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Former graphic designer Makoto Shinkai eschewed the traditional apprenticeship in a Japanese anime studio and taught himself how to animate digitally.
Shinkai first caught the attention of audiences in 2002 with his 25-minute Voices of a Distant Star, which he wrote, directed and co-produced. That was followed by his first full-length anime feature The Place Promised in Our Early Days in 2004.
Subsequent works such as Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011) and The Garden of Words (2013) won him something of a cult following before the enormous recent success of Your Name (Kimi no Na wa) catapulted him to stardom in Japan.
Your Name has already grossed more than 100 times what Shinkai’s last film finished with, become the first anime movie not from Hayao Miyazaki to make more than $100 million, and it has spent the last nine weekends at the top of Japan’s box office.
The director talked to The Hollywood Reporter‘s Japan correspondent Gavin J. Blair at the Tokyo International Film Festival about the pressure to make another hit, his love of original scripts, post-Miyazaki anime and why he won’t make his favorite novels into films.
Why do you think Your Name is such a huge hit?
It’s difficult to explain it. I didn’t imagine it would be this big. I think the biggest reason is that there was a desire from young Japanese audiences in particular to see a boy-meets-girl story, and there has not been that kind of film in recent years. So at a time when there was latent demand for such a film, we happened to produce one.
It has done more than a hundred times the box office of your last film — how does that feel?
I have conflicting feelings about it. Obviously, there is no way that my filmmaking abilities have increased 100 times since my last production, so there are factors beyond my control that have helped make this such a hit. I did feel that it would raise people’s expectations of me, which is tough, but now I feel that there is nothing you can do about that, so I am just purely happy about it. The staff that I have worked together with for more than 10 years, and also the staff that I worked with for the first time, think that the director they worked with has created a film that many people want to see — that feels good. And similarly there are filmgoers who have supported me for years, though they would only be 1 in 100 of those who saw this film. (Laughs.)
Do you think you’ll feel pressure when making your next film?
Not really. I was asked a lot about pressure before the release of this film, because I was working with Toho, a major studio, with a summer release slot that is expected to pull in a big audience. But I didn’t decide the scale of the release or that kind of thing, so it doesn’t really affect me. Feeling pressure will not help make a better film, so I will just concentrate on producing the best film I can.
With Your Name becoming the first non-Hayao Miyazaki anime film to pass ?10 billion ($100 million), you’ve inevitably been tagged the “next Miyazaki” by some people…
With the post-Miyazaki talk, if I thought I had the same kind of filmmaking skills as Miyazaki-san, then that would be problematic, but I don’t [think] there is anyone who can make films like him. There is also the factor of eras: When he began making anime, it was during the time of rapid economic growth in Japan, and I think he felt his films had the power to change the world. I don’t have that desire, nor do I feel my films can make society better. For me, it’s more personal — if someone who sees my film, who I have never met, is moved by it, that is great, but I don’t think that will lead to societal change, nor do I aim for that. So we don’t fulfill the same roles.
The successful producer Genki Kawamura worked on this film. What was his input?
He had a big influence, but probably not on things that are easy to see. Being a producer, he didn’t write the script or draw the images or make the music, so the actual production of the film was done by our staff. Kawamura-san’s biggest influence was on the structure of the storytelling. He gave a lot of advice on the timing and flow of the story, where we should place scenes that move the film along and how we should present elements of the plot within a certain timeframe.
You wrote the script yourself. Where did the ideas come from?
The basics of what I wanted to do was to depict a young man and woman who had never met, and the possibility of them meeting. This film essentially deals with the notion of whether there is someone out there that you are destined to meet. Putting aside whether that is really true or not, the idea that there is that potential is what I wanted to explore in this film. But rather than it being from them meeting, a story of before them meeting is the film I wanted to make. I thought about various ways to do that and came up with ideas like the three-year time gap and meeting in their dreams.
You have written all your films so far — would you consider working from someone else’s ideas or story?
I do get asked about that a lot. There are loads of novels that I really love, like Haruki Murakami’s books, and when I read them, I do think about how they would work as an anime. But I do believe that those are great books because they work best as novels, or great manga work best in that form. So why do they need to be made into films? Of course, I imagine that Murakami’s Norwegian Wood could become a great anime, and it would be good business-wise, too, but I think it works best as a book. I feel the best scripts are those that are originally written to be films, that is film in its purest sense. If it wasn’t a story I really loved, I wouldn’t want to film it, and if it is a novel I really love, I think it probably works best in book form.
Would you consider doing a live-action film?
I do receive some offers for live-action, but I’m not really that interested. It’s not something you can just try out and give it a go. I have spent more than 10 years making anime, and it was tough every time. I worry if I could go into a new field and be able to perform.
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