. I’m glad Mary and Witches Flower beat it at the box office, that one had a lot more fun and heart to it.

Shinkai’s biggest fan – Noritaka Kawaguchi


A man who could be living the life in Roppongi driving around in an open air benz. Instead he made a 15 year bet on an amateur anime director who made a 5 min anime short about a cat and its owner.


The anime director’s name is Shinkai Makoto.


And the man’s name is Noritaka Kawaguchi.


Shinkai’s Biggest Fan.


A lot of people know of Shinkai’s story. Of how a modest, humble literature graduate who might have returned home to take up the family business, decided to instead join a game company. Work at day and then on his own animations at night, the man created a 5 minute short She and Her Cat, burned the CD-R himself and sold them at Comiket and mails. It was well received and not long after he made the fateful decision to quit his job, so began his journey as an anime movie director with the one man short film Voices of a Distant Star. From there he made a few others, had a few missteps along the way, but ultimately he made Your Name.


As I looked more and more into Shinkai’s footsteps, I found there are plenty others who travelled with Shinkai on his incredible journey, and one man among them, is Noritaka Kawaguchi. Shinkai’s biggest believer.


Kawaguchi is a businessman, after graduating university he joined Itochu, one of Japan’s largest sogo shosha (kind of like investment fund conglomerate). After a few years in the company, he was assigned to work in the group’s game related business in Akiba. In 1998 he was appointed to lead the newly formed Comix Wave Inc, at a age of just 32. [1]


In 2001 one of the staff at Mangazoo, an associated digital publishing business that had been merged into Comix Wave the year before, heard about Shinkai as the guy who worked 5 days a week and made anime in his spare time plus burning and selling CD-Rs. Too much work for one guy. So the company reached out, offering to at least press and sell the CD-R for him. [3]


That was the start of the relationship between Shinkai and Comix Wave.


Shinkai had been concepting Voices of a Distant Star for a few months then, however there were limits to what one could do in the short time outside of work [4]. Seeing this the people from Mangazoo offered to cover the costs and encouraged Shinkai to make a go for it. [3]


Kawaguchi described their first meeting. (The purpose of the meeting is unclear, described as soon after Shinkai’s 28th birthday, putting it around spring of 2001. Possibly as a meeting to get commitment for Voices). Meeting at a restaurant in Harajuku, Shinkai was already sitting there when he arrived. A very polite, friendly man. [5]


Through the making of Voices of a Distant Star, Kawaguchi was convinced of Shinkai’s genius and begins his unwavering faith in supporting him. [6]


With the success of Voices of a Distant Star, Comix Wave was on board for Shinkai’s next film, The Place Promised in Our Early Days. The production was rocky and the film barely made it out the door.


Nevertheless, the company and Shinkai continued onward to 5 cm per second.


Around this time the future of Comix Wave was being reviewed. The company was almost 10 years old and options were explored as to what to do with it. In the end in 2007, a few month before the release of 5 cm per second, the company was split into 3 and bought out by the senior managements: Bulls-eye, Minori (which Shinkai would go on to make the OP for its games EF) and Comix Wave Film, which inherited the name.[7]  For his part in the management buy out, Kawaguchi financed million dollar loans in his own name, making his bet on Shinkai very much a personal one. [9]


(Shinkai is not a conventional director, to match neither could Kawaguchi afford to be conventional on the business side. While Shinkai’s growing success has given Comix Wave some animation studio colors, it mustn’t be forgotten that it was founded and still is, a publishing company.)


Unlike many of its compatriots Comix Wave controlled its own destiny and Kawaguchi was determined to forge a different path. Prior to Children who Chase Lost Voices, Comix Wave took the risk and handled both distribution of film and dvds themselves, including overseas sales, allowing them to reap a much larger share of the successes. [8]


The evergreen nature of Shinkai’s works gave the DVDs long tails, selling well years after release, combined with the greater share of the revenue the steady income kept Comix Wave going between releases, and the company managed to stay small and focused. Kawaguchi compared Shinkai’s works to those of Haruki Murakami, it was something people felt special and wanted something physical to connect to. [8]


From very early Kawaguchi had his sights set internationally, borrowing on his experience and networks from Itochu. [2] (How much he worked to expand Shinkai’s overseas audience is not clear though it’s probably intentional, working with JPF to host a workshop in the middle east then encouraging Shinkai to spend a year in England, then the interviews and collaboration with chinese anime upstarts). As early as Voices of a Distant Star, he had been evaluating the state of pirated DVDs in China and looked to make a move there when the time is mature.[12] By the time 5 cm per second came out, Shinkai had a dedicated overseas fan base and overseas sales became a vital income for Comix Wave.


