Few anime film creators are as popular right now as Makoto Shinkai. Once dubbed the next big thing since Studio Ghibli, the director has since carved out a unique place for himself thanks to Shinkai’s unique themes that set him apart from others.
Whether you’ve watched a lot of Shinkai films or want to learn a little more ahead of Suzume’s international release, here are some notable traits that you’ll see a lot of in all of his works.
Discover: Makoto Shinkai's Best Movies, Ranked
Starting with the broadest theme of all, every single one of Shinkai’s stories revolves around love. While most films generally have some form of love in them, Makoto Shinkai always makes it the central and prevailing theme.
In most of his movies, this love takes the form of a classic boy-girl romance, usually involving young people. However, this isn’t always the case.
Two of Shinkai’s early shorts, She and Her Cat and Someone's Gaze, put more emphasis on familial relationships. However, even in these, that feeling of love is central to the story.
But why is Shinkai so enamoured, so to speak, with love?
Well, we don’t know for sure, but we do know that much of his early work was inspired by his own romantic relationships.
Makoto Shinkai created his first award-winning short, She and Her Cat, in part for a girl he was in love with at the time. His breakthrough follow-up, Voices of a Distant Star, was inspired by texting between Shinkai and his wife.
Beyond that, it might just be a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Shinkai clearly has an innate ability to capture love in a way that resonates with many people.
Arguably the most notable trait in Shinkai’s movies is some kind of barrier between the two main characters. Often, this gets in the way of the central love, creating the bittersweet feeling for which Shinkai is synonymous.
Of course, almost every romance anime has some kind of barrier; otherwise, romance films would just be sopping messes.
What makes Makoto Shinkai unique is the kind of ever-present barriers he utilises which make it impossible for the characters to be together regardless of how in love they are.
Many of Shinkai’s early works can be defined by these barriers which stop the characters from being together and create compelling plots:
- She and Her Cat – Cross-species
- Voices of a Distant Star – Time
- The Place Promised in Our Early Days – Disappearance
- 5 Centimeters Per Second – Distance
- The Garden of Words – Age
This theme continues throughout all of Shinkai’s films. However, the most iconic barrier in Shinkai’s movies is probably Your Name’s use of time.
Without spoiling too much, it becomes clear – or clear-ish – during the latter half of the film that the two main characters will not be together, despite their growing desire to be so.
Many anime fans ask how Makoto Shinkai’s anime films look so clean and unique. Obviously, the number one reason for this is drawing talent, but his open utilisation of digital technology also plays a significant part.
Shinkai, who initially worked creating cutscenes and graphics for videogames at Falcom, has frequently cited Adobe After Effects as one of his go-to programs when it comes to creating his movies.
Adobe After Effects is a VFX and motion graphics software that allows you to create animated sequences. This tutorial on animating objects in After Effects gives you some indication of what an animator can do with the platform.
Makoto Shinkai has also mentioned using other Adobe programs, such as drawing over photographs in Photoshop to create background scenes. As a result, Shinkai’s films tend to have a more realistic appearance than many other anime movies.
In his more recent films, such as The Garden of Words and Weathering With You, Shinkai has used a combination of hand drawings and CGI to create eye-catching rain sequences.
While these themes exist in a lot of Makoto Shinkai’s works, that shouldn’t underplay the immense skill and craftsmanship it takes to pull them off time and time again.
As a huge fan of Shinkai, I would urge anyone with an interest to watch as many of his films as possible. That way, you can begin to understand how he constantly uses these prevailing themes in ways that are always interesting, no matter how many times you watch!