7/29/2008

Makoto Shinkai

If you don't recognize that name, then you need to become immediately acquainted with him for you own good. Here is a simple Wiki for quick orientation. It is one of my missions in life to introduce him to as many people as possible. I've even shown Voices of a Distant Star to my mother.

Makoto Shinkai has 3 major creations and one small short. His first cartoon, titled She and Her Cat, is a very short piece that follows a cat's daily life, all from the cat's perspective. It's insanely adorable, but also rather melancholy. The cat's master seems to be depressed very often.

His second work is a roughly 20 minute movie called Voices of a Distant Star. (She and Her Cat can be viewed on the Voices DVD as an extra feature, just FYI). Voices was created entirely by Shinkai (as was She and Her Cat) on his Macintosh computer. You can also enjoy a wonderful vocal dub on the DVD by Shinkai and his wife (there are only two characters in the film), though a professional Japanese dub was also done, as well as (of course) an excellent English dub.
Voices follows the story of Mikako and Noboru, two young students (I think they're about 15 at the start of the film). Mikako gets drafted into their army to become a mecha for the space ship Lysithea, but Noboru gets left behind (Mikako's grades are better, etc). The only way they can keep in touch is via text messages with their cell phones. Mikako sends these almost daily, but as the Lysithea travels further out into space, the messages start taking longer and longer to reach Noboru, with one taking over 8 years to reach him.
The story is beautiful, honest, and emotional. And the animation is truly breathtaking. The stark contrast of the hand drawn looking characters in their CG environment is a major part of what makes Shinkai stand out as a master in animation.

His second film, Beyond the Clouds/The Place Promised in Our Early Days, is something I can, unfortunately, tell you less about. I only saw it once or twice, and I wasn't immediately taken with it. Shinkai's stories are served better in an episodic format rather than a feature film, as Beyond the Clouds is. There are several jumps in time within the story that probably required more attention on my part that I gave the film at the time. But I felt that Voices was far superior, though this film was by no means a bad film. There are also two boys in this film, Hiroki and Takuya, and I recall having some trouble telling them apart as they grew older. And then there is the girl, Sayuri.
The three teens come across a crashed plane and decide to work on it together, so that one day they can fly across the water and visit Hokkaido Tower (a large, mysterious tower being built by the northern military faction, the Union). The strange tower has some sort of ability to change the matter around it and form alternate realities. Somehow Sayuri becomes involved with the Union and falls into a coma where her mind is trapped in a parallel universe. Her coma is directly related to the effect of the matter changing tower. Takuya joins the National Security Agency, and the Uilta Liberation Front (which is working to destroy the tower). Hiroki, who was in love with Sayuri, lives in constant depression without her. The two boys must eventually unite to save Sayuri or save the world.

5 Centimeters per Second, Makoto's most recent film, hits his usual themes of time and distance hard core style. The film's title references the speed at which cherry blossom petals fall. This film follows Takaki and Akari. Close friends in elementary school, Takaki and Akari are forced apart when Akari's parents move to Tochigi Prefecture for their work, while Takaki attends school in Tokyo. They keep in contact by writing letters, and although they clearly have feelings for each other, the time and distance between them works against them. When Takaki's family decides to move to Kagoshima, Takaki realizes that he will live too far away to ever visit Akari, so he decides to take a trip to see her. Unfortunately the night he leaves is wrought with heavy snow and his trains are consistently delayed. His heartbreak is, well, heartbreaking, as he begins to realize that he may not get to see her one last time. She managed to wait for him at the station, and the two talk and finally share a kiss. But there is a sad, heavy feeling, as they know they will only grow farther apart.
The film is divided into 3 sections, each running about 20 minutes. The first, Cherry Blossoms, was just described. The second, Cosmonaut, again follows Takaki, in high school now. A classmate named Kanae has feelings for him, and the episode centers mostly on her and her thoughts than on Takaki himself. But all the same, we see Kanae trying in vain to gain his affections; Takaki always seems to be lost somewhere else.
The final segment, 5 cm per Second, wraps the story up as the characters go their seperate ways. Takaki now works as a computer programmer in Tokyo, but he seems perpetually hung up on the past. Akari on the other hand has moved on and is getting married. It leaves one to wonder what would have happened had Akari and Takaki not been forced apart.
Again, another beautiful, honest, and absolutely heartbreaking piece from Shinkai.

