The first Makoto Shinkai movie I ever watched was 5 Centimeters Per Second. I don’t remember how I stumbled on this movie (probably a tumblr I follow posted gifs), but I really liked it. It took me a long time, though, to figure out that Makoto Shinkai and done a bunch of anime and even longer before I decided to watch some of them. But once I did, I fell in love and couldn’t get enough. I’ve watched all of his feature length films (and She and Her Cat, which is a very sweet short film) and have enjoyed them all — if only they were available for me to purchase.
I’ll start with the earliest of the bunch and review each one separately.
Voices of a Distant Star
Since watching this movie, I realized that this one is the favorite of a lot of people. I watched it dubbed (which is how I like anime, for the most part), but I did miss out on some of the story, since several text messages weren’t translated. Voices of a Distant Star is the story of two young adults who are in love, but end up being separated by space and time. There’s a war going on and the girl ends up going into space to fight the battle. She communicates with her friend/potential boyfriend via text message as it’s the only means of communication. As she heads further and further into space, the texts become more and more sporadic.
The movie is told from both the boy and the girl’s points of view. There is some dialogue between them, mostly at the beginning of the film. The majority of the story is told in voice overs. The art in this movie is incredible and as much as I like Studio Ghibli productions, I think that Makoto Shinkai is probably one of the best when it comes to anime scenery. The story is enhanced by his animation, but also by the music. I loved this movie, even if it made me sob afterward. It’s not a long film, only 25 minutes, but it’s more than enough to reel you in and then break your heart.
The Place Promised in Our Early Days
This movie is probably my favorite Makoto Shinkai film. It’s not the longest, but it’s not short, either, clocking in at about 91 minutes. Every second of it, though, is fantastic. The Place Promised in Our Early Days is the story of two boys, Hiroki Fujisawa and Takuya Shirakawa, and a girl they meet along the way, Sayuri Sawatari. Fujisawa and Shirakawa are building a plane so they can fly toward a tower. The tower they long to reach is across the border dividing Japan (prior to the events of the film, the southern part of Japan was occupied by the United States, while the northern was occupied by the Soviet Union (though it’s called the Union in the movie — when the movie begins, the US no longer occupies Japan, but they have an agreement. The Union still occupies the northern part of Japan).
The movie follows the three friends through their early days (hence the film’s title) when they are relatively carefree. The boys work on their plane in all their spare time. But eventually they grow up and things have changed. Sawatari has ended up in the hospital, having been asleep for three years. It is up to the boys (though they don’t realize this right away) to take Sawatari to the place promised in their early days in order to wake her up. The movie is beautifully shot, the music is again exquisite and the story is strong. Out of the five movies, this plot is probably the hardest to follow and I know I’m going to want to watch this one again.
5 Centimeters Per Second
As I said earlier, 5 Centimeters is the first Makoto Shinkai anime I watched. It’s 65 minutes long, but it’s also really three short films. The movie is a love story, but like most Makoto Shinkai movies, the ending is not a happy one (though it is satisfying). One of the things that makes this movie good (and a good introduction to Shinkai’s work) is that the stories are easy to follow, the characters (including the main character, Takaki Tōno) are people we can identify with and the scenery exquisite.
The first act (Cherry Blossom) is set in a world without the mobile phone ubiquity we’re used to today (aka the 1990s). Takaki and Akari Shinohara become close friends right away and Takaki falls in love with Akari. The second act (Cosmonaut) is the story of Kanae Sumida, a girl who is in love with Takaki. It’s a nice interlude, dealing with unrequited love that most people can understand.
The third, and final, act (5 Centimeters Per Second), returns us to the story of Takaki and Akari. The two friends have long since gone their way, but while Akari has moved on, Takaki has not. His inability to move on is central to this story. In the end, the movie is about growing up (which is a theme throughout all of Shinkai’s films) and letting things go. The final act and especially the final scene, give us the closure, if not the happy ending, that the movie needs (and which sometimes we need in our lives. The title of the film refers to the speed at which cherry blossoms fall, which is 5 centimeters per second and those cherry blossoms are seen throughout the film.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices
This is probably my least favorite of Shinkai’s movies. I’m not sure why, because it’s also the most similar to the Studio Ghibli films. It shares similar themes with some of those stories as well, a young girl who ends up growing up quickly after the death of her father and goes on an adventure (of a sort). The movie is the longest of Shinkai’s, 116 minutes, and I thought it dragged in some places. It’s not bad, but it’s not my favorite. Asuna does everything while her mother (a nurse) is at work. She sees herself off to school, to bed, fixes dinner and does chores. She’s cheerful most of the time and friendly. One day she befriends a boy who saves her life and thus begins the adventure.
Asuna and one of her teachers end up on a quest to Agartha, which is essentially the underworld. Her teachers wants his dead wife back and Asuna wants her father. The journey is hard and along the way, Asuna runs into the boy who saved her life — only it’s not him at all. She also takes care of a young girl she finds wandering around. Somehow, she manages to befriend almost everyone she meets. The climax of the film takes place when her teacher finds what he’s looking for (it’s more complicated, but I don’t want to give too much away). This story, like so many of Shinkai’s, is heartbreaking in the end. But it’s also filled with hope. Although I did enjoy the movie, it’s probably the one I won’t watch again.
The Garden of Words
This is Shinkai’s newest film (it came out this year) and it’s a strange movie. Out of all the movies of Shinkai’s that I’ve watched, The Garden of Words is by far and away the most beautiful. A large portion of the 46 minute movie is set during rainstorms (and a few thunderstorms). Everything about the rain is realistic, from the sounds to the way it looks on screen. The scenery is breathtaking, and that’s really what drew me to the movie. Even though I’d watched all of the other available Shinkai movies, The Garden of Words was what I looking forward to the most — based purely on how it looked.
The plot, on the other hand, is probably the weakest, although I didn’t think it was especially bad. The movie focuses on Takao Akizuki, a teenager (age 15) who has old fashioned goals in life (he wants to be a shoemaker) and lives in a less than perfect home with his brother and mother. Throughout the film, Takao ends up skipping classes whenever it rains. The first time he does this, he goes to a park and encounters Yukari Yukino, who plays his opposite role. She, too, is skipping out, but for her it’s work. The two of them develop an odd friendship as he sketches (usually her feet) and she drinks (beer/etc).
Eventually the truth is revealed, that Yukari is actually a teacher at Takao’s school. Once this revelation happens, everything changes and we are treated to some really well animated moments during a thunderstorm. I wish that Takao’s storyline had involved a love interest who wasn’t his teacher. But inspite of that (and that’s basically my only problem with the movie, that the plot is tenuous at best), the movie is worth watch because it is so damn beautiful. And, to top it off, it has some of the best piano music I’ve heard, movie and, well, beautiful.
Kotonoha no Niwa – Raindrops (made by kizuxia)