The failure of Children who Chase Lost Voices was not just impactful for Shinkai but on Kawaguchi and Comix Wave itself. In the interview he hinted at staff tensions and more than the financial loses, it was the feeling of having let his staff down, having had them invest the golden years of their life into the film. But even if it lead to loses, he felt it was more important to be able to look back and think they put in everything and had no regrets. [8]


Kawaguchi had to finance additional loans in his own name to recapitalize the company and worked hard to avoid the company being in the red for a second year in order to stave off the banks. Thankfully with the help of income from overseas, they managed to recover the production cost of Lost Voices after 2 years. [6] [8]


Learning from the experience with Lost Voices, a different approach was taken with Garden of Words. A limited theater release combined with little to no advertising. Instead the DVD and downloads were made available at the same time on release to great success.[7] With Garden of Words, both Comix Wave and Shinkai had turned a corner. (A similar approach is being used for Shikioriori)


Shinkai is not the only creator at Comix Wave. There’s another handful of manga and anime creators that Comix Wave help produce and publish for, to mixed successes.[11] (Peeping Life has a decent following on Youtube, so maybe it’s doing quite okay) For now, Comix Wave still mostly revolves around Shinkai.


With the success of Your Name, Comix Wave has turned a new page. Kawaguchi is looking to lay the foundation for something more than just Shinkai’s supporting studio.


Kawaguchi saw himself as someone who could help bring changes to the industry and sought to value those who worked on the films well.


The box office line that Your Name needed to hit to definitely see a next time from those on the production committee was 3 billion yen. Kawaguchi thus had announced before release to the staffs that should Your Name hit 3.5 billion, there would be a round of bonuses. (In a way he jinxed himself), that number was of course broken in record time. The first round of bonuses were handed out on just 15th of September (film was released only on 26th August). The bonuses were given to not only Comix Wave staffs, while it was not possible to give a bonus to all, where possible outsiders were also rewarded for their involvements. [7]


Comix Wave had been a small studio, many did not even realize Comix Wave had in house production capabilities.[7] With the huge windfall and assured future revenue from continued sales and merchandising, Comix Wave has been on a recruitment spree. While some of the staffs were experienced animators, about half were fresh recruits. [9] Kawaguchi wants Comix Wave to become a place that nurtures new talents that will sustain the anime industry, with a view that fairly paid salary staffs will reflect quality in the works produced. [7]


However the company had been structured to support Shinkai, with a very lean staff meant to support a single anime production at a time, to train up the new recruits will take time and opportunity, something the studio did not have. Comix Wave needed a second production line. (Shikioriori presented the perfect opportunity). The collaboration with Haoliner meant finance was shouldered by the chinese side while Comix Wave dealt with the productions, and an opportunity to give its staffs much needed experience. [12]


(Perhaps in a few years, Comix Wave would become a place known for producing some of the best animator and artists)


Kawaguchi remarked that Shinkai is someone who writes even emails and schedules with such grace and poetic beauty, a man who exhibited a sparkle even in the everyday mundane. [5] He could be enjoying the life from his apartment in Roppongi, driving his open air Benz; instead he made a bet on that young man he met at the Harajuku restaurant. [8]


And for 15 years, the man patiently watched and worked, his faith never wavering, determined to support and nurture that talent. Now after all that Shinkai and he have achieved, he looks to give something back to the anime industry, and perhaps one day, see Shinkai walk down the red carpet. [8]


[1] Hear from the Spirit of the Wandering Samurai, First Half (rough translation), Itochu Facebook, 2017

[2] Hear from the Spirit of the Wandering Samurai, Latter Half (rough translation), Itochu Facebook, 2017

[3] Framing Makoto Shinkai:15 Years of Anime Art from the Director of“Your Name, Crunchyroll, 2017

[4] Youtube DVD Interview, probably from the Hoshi no Koe dvd release.

