Makoto Shinkai (5 Centimeters Per Second, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, Voices of a Distant Star) made an appearance at Otakon this morning after his latest film, Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below had its North American premiere.
He summarized the new movie as, "…a simple story about traveling to one place and coming back" and emphasized its adherence to old themes found in Japanese fairy tales such as Urashima Taro, themes you can also find in Studio Ghibli movies like Spirited Away. He mentioned he worries about overseas performance business-wise, but that he hopes this "simple traveling adventure" will be acceptable to a wide audience.
Voices of a Distant Star (inspired by the long wait between cell phone messages from his girlfriend) was essentially a one man project and a few of the Q&A questions revolved around what that experience was like vs. working with an entire team. "So the truth of how that came to be is that I was working at a game company, and my job was to create the opening sequence to the game. I realized how great it was to create your own animation when doing that, so while doing the job I started to make my own animation and that is how [Voices of a Distant Star] came about." He also noted that, "…it's lonely to make it alone, but when you do create something by yourself […] it can't move beyond what you imagined without outside input. So, it's stressful when you work with staff, really stressful, but some staff members come to you with a design or piece of art that you haven't considered. And, by working with staff, I have a devoted staff that's expending their youth, spending years of their lives to work with me, and that gives me a responsibility to see it through to the end…"
When asked whether he intends to continue dealing with themes of starcrossed lovers, Shinkai elaborated a little bit on his next project. "Hard to say what the next one will bring. [...] the next one I'm thinking of doing is about a boy who leaves his home. It might sort of reflect the situation in Japan right now—and as things in Japan change, it might reflect [in] the stories I do—but it's about a boy who leaves town and then realizes what he had and lost." Sounds like there might be more romance trouble...
A fan asked how he achieves such attention to detail and if he took live footage of locations for preparation, but it turns out that they go on photo expeditions instead. A crew of twenty people went to Nagano and got a thousand pictures to reference for things like the texture of rocks in the area. He added that he is also inspired by film, "One of things that caught my eye recently, is lens flare. The really thin one in the new Star Trek, I liked the way it looked on film so I put it in the most recent film, probably the first anime film to use such techniques."
On working with Sumi Shimamoto (Nausicaa from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Lady Clarisse de Cagliostro from The Castle of Cagliostro) Shinkai said he was pretty nervous. "Since the character, Lisa, was a dead character at that point, we couldn't have an ordinary voice, so I wanted to have one that was recognizable to many, but one that could make clear she wasn't of this world. […] What hurt my heart the most is the voice actress is over 50 and the character is [in her] 20s, so having to say from the recording booth, 'make her sound younger…'"
Another voice actress fans were curious about was Hisako Kanemoto, who plays the lead in Squid Girl. "I didn't cast her as Asuna because I was a fan of the show. I'd like you to know, we auditioned for the role before the show was on TV. When I asked her about the whole process of audition[s], about what she's doing next, she said, 'I'm going to play Squid Girl, and I'm going to put 'ika' and 'geso' at the end of everything I say,' and I'm like, okay, that'll be an interesting show."
Shinkai grew up in the country and it sounds like the character Asuna is partly based on his feelings growing up. "…the view was just mountains, […] surrounded by mountains, and as a child you can't hlep wonder what's beyond the mountains. It's not like I was [unhappy] with where I was or with my life, but I wanted to see what was on the other side of the mountains."
When asked how he felt about being called the next Miyazaki, Shinkai answered, "Well, I've never met Miyazaki—some of the other people on the staff have worked with him in the past. Frankly, it's his movies that have inspired me and that I love. If you look at the latest movie, you will see scenes that are influenced [by] his films. […] Regarding the comparison, I don't think I could ever reach his greatness [in film], but all I can do is keep making films and someday look back and say, 'These were pretty good.'"
He also mentioned a few authors as influences. "So growing up, in the teenage years, I was a big sci-fi fan. My favorite author is Arthur C. Clarke, 2001 A Space Odyssey and such." His current favorite is Greg Egan, an Australian author of hard science fiction. He also mentioned Haruki Murakami as a Japanese writer who has heavily influenced him.
Shinkai gave some encouragement to a fan in a long distance relationship, "Like in 5 cm there was a line in there that 'even though I sent a thousand emails, I felt like my heart hasn't gotten 1 mm closer.' I think it could turn out that way or it could be that one email gets you closer."
When asked about the varying lengths of his works, he said it's really about how long telling the story takes. "Since my company is small, and we don't do TV programs, we have the freedom to make it as long or as short as we need. So the most recent work, Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below, needed about two hours to tell the story; there are probably other stories I can tell in five or ten seconds." He said he has had offers to do TV series but has been turning them down because he feels it's "beyond [his] personal capabilities at this point."
Shinkai cited turning his hobby into work as one of the greatest challenges in starting his film career. "…when your hobby becomes your work, you no longer have a way to relieve stress—you no longer have a hobby." The follow up question, of course, was whether he has a new hobby. "I don't really have one, but I had a child about a year ago, so watching my child has become sort of a hobby for me."
One of the last questions at the panel was about whether it's ok for anime to become more niche and geared towards hardcore otaku or if it's better to make it more acceptable to a wider audience. "First of all, I think otaku culture in Japan is kind of spreading right now. And in this growing otaku culture, I think shows like Madoka and K-On were created for that culture and were a big hit. Amongst those shows, there are other shows like Ghibli or Pokemon, there are shows for kids, but like the film I would create, I would like to appeal to otaku as well as people who love films in general. I think there is a wide variety and that's a good thing."
All images © respective authors.
Previously on Crunchyroll News: Makoto Shinkai's Latest to Screen at Otakon with Subtitles