Date: 2023 April 10 21:19
Posted by Joe
Makoto Shinkai's latest movie hits cinemas around North America, UK and Ireland from Friday 14th April 2023. We caught up the with the acclaimed anime director while he was in London to ask him about his new film.
A thread of natural disasters runs through your most recent films with Your Name, Weathering With you and now Suzume all having natural disasters as a key element to the story. Suzume is seen as your response to the March 11 Earthquake. Can you elaborate more on this?
All three of the films as you say feature disasters, but it's not like I've set out to make films based on natural disasters. Suzume goes on a journey through Japan, it's a coming of age story and it's based on Japan today and because it's based in Japan today it kind of needs to feature these natural disasters. When I was thinking of where Suzume should go on this journey that she takes I came up with the idea of visiting places that had been abandoned because of natural disasters and of using Tōhoku the region that was effected by the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake because in a way if I don't show those things it's not a representation of Japan as it is today.
I think our society, Japan has still not recovered from the Great East Japan Earthquake and myself as well 12 years on I'm still carrying it with me. Young people in Japan though are surrounded by these natural disasters, they grew up with it, it's normal. So to be making a film with young people as it's protagonists in Japan today it needed to feature those disasters.
In Suzume a certain cat is an agent of chaos. Do you think is applies to all cats in general?
Well, I do have cats and when I'm drawing they will come and attack the pen! Knock things off the desk. So yes they do bring chaos.
One my cats is named Suzume, because I rescued her when I was making Suzume.
The cat is an agent of chaos in the movie, but also it's a symbol of nature because human being can't predict nature. It can seem very capricious one minute you're looking at a beautiful seascape and the next minute you're being attacked by a tsunami. Nature is beautiful, frightening , it can heal, it can attack. When I was wanting to represent that in the form an animal, that unpredictability I thought of a cat.
One of the key Makoto Shinkai signatures is the attention to detail you place around technology. Characters phones and tablets are often extremely detailed. You'll also animate things like the characters plugging in cables, or swiping and gesturing and accurately using their device. Most animators don't go to these lengths or use shorthand. Why do you go to this level of detail?
I think it's because it's part of our daily lives. It's one of the most important things in our day to day life is not to let our phone battery die. We spend a lot of time swiping and scrolling, even more so in the younger generation. So if you're making a film about the younger generation then I think it's only natural that you be showing the gadgets and their use of them in some detail.
It could also be because I like gadgets. I think if you don't show the detail it can look weird. So if an animator is told to draw a phone they would tend to draw just the display part as being glass but actually with an iPhone the whole of the front is glass not just the bit that's actually the display and if they get that wrong it just doesn't look right. So that's another reason for focusing on the detail.
You've got some clever Easter-eggs in the movie, including a reference to the Boston Dynamics Spot robot, are there any other blink and you'll miss it moments fans should look out for?
There are a lot of Easter eggs that reference Ghibli movies in the film. For example when the cat Daijin's social media appearances, there's a very short bit where someone says "Oh My God! It's like Whisper of the Heart in real life.", because in Whisper of the Heart there's a cat on the train.
Then later on when they're in the car one of the songs that plays is a song from Kiki's Delivery Service and when that plays, behind the car that they're in is a truck which is a Black Cat Delivery Service Truck with the black cat logo, which is a sponsor of Kiki's Delivery Service.
In the film an Alfa Romeo features prominently, what drew you to this car in particular? Did you consider other cars?
Well, it's an Alfa Romeo -esque car because I thought there might be rights problems if I featured a particular foreign brand of car. So it's kind of a mix between an Alfa Romeo and a BMW. But I'm glad that you noticed that! It's also slightly pointing toward the fact that Italian cars tend to break down.
What do you like about travelling overseas while promoting your movies?
When I go abroad I always have an interpreter and those interpreters have often worked with a lot of other Japanese directors as well. So they know these other directors, but I don't know them. I don't know Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Hosoda and Hayao Miyazaki. So I always like to ask the interpreters what are they like? Is this guy a nice guy? I'm always interesting in finding out and learning what the other directors are like and coming abroad gives me a chance to ask about that.