[5] Comics Star Awards Interview, Bilibili, 2015

[6] Your Name. The man who believed in Makoto Shinkai. Interview of Comix Wave Film’s Noritaka Kawaguchi (rough translation). Yahoo Japan News, 2016

[7] The decade leading up to Your Name (rough translation), Nikkei Business, 2017

[8] How will profit from Your Name be used (rough translation), Nikkei Business, 2017

[9] Frenzy! Anime Industry (rough translation), Toyokeizai, 2017

[10] All about Shinkai’s works, from CEO of Comix Wave, Talking of Anime Business (rough translation). Anime Anime Biz, 2013

[11] Interview with representative from Comix Wave (rough translation), Wakuwork 2019 Interview with Exhibiting Businesses, 2018

[12] Your Name’s Producer Kawaguchi Noritaka speak on Overseas Marketing and the issue faced by the Anime industry (rough translation), Daily Cyzo, 2018


Let’s talk Your Name (Kimi no na wa)

Your Name (img from wiki)

Your Name (img from wiki)


Will contain spoilers.


As of this writing Your Name is officially over 19.9b yen in Japan, over Howl’s Moving Castle, over all other Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films except Spirited Away (ie, it’s No2 Japanese anime/film of all time) and into the all time top 5 (below Spirited Away, Titanic, Frozen and Harry Potter).

Without a doubt, this is Shinkai’s best work to date.

To get things out of the way, no it is not as thoughtful or as delicate as his previous works, however to be fair all his previous works contained major issues which prevented them from reaching mainstream. Without getting too sidetracked they are in my view

Hoshi no Koe: I won’t comment as it’s his debut work, his potential is already evident from this one.

Place promised: Not much improved character drawing in addition to a dulldrum buildup complicated by a difficult world setting.

5cm per second: Fair to say his first true hit and gave him a cult following. The 3 interlinked short story worked well for the topic and the way events are revealed, however I think it can be said Shinkai recognizes his problem in bringing a coherent story to the screen in long form and used the short story collection as a sleight of hand to mask it.

There is also a lot of plot points that are merely hinted at and required thoughts to understand. This in my view actually elevates the film and gave it incredible thoughtful depth, this cannot be said to be held by the general public.

Children Chase Lost Voices: The less said the better… Shinkai is not Miyazaki and he shouldn’t try.

Garden of Words: After the previous disaster this gave Shinkai to rediscover his roots and reestablish his footing. It’s acceptably short to allow a fairly simple plot to not be dragged out, however again there is no storytelling, no build up and no tension. The painterly character while good lacked dynamic to them (animation didn’t help either). It did have marvelous raindrops. Gorgeous, tender, sad, but not exciting (exciting doesn’t mean good, but exciting is needed for a movie to be a hit I think).

In short, Shinkai’s weakness are in telling a long story in an interesting manner, problem with drawing and giving life to characters, and poor tension throughout.

His strengths always remained and there was the potential that once he finds a way to address his shortcomings he can create something remarkable. His beautiful background work, his ability to set moods, his incredible knack for putting composing cuts and scenes that ties each scene together.

As long as those weaknesses remained his films remained well received but unpopular. His last film did just 150m after all, barely a blip and cannot compared to even other anime films.

Your Name – In the Beginning

Enter Your Name.

Actually before Your Name, one must first look at Crossroad, Shinkai’s 120 second ad for Z-Kai (remote education cram-school) which came out in 2014. It’s about a highschool girl from a seaside rural town studying to go to uni in Tokyo, and a highschool boy living in Tokyo also studying via Z-Kai as he need to work part-time in addition to school. The ad follows their journey as they study, sit exams, and finally chance into each other while looking for their names in the uni entrance results announcement boards.

Familiar? On top of that, the character designer in Z-Kai is also the same designer for Your Name, Tanaka. (Also designer for Toradora and Ano Natsu Materu)

Crossroad can be seen as the root and practice run, possibly giving Shinkai the inspiration and confidence and team to tackle his greatest challenge.

In my view Tanaka is one of the very key. His character design fit surprisingly well with Shinkai’s visual styles and solves one of Shinkai’s biggest problems in creating characters. Tanaka’s style is also very energetic, his characters are full of spirit and conveys emotions well.

Then Shinkai also brought on board the animation director Andou from Spirited Away. Together the two covers the character and animation side, leaving Shinkai to turn attention to his other weakness, plot and tension.