You've probably noticed some obvious themes there. Shinkai seems relatively happy in his interviews. He's happily married, he enjoys working on his animations, etc. So I'm not sure how he's able to write such sad stories about love, distance and time. But it's best not to wonder about the creator and just enjoy the films, and let the emotion present in them wash over you. He gets hailed as "the next Miyazaki" a lot, but I think the honesty and emotion that Shinkai puts up on screen is a bit different than what Miyazaki creates. Not any better or any worse, just a different sort, presented in different ways. I strongly encourage checking out, at the very least, Voices of a Distant Star. If you're prone to "becoming emotional" at all, make sure you have a box of tissues nearby, because you will probably cry. I bawled my eyes out the first time I saw it, and I still shed some tears every time I watch it.
It's not that anything horribly tragic happens in Shinkai's films, but (and I know I keep using this word) the honesty of the characters' emotions is really moving.

8 comments:

unit-1978 said...

Voices from a Distant Star is a great little film. I too when I watched it thought it was some strong stuff. I mean the whole idea of texting messages that would take years to reach the other person was such a great powerful concept. Such a good simple story that worked so well.
Well written piece Kris.

Kris said...

Yeah, if you ignore all the time travel, FTL stuff, and all that scientific mumbo jumbo, it's really simple. I know there are opinions that Mikako is actually aging slower than Noboru because of her space travel, but I personally think that distance is physical distance, no matter how quickly you traverse it. You're not leaping through metaphysical time, you're crossing vast distances very quickly. So by the time that 8 year old message reaches Noboru, she'll be celebrating her 24th birthday.

unit-1978 said...

lol your right, I guess I kinda looked past all the techno-babble and just thought of it as this heart felt story of the 2 students. I want to see that again actually, a friend let me borrow it the first time, Im going to have to netflix that one.

xJAYMANx said...

Actually, following Einstein's Relativity, not only does speed influence time/aging (Special Theory), but proximity to a large gravitational body (e.g. a black hole is an extreme Einsteinian example) influences time/aging too (General Theory). So in the case of "Voices", not only is her incredible warp-speed jumps slowing her aging, but her vast distances from any planet or other gravity body too. How mathematically accurate the anime is, is another issue. But it doesn't matter; just the idea of it is elegant. ^_^;

Otherwise, yup, I pretty much agree. Unfortunately, I think you *give away* too much of the stories, lol. While I saw "Voices" about 2-3 years ago (prior to setting my rating system), I'd probably (despite its brevity) still give it 5 of 5 stars today. Definitely. In fact, I still use "Voices" as a basis of comparison with other moving anime. But while you use the word "honest", I keep using the word "breathtaking", hehe. Here are a few of my reviews mentioning Shinkai or his works...

+++++ 5 Centimeters Per Second (2007, Anime Film) - Started and finished 12/31/2007. DOUBLE-WOW! Soul-yearning melancholy and wind-blown distances. Five stars max!

+++++ Kanon (2006; 1-24) - Started 07/10/2007. Finished 07/15/2007. DOUBLE-WOW! Childhood romance, melancholy and mystery! Heartbreaking and breathtaking!... [Kanon] paints a natural yet supernatural world so nostalgic and personal that it rivals the quality and intensity of animated feature films, like Makoto Shinkai’s unforgettable "Voices of a Distant Star"... [W]ith Kanon, I was on that edge [of tears] three separate times — with Matoko’s, Mai’s, and Ayu’s heart-breaking stories. So my decision is easy... an overwhelming 5 of 5 stars!

++++ Le Portrait de Petite Cossette (2005, 1-3 OVA) - Started and finished January 2006. WOW, ab-so-lute-ly breathtaking!!! For any fan of anime, this is a must! For those who’ve seen the 30-minute "Voices of a Distant Star", this mystery/horror anime recalls the same indescribably sublime style of moment-to-moment imagery... [Don't remember back then, but I would probably still rate it 4 of 5 stars today.]

But I haven't seen his "Cat" short yet. Wait~ or maybe I did? Was it included with the "Voices" and/or "Place Promised" DVDs? I'll have to check when I get home... ^_^;

Kris said...

Eh, I probably do give too much away. I just get really excited. :) I need to work on that, though.
Also, science and I don't really get along, or math either. ^_^ None of that stuff makes any sense to me.

She and Her Cat is on the Voices DVD as an extra. I know my DVD (from ADV) also has a reversible sleeve, with Voices art on one side, and Cat art on the other.

xJAYMANx said...

@Kris: LOL, no worries. Passion is good. ^_~ Ah, I thought so! I just have to watch "Cat" again to remind myself how I felt about it... As for science and space travel, let me try something without any freaking math, hehe...

