Meeting Makoto Shinkai at London BFI

It’s been quite a busy week so it took some time to finish this write up about the 5 Centimetres per Second screening that took place in London last Friday, one that featured a live interview with Makoto Shinkai himself.

When we arrived, we had a bit of trouble locating the BFI Southbank building but eventually I found it underneath the Waterloo Bridge near a large area of graffiti and made it for the 18:20 screening.

The room for the screening was darkly lit and was pretty much completely full even though only the central seating area was filled when I last checked the bookings on Thursday night. The booking plan showed our seats were on the left hand side so we walked on over only to find that was where the start of the alphabetically ordered seats were. Ended up having to walk back round through the front to find our seats.

After settling down, it was a few minutes before someone appeared on stage to introduce Makoto Shinkai into the room and he was welcomed by a huge round of applause which refused to cease until he started speaking. Unlike the description on the website however, the interview was going to take place after the movie. Shinkai only introduced what 5cm was about before returning inside.

Watching the movie on the big screen was good because details in the artwork were more apparent and the surround sound effects gave a good sense of immersion such as the cars running along side the road outside the telephone booth that, young Akari was calling Takaki in. One could also notice the “crystals” that made up the LCD screen on the mobile phones that can only be see in the Blu-ray version of the movie and not on the DVD. It was also good to find the screening was a subtitled version.

However, I had trouble keeping awake towards and after the end of Oukashou due to the lack of sleep from my overnight train down to London so I ended up examining ADV’s subtitles instead. I’ve never seen them before but they turned out to be fairly well translated and localised but, I feel they did a pretty rough job with the ending theme song.

Once the credits were over, people clapped and once again, Shinkai was welcomed back into the room together with the interviewer and a translator. In the interview, which lasted for about half an hour, Shinkai spoke mainly in Japanese but there was the odd phrase that he said in English. He even said, “Yes desu” which gave people a laugh.

Anyway, it went like the following. Be aware that I haven’t written it word by word. The lines in bold are the questions or topics being discussed and the lines in italics are my own notes.

The importance of cats.

When Shinkai was asked what he missed most about Japan, his reply was just his cat Sayuri. He grew up with a cat as a pet but when he moved to Tokyo he no longer had one. When he started making “The Place Promised in Our Early Days” there he eventually picked up an abandoned newborn cat. Shinjuku in Tokyo was a place where lots of cats were abandoned and before he knew it, he picked up another four giving him a total of five to take care of during the making of the Early Days movie. Fortunately the staff helped feed them and actually helped the staff relax too. Thus, Shinkai wanted to put them in his movies to remember them by.

Inspiration to create “She and Her Cat” and “Voices of a Distant Star” alone

In 2002 when Shinkai started making “Voices of a Distant Star”, Shinkai was still working with the Japanese games company Falcom as an animator with works such as the Ys series. He enjoyed his job but it was one with a busy schedule meaning he had to wake up early and work until late at night. It was then that he thought of creating his own stories rather than assist in telling someone else’s i.e. the company’s. Working alone would also mean giving himself more freedom and flexibility. All the software such as Adobe Photoshop and After Effects were all there on his Mac and he already gained experience in using them at work. He jokes it wasn’t much help in relieving stress because he was doing the same work back at home.

Working with a team to produce “The Place Promised in Our Early Days”

When working alone, Shinkai had to worry about raising funds but now that he’s financed by a company, he has to think about how to share his thoughts with his team of five people such as how he wants the movie made and animated. Unlike Voices of a Distant Star which was made as a hobby, this new movie also gave him some responsibility that affects the lives of his staff. It was a difficult experience but it was enjoyable.

Tenmon’s role in the projects.

Instead of finishing the animated movie first before passing it onto Tenmon for composing the music, Shinkai has Tenmon creating the music as soon as he finishes the storyboarding. They then work together as the movie is produced giving feedback and collaborating to get the music just right. It’s quite an unusual approach.

No deliberate recurring theme such as long distance relationships or losing touch between the works.

The translator got stuck midway and those who knew Japanese laughed when Shinkai told him, “Ganbatte kudasai (Do your best)”.

Shinkai had wanted a certain common theme in “Voices of a Distant Star” and “The Place Promised in Our Early Days” which could have been long distance love and relationships but, he never planned to have the same themes running through all three of his commercial movies. However, looking back at his works, he realises that he may have been trying to illustrate a similar theme in slightly different ways.

