Today let's highlight more of the fascinating film directors making a mark on the industry!
Hello everyone, and welcome back to Why It Works. A few weeks ago, I put together a quick list of some of the major directors of what’s turning out to be something of an anime film golden age. Of course, the very fact that we’re so awash in talented film directors meant I was only able to put together a brief and incomplete list, mostly featuring talents that have already been thoroughly recognized as master directors. I’m always happy to introduce more people to Makoto Shinkai or Masaaki Yuasa, but it’s not like those two are particularly hard to discover, either.
Today I aim to correct that oversight, as we explore even more of the directors who’re currently making waves in the industry, with an emphasis on those who’ve only recently ascended to the director’s chair. From writers-turned-directors to industry veterans to fresh faces with only a few credits to their name, we’ve got a diverse and exciting crop of top talent in the industry, and I’m eager to see where each of these accomplished artists heads next. Let’s highlight more of the key figures of anime’s new film renaissance!
Mari Okada has built an incredibly sturdy, accomplished reputation as one of the most unique, talented, and reliable writers in the anime industry. She’s handled series composition and scripting duties on a wide variety of acclaimed adaptations, including major works like Toradora!, Black Butler, and Wandering Son. Her adaptive works serve as a clear testament to her mastery of narrative structure; however, she’s also responsible for writing many of the most beloved anime-original works of the past decade, with credits ranging from Anohana and Hanasaku Iroha to Dragon Pilot and Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans. Heck, last year she handled series composition duties on a series where she also wrote the manga, for the excellent O Maidens in Your Savage Season.
Mari Okada is basically the definition of prolific, but she wouldn’t get all that work if she weren’t extremely talented. Her stories embrace the intimate messiness of complex, wounded characters, possessing a specificity and vitality that makes even the most fantastical conflicts seem poignant and relatable. An unabashed melodrama enthusiast, she first jumped to film by scripting the tear-jerking Anthem of the Heart — and since then, she’s ascended from scripting to the director’s chair, helming the acclaimed, fantastical Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms. Okada’s been a star for years now, but it feels like that star is somehow still rising.
Hara has taken a long and rambling road toward film renown, having spent the bulk of his animation career handling unassuming duties on children’s shows like Doraemon and Crayon Shin-chan. However, as a career track like Yuasa’s implies, children’s anime is a terrific incubation chamber for talented artists looking to build professional connections — and since 2010, Hara has been steadily building a film catalog as well, with the fantastic 2015 feature Miss Hokusai clearly demonstrating his unique approach to film.
Adapted from an acclaimed manga detailing the life of the famous Hokusai’s talented daughter, Miss Hokusai demonstrates a freewheeling approach to narrative structure, more focused on capturing specific moments in its heroine’s life than following a single narrative path. This style puts him in line with the atmospheric, character-focused approach frequently employed by Naoko Yamada and Mamoru Hosoda, and makes me eager to see his recent Birthday Wonderland. Hara took a long path to get here, but I’m excited to see where he goes from here.
Though both Okada and Hara were at least widely known within the industry before gaining film acclaim, Ishida is a relatively fresh face in the overall industry. His notable early works are actually student films — including the gorgeous Rain Town — productions that helped build anticipation for his work even before he was conscripted onto a major project. Launching directly from student to director, he began putting out a variety of beloved short works at Studio Colorido, culminating in 2018’s acclaimed Penguin Highway, an adaptation of a story by the ever-reliable Tomihiko Morimi (who also wrote The Tatami Galaxy and The Eccentric Family). Ishida is so talented and so young it almost makes me mad; but professional envy aside, he’s an absurdly gifted artist at the very beginning of his career, and I can only imagine how far he’ll go.
Last but not least, we have one more artist who’s actually been working in the industry for decades, but who has only recently earned some deserved acclaim. Katabuchi actually worked directly with Hayao Miyazaki following his entrance into the industry and even served as assistant director on Kiki’s Delivery Service. However, it was not until 2001 that he’d release a film of his own, the acclaimed Princess Arete.
Maintaining a steady pace of roughly one film every eight years, Katabuchi has since released two period dramas: 2009’s Mai Mai Miracle, and one of my own all-time favorite films, 2016’s In This Corner of the World. Serving as both writer and director on all three of his film productions, Katabuchi’s work demonstrates a sensitivity and profound thoughtfulness that tempers the magical realism of Miyazaki’s pastoral fantasies with a world-weary edge, capturing the beauty and the tragedy of life in the same measure. I was basically sobbing all through In This Corner of the World’s second half, and can only hope he’ll get the chance to direct more such treasures soon.
Well then! I hope this list offers a somewhat broader sampling of films for you all to check out, and would emphatically urge you to try some of the highlighted films by any of these directors, even if they don’t necessarily seem like your kind of thing. A film is two hours, give or take. And with the best artists and animators in the industry behind them, any one of these directors can take you on an incredible journey in that time, stirring ideas of your own, clutching your heart in their grip, or simply expanding your understanding of the greater artistic landscape.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this celebration of talented directors, and please let me know all your own favorite anime film directors in the comments!
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