Just realized how apropos it would be to start a Makoto Shinkai topic on here... so, here it is!
For those who don't know who that is, Makoto Shinkai used to be an animator at Falcom, and is the man largely responsible for those gorgeous Ys I and Ys II openings you may have seen in Ys I & II Chronicles (as well as some of the opening animations from Legend of Heroes: Song of the Ocean), all credited under the name "Makoto Niitsu."
In 2000, Shinkai quit his job at Falcom to pursue a career in anime (he'd been animating short films on the side for quite some time at that point), creating the wildly popular "Voices of a Distant Star" short, which he fully wrote, drew, animated, directed and even voice-acted (for the main male character, anyway) himself over the course of about two years. The anime was quite possibly the most beautiful work ever created back when it was released, containing painstakingly-recreated images of Japan with so much background detail that even HD doesn't do it justice -- a trait you can also see by looking at the Ys I & II or even Song of the Ocean opening animations.
This got the attention of some industry big-wigs, who were basically smart enough to realize his talent and give him a studio... and he and his studio (as well as his musician friend Tenmon, who had also been working for Falcom as part of their Sound Team JDK) went on to create "The Place Promised In Our Early Days" and "5 Centimeters Per Second," both of which managed to top even Voices of a Distant Star in terms of sheer visual beauty.
Shinkai's also been a regular fixture at the visual novel/dating sim company Minori, drawing backgrounds and creating opening animations for their many games up through the present day, including some fairly famous titles such as "wind -a breath of heart-" and the two "ef" games ("a fairy tale of the two" and "the latter tale").
Most recently, after taking some time off in England, Shinkai's created another movie that looks to up the ante once more:
I believe it's either still in theaters in Japan, or is in that in-between period where it's out of theaters but NOT QUITE out on DVD yet. I haven't seen it, but I can't wait to do so, as it looks like it may very well be his best work yet.
I'm a huge fan of Shinkai, and if any of you haven't seen his works (and you don't mind extremely slow-paced, bittersweet character studies full of Japanese literary tropes), I urge you to remedy that right away. "5 Centimeters Per Second" remains one of my favorite movies of all time, and I notice something new every single time I watch it. It's easily the most beautiful animated film ever I've ever seen, exceeding the visuals of even the most superb works of Disney or Studio Ghibli (during the stillest, most quiet scenes, there's still constant movement throughout the background), and just has so much beauty and heart to it that... well, if it speaks to you, it REALLY speaks to you.
Given his Falcom connection, I thought some of you might be interested in learning more about him, and possibly checking out some of his movies for yourself. Voices of a Distant Star, The Place Promised In Our Early Days and 5 Centimeters Per Second are all available on DVD in North America, and the former two have actually been bundled together with a CD soundtrack and art/info booklet as the "Shinkai Collection," which is a really awesome value -- especially since the Voices DVD also contains one of his earlier animated shorts, "She and Her Cat," which is (unsurprisingly) really beautiful and touching.
Despite the cumbersome English name, I'm definitely looking forward to "Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below" (the Japanese title translates as "Children Who Chase Stars" or "The Child Who Chases Stars," either of which I much prefer!), and hopefully, now you are too. Because Shinkai is awesome, and deserves more recognition than he gets. (And he's one of the guests at this year's Otakon in Baltimore, which makes me regret not being able to go even more than I already did!)
'5 Centimeters Per Second' is a movie that I both hate and love. The visuals, the main character and his emotional journey all come together to form one amazing experience. Unfortunately, the ending crippled me. It's a good thing then that I immediately proceeded to watching 'Howl's Moving Castle' in order to raise my morale. It seems that Makoto Shinkai is also a fan of Studio Ghibli.
I also prefer the title 'Children Who Chase Stars'. The movie poster and the teaser trailer have made me really excited. I can't wait to watch it.
Thanks for this post Tom, I wasn't aware of either of those movies. I'll have to check out 5 Centimeters Per Second and keep an eye out for his new one. The animation is absolutely stunning, they look beyond gorgeous.
His older movies are also worth checking out -- "The Place Promised In Our Early Days" especially, as it's his longest movie, and probably his most unusual in terms of setting (alternate history Japan where Hokkaido split off from the country and became militaristic, building an enormous tower of unknown purpose that seems to be somehow manipulating space and time). Still very slow-paced and character-driven, but for those who demand a bit more story than his other movies provide, Place Promised is a good compromise. It has enough actual substance to appeal to the mainstream, but still retains that classic Shinkai style.
'Voices of a Distant Star was written, directed and produced entirely by Makoto on his Power Mac G4. Makoto and his wife provided the voice acting for the working dub (A second Japanese dub was later created for the DVD release with professional voice actors). Makoto's friend Tenmon, who had worked with Makoto at his video game company, provided the soundtrack. Shinkai cited Dracula and Laputa as inspirations to make Voices.'
I just watched 5 Centimeters Per Second. When people said the ending was sad, I never expected this. Honestly, that ending was more disappointing than anything else for me, especially since I love sad endings. Like, yeah, it was sad... just not the kind I expected. I also feel like I just couldn't appreciate the movie in general, regarding the emotions and stuff. I loved the visuals and animation though.
5 Centimeter's ending really isn't SAD, per se... it's more bittersweet. It's a love story about moving on -- about "the one that got away," and how that person could stick with you for years and years... but eventually, the feelings you had for each other will subside into a small corner of your heart, and your life will go on without one another.
In that sense, I thought the movie's ending was pretty much perfect. The turn-around-and-walk-away scene at the railroad tracks was essentially the ideal cap for the slowly withering feelings that took center stage throughout the film.