Trevor Hogg returns to the early works of Makoto Shinkai with new Blu-ray editions released by GKIDS and Shout! Factory…
When GKIDS partnered with Shout! Factory has announced new Blu-ray editions of The place promised at our beginnings, 5 centimeters per second and The children who hunt the lost voices as well as the additions of shorts Her and her cat and Voice from a distant star as bonus material, i couldn’t pass up the opportunity to watch Makoto Shinkai’s growth as a filmmaker and see the cinematic stepping stones that led him to create blockbusters your name and grow old with you. Similarities in themes are prevalent, particularly the emotional and physical distances between people as well as the visual patterns consisting of stairs, passenger trains, and lens flares. What is varied are the styles of animation with 5 centimeters per second more resembling the leaner character designs with the photorealistic backgrounds and atmospheres found in your name and grow old with you.
Her and her cat and Voice from a distant star which are included with 5 centimeters per second are the shorts where Makoto Shinkai was an individual production team except for the music provided by longtime collaborator Tenmon. black and white Her and her cat is a fusion of hand-drawn illustrations and 3D scenes created using Adobe After Effects. The fantasy element isn’t so much in the imagery as it is in the premise where a male cat chronicles the life of his female owner whose face is never fully revealed. The owner and backgrounds are done more realistically while the cat itself is a simplified representation of the animal. The five-minute story features a relationship that can withstand the trials and tribulations of the outside world.
Fantasy animates the story of Voice from a distant star as human soldiers in mech robots battle a hostile alien race across the universe. Character and background animation is a rougher stylization, and the color scheme is brighter. What comes out of left field is what appears to be a Transformer which is such an overt element of fantasy that it clashes with the more grounded approach in Shinkai’s later efforts outside of The children who hunt the lost voices. It’s funny to see in this high-tech world texting using flip phones, even though the iPhone didn’t debut until five years later, in 2007. The story literally evolves around of childhood friends, one of them leaving to join the army and taking part in missions that take place further and further in the universe, which makes their communications take years to reach each other. The concept originated when Shinkai drew a girl holding a cellphone in a cockpit and combined that with her frequent habit of texting while working. It was this project that prompted him to quit his job as a video game animator and pursue a career as a filmmaker.
Science fiction goes beyond fantasy to The place promised in the early days with one character explaining to another that she is exploring dreams of parallel worlds, to which he responds that it’s a rather romantic notion. And it’s. Animation is a step up from Voice from a distant star because there is a natural flow to the movement. The pivotal moment that must ultimately reunite two childhood friends with lens flare splitting the frame in two is essentially the predecessor to the climax of your name. The other similarity between the films is that the male and female protagonists navigate through metaphysical obstacles to be with each other. The intriguing designs are the self-made plane, especially when in flight, and the mysterious tower which, for the majority of the story, is depicted as a thin white line reaching into the upper atmosphere. Even though this is Shinkai’s first feature film, it feels more like a series of shorts put together than a continuous narrative. There’s a range of tones that range from a failed dock rescue that results in shenanigans to a dramatic flight to the tower that brings it all to a close.
For many, 5 centimeters per second This is when Shinkai developed a sleek and polished animation style for characters and backgrounds. There’s no denying that the train ride that goes from rain to blizzard and ends with a rendezvous at a snowy station will have you feeling the cold in your bones. You can also enjoy the thrill of surfing the waves. The feature is basically three short films with the male protagonist serving as the narrative bridge between them. A series of personal letters being played are a key part of the story as they give voice to the bond between two child friends despite having to be apart. There are no fantasy elements, just the melancholy that accompanies the passage of time and the accumulation of personal regrets. The general theme is more about making the emotional distance between people and the inability to break that gap. The train plays a central visual motif along with cherry blossoms which are responsible for the film’s title as it references the speed at which leaves fall from the branches.
If there is a direct comparison to Studio Ghibili, it would be The children who hunt the lost voiceswhich, according to Shinkai, was inspired in part by the famed anime studio responsible for Castle in THE sky. A favorite theme for Hayao Miyazaki is the codependent relationship between humans and nature which, when mistreated, leads to catastrophic events. In this case, Shinkai explores a world beneath the Earth where the dead can be raised and the tragedies that resulted when humanity discovered its existence. Even the animation style looks like something out of Studio Ghibli’s catalog of movies rather than something designed by Shinkai. The female protagonist is always running towards something and being proactive in her destiny. A prominent visual motif is water treated as amniotic fluid, especially for a climatic moment when a transformation takes place. A clever scene involves the main character being eaten by a creature that then provides him with safe passage along a cliff. A significant difference is that the story has a continuous narrative rather than being episodic in nature. There is melancholy in the debates, but above it all there is hope that the human spirit will prevail.
As for bonus features, all Blu-rays come with Japanese and English DTS audio as well as interviews with voice cast members and Makoto Shinkai. The place promised at our beginnings at the least of the offerings, 5 centimeters per second includes shorts Voice from a distant star and Her and her cat as well as a feature-length storyboard, and The children who hunt the lost voices has a documentary making of and commentary track with Shinkai and the film crew. Some interesting findings were the amount of location scouting that happens and seeing the comparisons between the actual location and its animated depiction, that a drawing of a girl in a cockpit with a cellphone was the inspiration for Voice from a distant star, and attend the dubbing sessions with the Japanese voice cast. Taken together, the three feature films and two short films offer intriguing insight into Shinkai’s creative origin as an artist and where he might be heading with future projects.
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer currently residing in Canada. he can be found on LinkedIn.