On Love, Loneliness, & the Growing Distance Between Us | The Works of Makoto Shinkai

Have you ever had that “feeling”? You know the one—when you notice yourself suddenly skipping about here and there, flattering others in an uncharacteristically cheery way that makes them remark, “I want what they’re having!” Some call that expression—that intense feeling of deep affection, interest, or yearning—love. It’s but a simple four-letter word, and yet it can give some people enough purpose and motivation to perform wild, breathtaking feats, going to the greatest of lengths just for that shared pleasure of joy. “Love makes the world go round,” it truly does.

Such a complex and powerful emotion often finds its way into animation. Specifically, the romance genre of anime holds steady as one of the field’s experts. Its incredible variety masterfully demonstrates that love is not only sweet and tender, but can also be realistically crushing and emotionally devastating.

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The latter is the kind of stories director Makoto Shinkai likes to tell. Rather than measuring up as a statistically sound series or film—that is, a rated “10/10” on various elements such as plot, pacing, characters, animation (his forte), sound etc.—Shinkai films excel at eliciting a feeling, usually on the heartache end of the emotional spectrum. To quote his latest award-winning hit, Your Name., Shinkai’s films provide, simply put, “Nothing more or less than a breathtaking view.” Each possess their own fair share of flaws, some more than others, but beyond the little plot holes lies a relatable character struggle that just might tread a path you yourself have walked.

And it’s exactly that strong resonance between one’s own experiences and Shinkai’s ill-fated cast which makes him one of the bests in the industry. Everyone wants to feel connected to others, and Shinkai depicts through his picture-perfect worlds what that connection is really like, and why it isn’t always everything that we wanted after all.

In the iconic, beautifully cruel style which solidified his films as masterworks of modern animation, Makoto Shinkai appeals to humanity’s most innate fears of rejection and loss by directing his characters through the timeless themes of love, loneliness, and the growing distance which separates people as time goes on. These lessons teach us that though life has its fair share of heartbreak, each relationship we stumble into and every opportunity we miss out on still carries the potential to live out a better tomorrow—you just have to look beyond the distance.

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A comparative study and light analysis on the works of Makoto Shinkai. For each title, I will delve into the big issues or “separators” at hand, factoring in whether the story’s realism and emotions which the endings provoke somehow determine the possibilities for happiness and sadness alike. As such, SPOILERS for nearly all of his films WILL BE PRESENT. Also, these will NOT be individual reviews for each title. For those prepared to relive all of these amazing films, enjoy!

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(NONE OF THIS GORGEOUS ARTWORK BELONGS TO ME. All praise and ownership goes to Makoto Shinkai and CoMix Wave Films.)

She and Her Cat (1999)

I will always be by your side. After all, I am your cat.

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Aside from the music (by Tenmon), this 4-minute short was completely created by Shinkai alone, marking the early beginnings of his budding career as not only an animator and writer, but also a director. It’s the short tale of an average Japanese girl living in an apartment told from the viewpoint of Chobi, her beloved cat. Chobi speaks formally and passionately about his owner, yet he still has this pure, unclouded perspective of a cat. Arguably his softest work yet, She and Her Cat: Their Standing Points stood out due to its innovative (and awfully cute) exploration of love.

What ultimately separates the two from “eloping” is, well, obvious—“She” is a human girl, a woman, while Chobi is a cat. It’s an unusual relationship, but that doesn’t stop the film from being so unrealistic as to the plot being “impossible.” The woman, nicknamed Kanojo by the community, faces her own hardships in the real world (including a possible love interest), and though Chobi would like to know what she does and where she goes once she closes their apartment door, he understands that her life likely isn’t all sunshine and roses—it doesn’t really concern him. All that matters to him is that she returns home at the end of a long day.

Like with all of Shinkai’s films to follow, what separates them (different species, the “language barrier”) also unites them, for through each others warm embrace—that of a cat and his owner—they find comfort and care. Simple, peaceful, heartwarming.

Voices of a Distant Star (2002)

We may be the first generation of lovers separated by time and space.

