Director Makoto Shinkai’s welcomes the praise that has followed his box office smash Your Name, an animated tale of two young would-be lovers who swap bodies and then search for each other when the magic spell wears off, but says some of it is a little wide of the mark.
“For a start, I know there will only ever be one Hayao Miyazaki,” says Shinkai. “Some people have compared my film to his but I think no one should really be compared to Mr Miyazaki. There will never be anyone quite like him.”
The comparison is probably the highest praise an animator can receive. Miyazaki’s films were like nothing the world has seen, and over five decades the filmmaker and his Studio Ghibli collected a trove of awards from across the globe including an Oscar in 2003 for the magical Spirited Away. With US$290 million in global takings, it remains the most successful Japanese film of all time.
But in 2013, at 72 years of age, Miyazaki decided it was time to leave the director’s chair behind and his millions of fans in Japan and beyond have been searching for a filmmaker to fill the void ever since.
So critics have been swooning over Your Name, both in Japan and as the film has played to limited audiences at the likes of the 21st Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) in South Korea last month.
Your Name goes on general release in Singapore on November 3, rolling out to Hong Kong on November 11, Malaysia on December 8 and South Korea in the New Year. The United Kingdom run begins at the end of the month with plans for North America next year as part of an 80-country release globally — and Ghibli fans the world over will of course be wondering whether or not the hype is all true.
The film certainly carries with it some of the tropes that came with Miyazaki’s greatest work. It has, first, been a box office smash in Japan, collecting an estimated US$164 million since its release on August 26 — a figure which saw it pass by The Wind Rises (2013), the last full-length production directed by Miyazaki, as it moved into Japan’s top-10 earners of all time.
The hand-drawn style the master filmmaker championed is also utilized to great effect by Shinkai’s team of animators while the story — taken from a manga the director wrote — focuses, like many of Miyazaki’s, around young characters who are trying to make sense of the world, and of the fate that life lays out for them.
But the wisest thing would be to leave the comparisons there. Shinkai touches on but never quite matches the effortless awe Miyazaki inspired as he mixed worlds sometimes real but mostly imaged — and maybe that’s a good thing.
What Shinkai has done with Your Name is tap into theses that are distinctly modern-day — and along the way he works some magic that’s distinctly his own. Much of the film’s resonance — certainly in Japan — comes with the hopes its two central characters (voiced by Kamiki Ryunosuke and Mone Kamishiraishi) express about the past, and about how they might like to change it.
“When the earthquake and tsunami hit, they changed the way people in Japan think,” says Shinkai, speaking after his film screened at BIFF.
“This is especially the case with the younger generation. Those events took away so many lives. The wish afterward was that we could all live longer, and so this film’s biggest motivation was to reflect these dreams of the Japanese nation. Life means so much more to us now.”
The truth is I am still learning and I still think I have a long way to go as a filmmaker
Shinkai started his professional life as a graphic designer, after a childhood he says was immersed in animation and its many guises. Hence his creativity has been shared over 20-odd years by film, manga, animated advertisements and video games.
Acclaim first game with Voices of a Distant Star (2002), a film, like Your Name, that deals with a relationship distanced by time (and, here, space) and full of longing and of hope. Later work, such as The Garden of Words (2013), focus also on themes commonly faced as adulthood beckons, and the director says he likes to reflect, through his films, on that sense of confusion we have all shared.
“There are many things that confused me and many things I would like to change,” he says. “Perhaps that is common but it is something that interests me. I still think about how my feelings were then and about how many dreams I had that were unfulfilled, and how I wish I could change that.
“This might be one of the reasons I get compared to Mr Miyazaki, too, as he often did the same, but the truth is I am still learning and I still think I have a long way to go as a filmmaker.”