Japan has more animation filmmakers than just Hayao Miyazaki. This is your opportunity to learn about one of the more critically acclaimed animators to emerge in the past decade: Makoto Shinkai.

screenshot from the trailer for Your Name

Makoto Shinkai is a Japanese film director and animator. His made is break with the OVA Voices of a Distant Star which was made entirely by himself and featured visually beautiful shots and poignant storytelling. Shinkai has since been given bigger budgets for his films which improve in quality with each release. His latest release, Your Name, was amazing and the inspiration behind this post.

The majority of Shinkai’s films can be viewed on Netflix (where I watched them). As the writing of this article, Your Name has yet to be released on Blu-ray/DVD. If you have the opportunity to watch it in theaters, I highly recommend it.

Shinkai’s Filmography Overview:
For a complete filmography, check out Shinkai’s page on IMDB.

  • Voices of a Distant Star (February 2002)
  • The Place Promised in Our Early Days (November 2004)
  • 5 Centimeters per Second (March 2007)
  • Garden of Words (May 2013)
  • Children Who Chase Lost Voices (May 2011)
  • Your Name (August 2016)
Screenshot from the trailer for Your Name

Like every filmmaker, Shinkai’s work shares some common themes in regards to storytelling and visuals. Here are some of the most obvious common themes found in his work.

Young Love Destroyed
A lot of Shinkai’s work features a young man and a young woman who were in love as children or adolescents and explores how this love shapes them into adulthood. In Voices of a Distant Star, the young man grows up while his childhood friend remains young as she travels in space. In 5 Centimeters per Second, a young man is so consumed by his first love that it prevents him from growing into a happy adult. In Your Name, a young man and a young woman switch bodies every time they go to sleep. Most of these works feature a happy ending for the young couple, but Shinkai is not afraid to show how these characters move on (or fail to).

Train Travel Romanticism
Shinkai captures the peaceful moments that accompany train travel, such as looking at the scenery outside the window or waiting on a platform. It makes train travel seem romantic in the same way adventure travel is romantic. The shots accompanying train travel are visually stunning. When the main characters travel by train in The Place Promised in Our Early Days. The entire first act of 5 Centimeters Per Second. Or, my personal favorite, when the main characters of Your Name on separate trains see each other through the windows and immediately recognize each other. Despite the beauty, every single film features a scene on a train. I understand trains are a common mode of transport in Japan, but the amount of trains featured in Shinkai’s work almost feels like overkill. However, I love trains too much to hold this against him.

Big and Beautiful Skies
At some point in a Shinkai film, there is going to be a magical shot of the sky. His love for skies is shared by Hayao Miyazaki, who often explored the skies by having his characters take flight. For Shinkai, however, the skies are best viewed from the ground. In Your Name it was the image of the comet as it passes overhead. In The Place Promised in Our Early Days, it is an image of a plane flying in a dreamscape. Shinkai captures the feeling of looking up and seeing a sky so big and far away it takes your breath away. As a viewer, it is magical. As an artist, it is one of those moments I wish I could capture with words.

Character Narration
I don’t normally enjoy films where characters narrate their feelings, but I make an exception for Shinkai. The combination of beautiful scenery accompanied by poetic recitations of feelings is somehow acceptable when done by Shinkai’s hands. His narration is often accompanied by gorgeous cinematography and animation; the combination of which makes the experience feel literary.

Screenshot from the trailer for Your Name

Makoto Shinkai can write a poignant story to make you feel all the feels. His storytelling is slow moving but his animation is reflective; the combination of these provides a thoughtful viewing experience for his audience. I recommend the works of Makoto Shinkai to anime fans and movie fans alike.