With high-speed, imagine yourself in a vehicle (e.g. car, plane, spaceship, etc). Now as you move faster, imagine that the time around you fast-forwards. So the faster you travel, the faster that reality speeds up around your vehicle. Which means you're effectively aging less, even if you seem normal to yourself inside the vehicle.

Same thing with distance from gravity. With gravity, imagine yourself in a building (e.g. skyscraper). Now as you move higher (e.g. elevator) from ground level, imagine that the time around you fast-forwards too. So the higher you travel, the faster that reality speeds up around your elevator. Which means you're effectively aging less, even if you seem normal to yourself inside the elevator.

If I remember from my high-school PBS science shows, there was an experiment with two atomic clocks: One on ground level, and one in an airplane (fast velocity, high distance from earth). Impressively, I believe the clock on the airplane was slowed by a fraction of a second or millisecond. But the result was measureable and confirmed the idea.

If you extend that idea to Einstein's speed of light, and light-years away from Earth's gravity, imagine that reality around your spaceship is fast-forwarding pretty noticeably. If you had a TV on the spaceship watching a live-reality TV show on Earth, imagine that the live show would move not only seconds faster, but minutes and hours faster. And the faster and farther the ship travels, the live TV show would fast-forward even days, months and years faster than ourselves. All the while, we'd feel pretty normal in our ship.

The only thing that "Voices" needed to keep in mind; not to have Earth fast-forward *too* fast... I mean, I don't think the anime would work as well if Noboru aged to an old man and died before Mikako sent her first message, lol. Would it? ^_^;

Kris said...

Heh, now let me explain why none of that makes any sense. :)

Time is static. It doesn't move any faster or any slower than it can.
The only way to presently, well, change that in any way, is to travel "backwards." Ie: when you're in a plane and you travel from say, New York to San Diego, you "gain" hours because they're behind, and the plane travels faster (at least, I'm assuming it doesn't take 4+ hours to make such a flight). But you as a person don't age any faster or slower as a result. Because regardless of what a clock says in another part of the world, a set amount of time passed.

Now if you have a clock on ground level and a clock on a plane, isn't it possible for the effects of the plane (changes in pressure, gravity, speed, etc) to have a physical effect on the mechanisms of the clock? Although I admit I don't know what an atomic clock actually is. Maybe it's completely unaffected by any sort of outside influence?

If you're light years away from Earth, then said television show would take the same amount of light years to reach you (or, whatever the speed TV waves travel), which would mean you'd see it years later than the people on Earth did.

It all depended on how far Mikako was from Earth, and how long it would take for a cell phone signal to reach Earth.

Sorry, I'm hard core logical, and all that imaginary time and space and numbers and what not.... I mean, I'm smart, but I don't do well with abstract concepts.

xJAYMANx said...

LOL, true, I grew up just as logical as you, but Einstein fascinated me in high school. While Einsteinian (and Quantum) science doesn't *seem* to make sense in the ordinary world, it's oddly logical and elegant too. But that's Relativity Theory, lol. If velocity equals distance per time (v = d/t, sorry about the math, haha), and the speed-of-light is always constant, what happens when gravity warps spatial distances? Then *logically*, near the speed-of-light, gravity must affect time as well! (Note: As I recall, Einstein was the first to correctly calculate how far starlight would be gravitationally bent from the star's actual position, as seen via telescope.)

I think the atomic clocks might've been in some vacuum, but you've hit the exact issue~ if the theory held true, gravity and speed were *supposed* to affect the airplane clock as predicted. If there were no clock difference, then gravity and speed would have *no* affect on time.

As for the live TV waves, I should've clarified. Yes, you're right, the waves would take time to travel. But I didn't mean that. In fact, if the ship always moved faster than light, you'd *never* see the show.

To tweak my example, let's assume the live TV waves reached the ship via instantaneous hyper-wave. In this case, no time would pass from Earth to ship. But here's the strange Einsteinian thing. As our ship reaches light-speed and light-years from Earth's gravity, the live TV show would begin to fast-forward and accelerate. The people in the TV show would move faster and age faster than the ship's time frame. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, years would accelerate from show to next show, season to next season, ahead of us, as time in the ship passes normally. Before we know it, those TV show people would die of old age, etc.

So while Mikako's messages might take 2 or 4 or 8 years to reach Noboru, that doesn't mean Mikako's timeframe passes at those same 2-4-8 rates. Instead, her timeframe would pass at a fraction of Noboru's rate. ^_^;