When “Voices of a Distant Star” was being made, e-mailing via mobile phones was just starting to gain popularity and not many knew how to use it (Japan uses e-mail addresses to message instead of texting via phone numbers). Back then, Shinkai would e-mail his girlfriend and when he starts to wonder why she hasn’t replied yet when the message should have reached her already, he would get worried or even a little jealous sometimes. Even though they lived together in the same city, it felt like they were living on different planets and when he thought of it that way, “Voices of a Distant Star” was born.

After that, Shinkai became interested in the communication between people and how they come to understand the relationships with each other. This maybe the reason to the recurring themes.

As movies go worldwide, target audience also becomes internationalised.

Shinkai had never thought of his movies reaching an audience outside Japan and thus, while making his movies he had only wanted to use his own experience from high school life such as joining clubs which, would be something the Japanese audience would be familiar with. Each of his movies are made to target a specific audience group and convey a message to them such as maybe lovers or friends.

Ever since making “Voices of a Distant Star” six years ago, Shinkai understands his audience has expanded worldwide and will be taking that into consideration for his next movie so that everyone, not just Japanese people, will be able to relate to it, which is one of the reasons why he’s currently living in the UK.

Inspiration from living in a foreign country.

By living in a foreign place, Shinkai was hoping he would get inspired creatively, coming up with ideas he’s never thought of before.

However the main reason was, which may sound odd, was that his working environment in Japan was starting to feel a bit too comfortable to work in.

Translator interpreted it this as “nice place and that he felt like he wanted to get out of this nice place”, implying London wasn’t a nice place. This made the interviewer say, “thank you very much” which gave us a little laugh.

To be more specific, Shinkai felt he managed to meet many partner companies too easily so far and his funders would say, “We’ll fund you but feel free to make it any way you want. We won’t give you any orders, just produce them the way you like.” Furthermore, all the staff that were recruited were all talented people so his job was becoming a very pleasant one and he was feeling no stress at all.

By having people around him who understood his ideas without him saying anything, he started to wonder what is was that he was after now. This reminded him of the time when he moved out to Tokyo at the age of eighteen, when he felt the loneliness and loss of protection living away from his own home. That was also the time when he realised what it was that he wanted.

And so just like that time, Shinkai wanted to move somewhere further away from Tokyo hoping he will find the answer he’s seeking. A place like London where it was cold and where he couldn’t speak the English language felt like a good place.

Everyone laughs at the way Shinkai was describing London but then Shinkai interrupts to say, “But I love London” and everyone applauds very loudly. This part was great!

We then had some time for a Q & A session. Quite a number of people asked in Japanese and for most of them, the translator was very brief.

Still an animator in 5 ~ 10 years time.

Shinkai had never thought that far ahead but what he is certain of is that he’ll be staying in London for the rest of the year before returning to Japan and starting immediately on his next movie.

In “Voices of a Distant Star” there is the long distance theme but, the speed at which time passed was different which makes it kind of physics related. After that, there’s “The Place Promised in Our Early Days” that deals with the subject of parallel worlds and alternative universes which again, is kind of physics related. This time “5 Centimetres per Second” we once again see the appearance of space and flying rockets. How do you feel towards the subject of physics, Mr. Shinkai?

This was quite a long winded question that kind of troubled the translator and perhaps even Shinkai himself who laughed along with the audience.

In answer, Shinkai reveals that he’s a great fan of science fiction and his favourite author is Authur C. Clarke who has unfortunately passed away now. He tells everyone he isn’t just saying this because he’s in London.

In junior high he used to spend a lot of time re-reading his novels and it was then that he wanted to write stories at the same scale about space and time. One day, he will do it but for now he jokes that all he can manage is portray a story about a boy on a two hour train journey.

And we know most of this already from the entry on his site back in March.

START OF 5CM SPOILER WARNING

In episode one “Oukashou” we see young love has been realised between two people but this is hindered by the distance between them. Then in episode two we see via some indirect scenes of how they are living separate lives. I thought we would see Akari making an appearance but she never had any lines so in episode three, I was looking forward to a happy ending but it was a very disappointing one and didn’t really appear to end the story. Did you ever prepare a happy ending for the movie?

A few laughs at this one.

The ending seen in the movie was the one that had been decided upon before production but, along the way Shinkai had thought of changing it. However, he felt it wasn’t possible and in the end, kept to his original decision. The main reason Shinkai did this was because he felt it would have ended like a fairy tale where the story is wrapped up nicely. On the other hand, he didn’t want to end it that way because he knows that there must be some other important things that await both Takaki and Akari in the future which the viewers can think about for themselves as the two continue living their lives.

END OF 5CM SPOILER WARNING

“Voices of a Distant Star” and “The Place Promised in Our Early Days” are already available in the UK from ADV. When will “5 Centimetres per Second” be available? Also, will you be producing a series for the “Ef” game?