It’s hard to pinpoint how Shinkai managed to improve his storytelling skills to this degree. Sure, the plot is hardly innovative (especially if you’re familiar with galgames), but Shinkai really made the three arcs flow without seemingly forced, everything is properly foreshadowed yet not obvious to be predictable.

(Any critic saying the ending is predictable teenage drama, they’ve obviously not seen any previous Shinkai works)

I think what really made the plot work is Shinkai’s decision to go with a happy end. Shinkai explained that he felt after the 2011 earthquake Japan was already full of sorrow, and he felt Your Name should be something that brings joy and hope to people.

This changes everything as it meant the overall tone can be much lighter, comedy be added, and a buildup to a climax without people throwing out the popcorn. (I’m of the opinion a built up climax that ends badly comes across as unfair/cheap shock, a bad end necessitates a gradual spiral similar to 5cm/s).

Regardless of any material effect on plots, the happy end certainly ensured it was more ‘hit’ friendly. Not many people want to watch a sad movie many times (maybe at home when they’re in the mood).

In essence, Shinkai managed to produce a work that is incredibly complete and of high quality. Decent story, good characters and comedy moments, in additional to his trade mark visuals and evocative tone. It’s good, but what made it explode is probably a combination of fortune and timing.


Originally Toho the publisher’s plan was a production budget of 0.8b + ~0.8b in marketing, hoping to score 1.5~2b, maybe double that if they got lucky. It’s aimed to do decent for an anime film, not spectacular nor an anchor feature. (In comparison rival director Hosoda’s last few ones ranged from 4 to 5.8b. The popular brand animes One Piece 6.8b, Detective Conan 6.3b, so the original estimate of upward of 4b is already optimistic).

Toho chose to release the film at the last week of August, in other word last week of summer break. Traditionally anchor films are released early in Summer Break to take full advantage of the bored school kids. Since Toho didn’t expect Your Name to be big they wanted to leave the summer slot to Shin-Godzilla, but since Your Name is aimed at teens they went half-way and released it in the closing week. And why not, anime fans are known to be dedicated so releasing in the last week give a chance to give a boost to opening numbers, after that most people who wanted to see it would probably have seen it. This supposed disadvantage may have ended up helping in an ironic twist.

So the stage is set. Shinkai has his most refined work to date on hand, there were expectations that it will do good (for an anime) but quickly fade away once the initial rush.

The first weekend did better than expected, doing 930m. Hurray, this looks to be a hit so it’ll earn a lot for an anime, but it’s still an anime along with the same expectations of poor legs. Toho thus adjusts their estimates to 6b. Which at the time was ridiculed by some. Expectations remained that the hype will quickly fade.

Instead, the hype built. Social media exploded and it’s hypothesized that teens who returned to school spreaded words amongst their friends about the great anime they saw the weekend before and encouraged others to go watch it too.

The second weekend, Your Name’s take increased by 25%, to 1.16b, a total of 3.87b in just 10 days. Original expectations of up to just 4b for entire run duration was already being met and the adjusted expectations looked to be smashed by next week. (And indeed, by the end of the 3rd weekend it will have done 6.29b)

Skeptics who had doubted Your Name was no longer laughing as Japan descends into a Your Name social phenomenon. Could Your Name do 10b, the mythical wall above which is reserved for Studio Ghibli only. No other Japanese anime films had ever crossed that barrier. Many directors have certainly tried, for anyone who crossed that boundary was assured a place next to the great Miyazaki.

Already, the title of Shinkai Makoto, Post-Miyazaki was being whispered.

Toho hurried to take direction of the unexpected runaway hit, just as cinemas all over Japan scrambled to meet the tide of cinema goers. Every seat was selling out. Usually cinemas would post notice at the door writing out which timeslots for which films that day was full, for Your Name it was easy to write. A simple poster and the words “Sold out for the day”. Plus the next day too.

The film industry had been praising Shin-Godzilla (which did about 7b by this time) as the new model of revamping Japanese films, now gazed jaw-dropped while this impossible event unfolded.

Start of school was meant to be a lull period, instead the cinemas was packed even on weekdays. One cinema staff exclaimed “Busy from early to late. Look at the lines at the counter and ticket machines, it’s more despairing than seeing Godzilla make landfall”.

