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Interview: 'your name.' director Shinkai ponders film's success, own motives

Makoto Shinkai

The animated film "your name." continues to lure audiences in droves. Statistics from film information company Kogyo Tsushinsha shows that the work has retained the No. 1 spot for weekend audience numbers for eight weeks running since it was released in late August, with some 12 million people having seen it. The film, titled "Kimi no Na Wa" in Japanese, contains beautiful artwork. It conveys the heartbreaking way in which a boy and girl often cross paths without meeting. The film's director, Makoto Shinkai, 43, says that compared with his previous works, over 100 times more people have seen "your name." In the following interview the Mainichi Shimbun asks him about his thoughts on the work and its huge success.

    Mainichi: "Your name." has been a huge hit among young people. We hear that a trait of this film is that there is not much of a difference in the ratio of male to female moviegoers in the audiences.

    Shinkai: I've been making anime for 14 years, and I don't feel that anything has suddenly changed with this work. There were gradual changes over time. Up until "5 Centimeters Per Second" (Shinka's third cinema title, released in 2007), the audiences consisted mostly of males. With my next work "Children Who Chase Lost Voices" (2011), there were more females. There may have been elements that women can enjoy, but I also feel that the way anime are received in Japan has changed. I think it's become more casual, and that they're not just for the guys.

    Mainichi: What enables this film to capture the feelings of young people?

    Shinkai: When I went on a TV program the other day, a high school girl asked me, "How can a middle-aged guy in his 40s understand how we feel?" -- a bit of a rude question. (Laughs) I didn't interview any young people and I don't think I've depicted the "true reality." But the things that were tough for me during my teens are still tough for me now, even though their intensity has faded, and the things that I intensely yearned for, though I may not have gotten them, still dazzle me. The girls that ask "why" don't just suddenly become adults either, but continue on until our stage in a process of progression. The human differences between each person are bigger than the differences between generations and gender. I don't think there's any use thinking about the differences.

    Mainichi: There exists an image that you're a director with strong writing qualities.

    Shinkai: I started out producing anime independently, and there may be a strong impression that I want to do everything myself, but If there's a core for me to convey, I think I'm the type who leaves the rest to others. We thoroughly simulate the audience's feelings. Will people get bored with this? Even if they don't understand what's going on in front of them, will they still retain an interest? This time, in particular, I paid attention to the script, and spent half a year with the production team improving it. My feeling of wanting to deliver my work to people has never changed.

    Mainichi: What opinions have you received on the film?

    Shinkai: Looking online on Twitter and blogs, I don't think anything has changed from my previous works. I have been putting out works since a time when the internet had already spread in society, so since the time when several thousand people saw "Voices of a Distant Star" in Shimokitazawa in Tokyo (Shinkai's first cinema title, released in 2002), the vilification and admiration has been out there in the open. If you were to ask if the distance between me and the audiences has changed due to the fact that the audiences are now 100 times bigger, I would say it hasn't changed markedly. And the same amount of "heat" is generated.

    Mainichi: What things did you pay attention to when creating the script for "your name"?

    Shinkai: I encountered various opinions. Like that I should have depicted more of the moment when the two main characters, Mitsuha and Taki fall in love. But I discarded them. The purpose of the film was not to make things consistent. In that limited time of 107 minutes, I needed to have people coming out of the theaters saying, "That was interesting." I thought I had to make this film by siding with the feelings of Mitsuha and Taki and not letting them go. In the production stage, there was a period when I thought it would be difficult for the film to make it as a story morally and ethically by having Mitsuha act with only Taki in mind. But a sudden move to "social awareness," thinking about everybody, would be strange. Their actions would depart from the motives of teenage love desperately extending a hand in a bid to get to know the other person.

    Mainichi: There are times when it feels like this work is using the syntax of girls' manga.

    Shinkai: Well I'm not saying I don't read them. My works have no paternalism, and in that sense there may be more in the novels of female writers that I like. My father is a person who attaches importance to authority. He's a parent who says how things "should be," stating that men should be like this, or life should be like that. For better or worse I think that this has influenced me, but I continually resisted, and I hate getting lectured. So it really infuriates me when I'm told by critics how my films should be. (Laughs) I don't want to create a film that "should be like this." At the same time, I do want to create films in which you wonder what options there are, or waver over the options.

    Mainichi: Many filmgoers have supported your work, but there were some things you weren't satisfied with, right?

    Shinkai: The manufacturing, such as the technical elements and the color design. There were various reasons I couldn't do things, such as time constraints or a lack of experience compared with the animators who have gone before me. But when looking at the result this time, which shows that the audience numbers have leapt to a level 100 times higher than before, it seems to me that the screen production I'm satisfied with is not really that connected with the audience's satisfaction. At least, I wondered if what is being sought now is a narrative fashion, the tempo of the narrative, and a sense of speed. I still haven't sorted out how I think about the parts I couldn't do well.

    Mainichi: What works do you have in store?

    Shinkai: What do audiences want to see from me? I think for many people it's the Makoto Shinkai of "your name." If lots of people expect a connection in a drama featuring a boy and girl and want to see the same sort of thing again, then I think perhaps I should do it once more. At the same time, I think that perhaps this work has a writer's nature at its core saying, "I can only do this." But I spent about a year turning my previous work, "The Garden of Words" (2013) into a novel, a big experience for me that gave me the confidence to spin a story. In each chapter I change the narrator, and I became able to manipulate the literary style. Depending on the chapter I sometimes write from a mother's perspective, so it doesn't always pivot on passion. I started being able to think, "I can do different things, too." I got a response, and now there are themes inside me besides male-female relationships that I should dig up. I'm at the point right now of thinking about what I should develop.

    ***

    "Your name." tells the story of Mitsuha Miyamizu, a schoolgirl who lives in the countryside, and Taki Tachibana, a schoolboy living in Tokyo, who one day suddenly switch minds through their dreams. The switching continues and the pair become aware of each other's existence, sometimes fighting, sometimes enjoying another life, and try to overcome their circumstances. It also has sci-fi elements, such as the arrival of a comet that comes only once in every 1,000 years. The movie has grossed over 15 billion yen.

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