Shinkai didn’t really answer the distribution question. The interviewer only said there are some complications and 5cm will come out as soon as possible.

Shinkai replies that he does indeed create short movies such as openings and trailers for PC games but the games themselves are really not his own work. He’s enjoyed making a lot of shorts so far because while long movies such as “5 Centimetres per Second” took a year and a half to complete, short works only take a few months. Creating works such as short commercials or music videos have been very fulfilling as part of his job. However, he feels that he wants to produce a full length movie again for his next piece of work.

Any worries about losing some of the Japanese audience as movies become more internationalised?

Had never really thought about it although he really should have. Shinkai feels that Japan has a lot of animations being produced so there’s a lot of choice for people. He would be happy if people enjoy watching his works but, if it’s not to their tastes they should be able to find alternatives. Furthermore, he doesn’t want to make something that caters to an audience’s interest but, something that’s of his own interest and thoughts.

Is the state of animation improving and is there increasing room for independent creators?

Thinks there is plenty of room for them thanks to the internet. Six years ago when he started making his first commercial movie, there was already the possibility to upload one’s own works onto the internet. These days it’s a lot more easier.

“Yes, desu.”

Did Ghibli’s “Laputa: Castle in the Sky” had any influence in the creation of “The Place Promised in Our Early Days”?

It did have influence because it was his favourite movie that he watched back in junior high school and it was a life-changing experience. Shinkai thought it was a very emotional movie and would like to share the same experience through his own works but, feels he isn’t quite at that level yet.

And that’s all we had time for before the next movie, “Paprika” was on for the night!

It was a very entertaining and informative interview session. A good number of laughs too. The answer Shinkai gave about why 5cm ended that way was a very satisfying one and in my opinion adds another reason to why the three part movie is unique.

So with time running out as the room had to be used for the next movie in the Anime Now Weekend, people were reminded that Shinkai will be having an autograph session at the shop just like the update on their site had said. They also had copies of the second batch of his artbook for sale at ยฃ25 each which is about twice the original price but, one should consider the importing costs and how hard it is to get a hold of.

Over 400 people had been present for the movie so it was fortunate not all of them wanted to meet Shinkai otherwise I doubt I would have managed obtain the autograph before catching the last train back home that evening!

I was told the people to the left were some of Shinkai’s friends although I don’t know if they really were or not. Tenmon was present at the event too supposedly but again, I’ve never seen a picture of him so I wouldn’t know even if I saw him.

I thought I would probably be the only one bringing the novel along to get it signed but, apparently Lastarial went and got quite a number of his Shinkai goodies signed including the novel! Well anyway, as I waited I saw happy people coming out carrying other items such as the sleeves of the DVDs and Blu-ray versions of the movie signed.

Wanted to sneak a few shots during the interview earlier on but, I ended up not risking it like the others who were told not to shoot photos. The staff didn’t seem to mind about photos from the queue, though. There was quite a number of Japanese present.

Got pass through the doors here. Not really sure how long it took but it didn’t feel that long. Probably because I was chatting with someone! Shinkai was standing at the back where the HD TV is and it was showing “The Place Promised in Our Early Days”.

And it was finally my turn to have something signed. There was a Japanese lady close by (not sure who she was) who asked what I wanted signed before taking the novel I brought with me, ready for Shinkai to sign it. I shook Shinkai’s hand and introduced myself, saying nothing about the e-mail I had sent him. After that, he asked if I spoke Japanese and I answered, “Hai“.

I had originally wanted to see if he had any ideas what his next piece of work would be about but, that question and others I had prepared were kind of already answered during the interview. So while he signed my novel, I went onto the next question I had prepared which was, “Will your experience living overseas have a certain influence on your next piece of work?” and his answer was, “It certainly will.” Then I confirmed if he was really planning to start on his next movie after returning to Japan next year and his reply was, “Yes, I will be starting it immediately once I’m back in Japan next year.”

I was so caught up trying to phrase the questions correctly in Japanese that I had almost forgotten to take a picture with Shinkai before leaving. Fortunately, a friend that had come along with reminded me and I was kindly allowed to slip back into the queue to get a photo taken. After apologising for the little trouble with a quick “Sumimasen“, I shook hands one last time and thanked him, wishing him good luck on his next work and saying that I will be looking forward to it.

He was a very friendly character shaking with both hands and smiling. Seemed very happy that there were so many people after his autograph outside of Japan and that’s a good thing of course.

