“Grieving the dead is proper but continuing to pity them is a fallacy.”
Old Man of Amaurot
Of Makoto Shinkai’s anime, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is the most strongly influenced by Hayao Miyazaki, in its character and creature design as well as its journey into a hidden fantasy world that stands in contrast to the real world settings of Shinkai’s other supernatural stories. Its tone, however, remains more in line with his writing, trading a level of whimsy for pensive discourse on loss, loneliness and grief, wrapped in an adventure that remains accessible to children. The underground world of Agartha, inspired by Shinto mythology in Kojiki, already lies in ruins after numerous wars with “topsiders”, and its inhabitants’ own sense of tragedy provides a parallel for the way that often we grieve as much for an irretrievable past as for the deceased. As a fan of Shinkai’s own art style, I am admittedly less interested in his emulation of Studio Ghibli, but I never found Children Who Chase Lost Voices as visually breathtaking as his other work. It is when the film plays to his introspective strengths that it succeeds, but his later forays into fantasy are more satisfying.
“A faint clap of thunder / Clouded skies / Perhaps rain will come / If so, will you stay here with me?”
The Garden of Words feels like something of a stepping stone between Makoto Shinkai’s earlier work and his bigger budget successes that followed. Although only 45 minutes long, this is still a meditative piece, following a teenage boy who strikes up a relationship with an older woman whom he meets on rainy days in a park. The hallmarks of Shinkai’s writing are present: isolated individuals who have a connection yet find themselves separated (in this case by age). The rain-soaked greenery is stunningly beautiful, with more naturalistic hues than the oversaturated Your Name and Weathering With You, but not so dour as the colour palette in 5 Centimetres Per Second. Yet, for all this beauty, the experience is best described as fleeting — not only in duration but also in depth. Perhaps this could have been resolved by a stronger conclusion (often a weakness in Shinkai’s work); as it is, The Garden of Words is ephemoral, leaving little to take away.
“The human mind works in mysterious ways. You just need to see the sun shining in the morning to feel energized. A blue sky makes you feel happy you’re alive.”
In the past few years I have become rapidly enamoured with the sheer beauty of Makoto Shinkai’s animated films. His follow-up to the breakout success Your Name. is another supernatural romantic drama, this time following a runaway teen in Tokyo meeting a girl who can control the weather. As expected, the visuals are sublime, with incredibly detailed backgrounds and stunningly realised weather effects, from the perpetual heavy rain pervading most of the film to the moments of golden sunlight bursting through clouds. Weathering With You is undeniably more commercial fare than the meditative 5 Centimetres Per Second, yet Shinkai is still able to create characters that we want to see succeed, even through a heavily signposted and largely predictable plot.
“Then right then, I clearly understood that we would never be together. Our lives not yet fully realized, the vast expanse of time. They lay before us and there was nothing we could do.”
A series of three connected segments focusing on the adolescent relationships in one man’s life, this romantic drama directed by Makoto Shinkai (now known for Your Name, the most financially successful anime of all time) unfolds with a meditative pacing that is more akin to a wistfully nostalgic memory and will resonate far more with adults than the teenagers depicted in the first two segments. 5 Centimetres Per Second — the title referring to the speed of falling cherry blossoms — is at its core about the gradual movement inherent in human relationships over time, drifting intoxicatingly toward and then inexorably away from one another. Traversing distance, both physical and emotional, is portrayed as exhausting and painful. Shinkai’s animation style is already evident in his second feature film, blending heavily detailed environments with underexpressive characters, so that the viewer is left to draw out the emotion from the world, often weighed by heavy rain or frigid snow. Unfortunately, for all the strength of the opening two segments, a weak finale means that the film meanders without any real conclusion. The lonely journey, however, will undoubtedly linger.