On Week 3 Monday and Tuesday, Your Name together did 600m. Numbers other films will gladly take for an opening weekend Your Name was pulling over two weekdays 3 weeks in.

For the first month Your Name was pulling about 2~3b every week (by comparison Fantastic Beast did 0.8 on opening weekend and 1.7 over 5 days). Within 28 days Your Name crossed the magical 10b line. A legend is born.

It was no longer a question of whether Your Name can be a mega hit. It was a question of how far.

It’s true Shinkai’s has a cult following and is well known amongst the anime industry, he remains a no name on the wider scale and common awareness.

From an unknown director, in an original film, released during school periods. It was unprecedented, no one had any idea nor had any references to draw on. Shinkai remarked that seeing Your Name approach 10b was both exciting and terrifying as he did not think his skills had improved to such degree. The film’s own creator struggled to come up with an explanation.

The milestones were inevitably drawn out against the works of Miyazaki. The Wind Rises at 12.02, Ponyo at 15.5 seemed possible. But Mononoke at 19.3 and Howl’s Moving Castle at 19.6, were deemed to be unlikely, surely.

Your Name smashed 15b by week 8 toward middle of October.

The phenomenon continued to spread. Hida Furukawa, a mountain town which appears in the film was drawing in a crowd of pilgrims eager to visit the film’s setting locations. In the town library where the protagonist and friends conducted their researches saw 100 visitors on weekdays and up to 500 on weekends. The town hurried to put out tourism tie-up campaigns to take advantage of their new found popularity. It’s estimated that the pilgrims will bring in over 15b in tourism money, for a town of less than 25k residents.

The initial craze had faded somewhat, by which it was only doing about 1b a week instead of over 2b.

20b, a number unfathomable by everyone, is now all but inevitable.


Apart from the previously mentioned unintended word of mouth spread by the start of school, what made Your Name the runaway hit is it struck a chord outside its intended audiences. Shinkai stated he aimed for the under 30s, and fair enough the initial audience breakdown was over 7:3 for young people. But toward November that ratio had fallen to about 5.1:4.9. The film was drawing in older people too, even people in their 50s or 60s.

There’s a few things I think which contributed to this, where Shinkai’s weakness became his strengths.


Shinkai’s works are incredibly direct. His works are not reflective but introspective. Other films (cough Miyazaki) may tell a message via story and actions, upon looking at the characters or looking at the outcomes and consequences, the audience is brought to think about the world or themselves.

Shinkai does the opposite, his works are decidedly not about actions or story, but emotions. His imagery, music, editing, all works to draw out emotions from deep within, emotions one may not even realize one had. It’s incredibly spontaneous and organic. Then upon experiencing these emotions, one looks within oneself and discovers something about themselves.

One does not think about Shinkai’s film, one simply feels it. One does not need to think about where the story is headed as you are already in it, feeling it that very moment.

This meant once you’re sitting in that cinema chair, you’re going to feel it, whether you really understood the film or can follow it or not.

For example, to this day I still have next to no idea about what that tower in Place Promised is or why the girl fell unconscious or why they need to fly to it, but goodness do I always feel a swell of emotions watching it.

I will go as far as to say Shinkai’s works is art in its purest form, where meaning is directly conveyed without needing to be explained the finer symbolisms.

Hope after Disaster

The film echoed the fear in people after the 2011 earthquake, as Shinkai said it’s possible for people to wake up to find their homes and lives gone. The falling comet posed a threat which was very close to home and authentic, and the happy end afterward incredibly relieving.

Artistic Approach

Shinkai’s style is very different from other mainstream animes. The closest is probably KyoAni. Definitely something the general public have not seen in anime.

I call it Enhanced Reality. If Studio Ghibli is a fantasy which you can escape into, then Shinkai is all about creating something that you can believe is around you right now, real and beautifully surreal, no need to fantasize as you’re right in it.

This style is almost unique amongst animes. Those who know Shinkai have already seen it, we are impressed by his improvements. Imagine someone seeing an anime this beautiful for the first time.

It also makes an incredibly easy sell, when all it takes is retweeting a single image of the film to amaze the other person. It’s hard to take a single frame of other animes and still make a story out from it. For Shinkai’s you can easily do.