In the end, I thought the visit was worthwhile despite ending up with a pair of sore legs and a damaged camera at the end of the day trip but, that’s another story ^^;

My sincere thanks goes to BFI for arranging this great event that involves one of my favourite stories (for various reasons) and, Daike-san who helped me decipher and clear up some of the things said at the interview!

19 thoughts on “Meeting Makoto Shinkai at London BFI

  1. Kevin

    Thanks so much for the interview write up, Xcomp! I feel like I attended the screening and met Shinkai himself… vicariously of course. This is definitely the next best thing until Shinkai decides to visit the United States. But even then, what’s the chance of him visiting the Boston area… T_T

    Reply
  2. meganeshounen

    @silver_moon
    That’s Xcomp himself, if I’m not mistaken. Leaving a picture with your face showing in the Internet can be a bit embarrassing. At least, that’s what I think. ^_^;
    (And FYI, that’s the “Laughing Man” from Ghost in the Shell… which is also used as the same censoring method in other blogs like Akibablog…)

    So you finally met the man, huh? Awesome. ๐Ÿ˜€
    It’s fortunate that he also remembered about your e-mail and he let you take a picture with him during the after-movie. He really seems to be a mellow and nice guy…

    Reply
  3. lastarial

    I wondered how much stuff I should take to get signed, but I kept it to the artbook and the novel in the end. I left the DVDs at home…

    Great write up, by the way. Must get around to writing up my thoughts from the night.

    Reply
  4. kernelPANIC

    Nice story. I really enjoy Shinkai’s work too. It must have been quite a treat for a fan such as yourself to meet him in person. Next time don’t be so shy and give us the Anonymous treatment on your picture with him ๐Ÿ˜›

    Reply
  5. Xcomp Post author

    @Silver
    Yes, that’s me with the “Laughing Man” icon in the photo.

    @Kelvin,
    I think it would be worth making a trip to another state if he ever did visit the US although I don’t know how much that would cost ^^;

    @Megane
    Depends if you use your real name and what you put on the site really. If you recorded your “wild” activities with your real name on something like say Myspace then I’m sure employers will have fun finding out what you’ve been up to =P

    @Lastarial
    I’ll be looking forward to reading that post! I’m curious if he drew Chobi on everyone’s item. And do let us know if the organiser you spoke to ever gets back to you with some pics from the interview!

    @Kernel
    Think I’ll stick to being the “Laughing Man” for now ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Reply
  6. Maaya

    Glad you posted translation of the Q and A!! Now I’m looking forward to his next work!
    And oh!! That autograph chobi is adorable!!

    Reply
  7. Errant

    Nice cover up :D, maybe i’ll look through my photos and see if i can find yah!

    I was there with some friends who’d never seen the movie before, they found it terrific – but sad. I sent them to your site since they want more info ^^

    Also watched the Paprika movie! Which sent us into hysterics after 5cm – another brilliant movie.

    Reply
  8. Xcomp Post author

    Thanks for linking them here! Could always do with more exposure.

    So, where were you snapping photos then? Were you one of the ones who sneaked a shot inside the theatre? =P

    Reply
  9. Errant

    Ahaha… well inside I took a couple in the when I sat down, literally moments before the “no photo’s please” notice.

    I did take a couple photo’s during the interview (bless silent mode, curse the many heads in the way). Most of my photo’s were taken outside ^^, when I was messing around with the camera waiting for the paprika movie.

    I was center block left of the middle, facing the screen.

    Reply
  10. Darbice

    I also attended the screening but me and my friend ended up getting to the BFI Southbank over an hour early lol. But it paid off because while i was sitting down in the lounge I turned around to find Makoto Shinkai himself walking through also with him the producer of Comix Wave Noritaka Kawaguchi .
    So i went over and met both of them and i had a chat with both of them ๐Ÿ™‚
    Makoto Shinkai signed my dvd sleeve, my novel and my artbook which i ordered from japan. Nori was suprised that i managed to get a copy from japan cos it was sold out everywhere. I was fortunate to get a personalised signing, he put the date, my name in english and japanese then he signed his name in japanese and english ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  11. Xcomp Post author

    @Darbice
    Sounds great! Maybe you were the fans that Shinkai mentions on his website? He said he got lost along the way and then had to ask fans who approached him for directions.

    I’m satisfied enough to have a photo and a signed novel ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  12. jessie

    u are so lucky man!!! Mr. Makoto Shinkai is one of dah best. I truly wish to also meet him in person someday. Not forgetting: GREAT OVERVIEW OF THE EVENT!!!

    Reply
  13. Pingback: Makoto Shinkai | Cafรฉ Anime Lair

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