This is really a defense of the movie, from who I don’t know, people who hate blockbusters? But reading it reminds me that I’ve been following this Shinkai Makoto guy since his groundbreaking movie about SMS, mainly because Tenmon’s soundtrack up to Beyond the Clouds were sublime. (By the way he’s writing music for Tsuredure Children this season.) Shinkai’s movies were actually no different than how they are today, from little clips like his NHK-funded cat anime, or the movie about showing your feet while eating chocolate and drinking beer beneath a raining Tokyo sky? I’m just saying.
To me, as a fan of his works, Shinkai has peaked at 5cm. The reasons are twofold. First of all, as I mentioned, many of his works, and certainly all of his major works, are iteratives of the same ideas as expressed in the narrative. Sometimes the themes are even the same. Your Name, especially now that I’ve slowly and watched it at home (thanks Amazon Japan) for the…5th time? Is like someone took 5cm and made it into a crowd pleaser, necessarily by making the work acceptable to a wider audience. This means it’s not a 3-vignette series of films, but a full films in three clear acts. It means spelling things out–by acting it via the characters and other means that are less usual in his films. It means a clear and satisfactory end for all tha shippers. It also mean the experience is now about being carry forward by attention-grabbing edits and lense flares, jokes about sex or romance, plus that whole comet thing. It’s not so much about what makes 5cm such a poignant work–Your Name was a bit diluted, if you will.
The second reason is just that, by fleshing out his ideas, and pivoting around a mainstream-sensible notion of star-crossing, time-spanning, body-swapping hook-and-sinker, Your Name is Shinkai’s most challenging movie to date. It is like trying to execute on the perfect chocolate ice cream. Or maybe in this case it’s more like Stracciatella gelato where you have to keep Shinkai’s distinctive and signature visual cues and awesome display of art and still produce a very solid and familiar, tasty and digestible familiarity. However as a director of that, his flaws are now showing, where as they were previously less obvious in his more experimental works.
There are a lot of incremental improvements between Your Name and his prior works, so the Sakugablog post I linked up there is a good sampler of that. And it’s true, without experimentation of these new techniques people are not going to get better at doing it. That alone makes Your Name a curiously welcome item, and I don’t get why anyone would hate its success, however unwarranted it may be. I think it’s just something you deal with–commercial success is not at all related to how well the craft it is, although craft itself may be a prereq or a limiter. It’s true for Hollywood, it’s true for the rest of the world; if anything too many bad movies make too much money.
But the point I want to make, which I chose the word “peaked” deliberately, is that I don’t think he can make another movie that will resonate with me as much as 5cm. He has spent much of his adult life creating art around these core set of concepts and I think he has still some tricks up in his sleeves, plus room to improve, as an animation creator. But as an artist with a message I don’t think he came louder and less of a diluted message than those three short stories. Which is to say, maybe it’s time Shinkai go make that new movie that he ought to make next, and not the same thing?
I think you can easily counter-argue and say that Your Name is Shinkai’s best film yet because it required him to be a more well-rounded creator, relying on more people in his team to lift the overall movie, to address his earlier inadequacies, and make something that isn’t especially weak in any one area. Unfortunately, those are not the things that made me a fan of his films.
PS. I’ve been reading the Chinese SF trilogy from Liu Cixin, The Three Body Problem, and it is quite a read. Like Shinkai, Liu also professes that he is a fan of the stuff that he is now contributing to. And it shows; both of their works are works as two people who are huge fans of their respective medium and genre. In Liu’s case he literally name dropped Asimov and Legend of Galactic Heroes in the first book. It’s funny, because when I read that reference I thought back not only to my recent viewing experience, but that the last time I saw Shinkai at a con panel he mentioned that he was slowly working through the same OVAs.