Shinkai himself makes a good story

Shinkai is a maverick. He’s not just talented, his background is beyond incredible. Having worked at game company initially he decided to give up and created Hoshi no Koe entirely by himself at the age of 29. Instead of joining animation studios he continued essentially on his own. He is both artistic and well read, yet have worked on several galgames. He is both an outsider (to animation) and yet very much an insider (as otaku).

An unknown who loved anime so much he struggled for 14 years, making a pittance each time, yet overnight became the most famous director in Japan behind only Miyazaki.

It’s a good underdog story, about someone striving against the odds and achieving his dreams. Makes for great entertainment to tell at tables.

Your Name is quintessentially Japanese

Juxtaposing Tokyo and rural Japan, it connects both Japan’s past, present and future. Unlike Miyazaki who loathes modern world, Shinkai embraces it. Tokyo has never looked so magical, the cityscape never so bright, so full of wonders. It connects directly to the audience, makes them rediscover the city they live in. At the same time the beautiful rural landscapes reminds those who came from outside Tokyo of their hometowns.

The importance of traditional Shinto rituals and crafts in kumihimo (braided cords), is placed right along the glitter of Tokyo’s finest cakes and desserts. It celebrates all of Japan, in all its forms.

It’s a matter of national pride

For the longest time Japanese animation has suffered against western animations. A common perception is that only Miyazaki can put out something of the same level, yet here is a new talent whose film is exceeding all hopes over the Disney animations, not only that but also breaking box office overseas. The media cannot help but cheer it on.

What this means for anime

Without a doubt Your Name has rewritten the landscape for Japanese films but especially the anime industry.

Target Audience

I sometimes think of anime as the following sub-groups.

Intellectual – The Studio Ghibli, where works are seen as art and elevated above others.

For all ages – The Conan, the Precure, the Doraemon, the Dragon Ball. Anime that runs in primetime and is aimed at all ages, is known and accepted by all.

Jumpsters – People who is mostly into the Shonen manga/animes. Naruto, One Piece, Bleach. This is mostly what people refer to when they say someone is into anime, as it’s the one where people are aware of but not necessarily into.

Traditionalists – The ones into Gundam and EVA and quite likely laments the state of the rest of anime.

The late nighters otaku – People who watch the late night animes and is into collecting all kind of figurines and other (cough) merchandise. The big spenders and passionate. Sometimes things here makes the break into the Shonen (like SAO).

The artoku 雅宅 – Art + otaku. Which I will say Shinkai falls into. Or the light novelists (before the medium got swamped by harem and pantsu hell). While anime and manga are often seen as an easy or shallow medium for people looking for quick entertainment. The introverted nature of the culture means there’s a misunderstood and understated portion of people who are actually quite cultured, and simply loves anime alongside other interests for various reasons.

While people often think of otakudom on a linear scale leading into a dark bottomless pit, it’s probably closer to a circle. Like this


***************** -> Jumpsters   ->

********For All Ages*********Late Night Otaku

******** -> ********************* ->

Average Public ***************Artoku

********<-  ***************** <-


As anime industry struggles to regain mainstream audiences companies have targeted the Shonen and Otaku crowd as they have the highest spend, however even that is being overdrawn and the expensive merchandises are no longer selling as well.

So either they double down (shrinking), or they shun the otakus and aim somewhere between Shonen and All Ages in the hope of gaining more mainstream audiences (but mainstream audiences doesn’t pay as much as otaku, it’s still a rich pie to give up).

Shinkai instead reached from the other direction with his very artsy and melancholy works, creating something which spans a much broader spectrum. Somewhere between Otaku, Artoku, Intellectual.

I think Your Name will make anime studios much more open to experimentation, strive to put out more refined works and not aim at the otaku or for-all-ages.

Animation Approach

There has always been a debate about whether anime should be hand drawn or digitally drawn.

Shinkai embraces computer (he did work at a game company…). Actually I question if he can even draw with a pen, he is terrible at drawing as seen from the characters in Hoshi no Koe. Your Name’s triumph pretty much guarantees the scales now tip even more toward digital if not already before.

Otaku Acceptance

This is more a personal hope than probably reality. For the longest time if you love anime you’re directly labelled as weird and twisted. Can’t entirely blame that perception given the amount of lewd content flying around in late night anime.

Given Shinkai’s background, perhaps people will begin to look at anime with a little more understanding, that anime isn’t all shallow silly harems.