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Stepping up his game, yet still working alone (aside for Tenmon’s gorgeous piano and string score), Shinkai quotes this rather aged 2002 short film as the piece which put him out in the world. Set in the near future, mankind’s ambition to explore space separates Nagamine and Noboru, a young girl and boy in junior high. As Noboru enters high school, Nagamine is sent off on an expedition into space’s infinite depths. The farther she strays away from Earth and her Noboru-kun, the longer it takes for their texts to reach one another. Minutes turn into hours, days, weeks, months, and soon—

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Though inventive at its time, the 3D graphics haven’t aged all too well. But thematically, Voices of a Distant Star packs more of an emotional punch than most 12-episode series could today—and this film only clocks in at 25 minutes, including the credits! It seems as if the big separator in Voices is the physical distance, but waiting for their messages of goodwill to traverse the vast blank void that is space ushers in another factor: time. As Nagamine’s unchanging body fights on (in what I can only imagine to be early-2000 Shinkai’s mecha dream-of-a-giant robot), Noboru ages at what feels like an alarming pace. In reality, his growth rate is no different from any of ours is, but the way Shinkai conveys the rapid passage of time only accentuates our lovers’ tragedy. Is it realistic? Even as a sci-fi flick, not really. But does its bittersweet run end on an ambiguously hopeful note? Absolutely.

Voices is arguably the first film in Shinkai’s line-up to convey this notion that perhaps the lack of realism can lead to a happy ending. Very interesting . . .

The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004)

On those now-distant days, we made a promise we couldn’t keep.

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To tackle the 1 hr. 30 min. length of this next film, Shinkai needed a team. Between his early beginnings and now in 2004, he partnered with the animation studio CoMix Wave Films. The results—The Place Promised in Our Early Days visually blew audiences away, nearly more so than with 2002’s Voices. Set near the turn of the century in an alternate reality Japan, which is split by America and the Soviet Union, young boys Hiroki and Takuya aim to fly to the top of the fantastical, unbelievably high Hokkaido Tower using an old drone. While at first a secret for just the two of them, Sayuri, a girl Hiroki and Takuya both like but would never admit to one another, discovers their secret, leading to the boys putting their project on indefinite hiatus. When Sayuri suddenly disappears from their life, however, the two come to realize that reaching the mysterious tower—the promised dream of their childhood—might be the only way to save her.

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Hiroki and Takuya experience a loss of youth, of innocence, as they learn to develop their own dreams and ideologies different from their childish musings. What once united them in friendship tears them apart, and the disappearance of Sayuri and discovery of her untimely illness are what kicked off the depressing events that plague the film’s middle. To watch two friends come at each other’s throat can be painfully real to some, as we’ve all have our fair share of little spats with friends. Additionally, I’m sure we’ve all seen sickness and temptation take the life of a loved one and push them into a place beyond our reach. Thankfully, a happy reunion awaits the cast at the end, leading to the belief of how sacrifice can yield rebirth.

Once again, Shinkai writes with a science fiction mind, and although people still relate to Hiroki and Takuya, the entire premise is unrealistic, nothing more than a child’s fantasy. Can you still learn from it? Of course, but come Shinkai’s next film, reality takes a turn for the worst—the start of a tragic trend.

5 Centimeters Per Second (2007)

At what speed must I live to be able to see you again?

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Here it is, Shinkai’s greatest creation (thematically, that is). I’m sure it needs no introduction, unlike his more obscure early works, but in case you forgot, it’s the story of two very close friends and classmates: Takaki Toono and Akari Shinohara. Elementary school should be a time of play and triviality, but for these two, such isn’t the case. Rather than run around on the playground, Takaki and Akari would rather read in the library, or simply chat about life’s musings. Just as they become close, however, Akari’s family plans to move. Takaki and Akari send letters to one another, but Akari only continues to move further and further away. In a final attempt to see Akari before she’s beyond his limits, Takaki sets out to reunite with her. His unlucky trek attracts a cold winter’s blizzard, delaying the series of trains to Akari’s town. But that doesn’t stop the two from finally, FINALLY meeting once again. And boy, does your heart just melt the frost away.

Equal parts faith and love, Takaki made the effort to travel out in the cold, sure, but Akari was the one who waited—the one who sat there miserable and alone with nothing to do but pray that her young love was on his way. It was proof that their love should be everlasting, but alas, that’s not the story Shinkai is trying to tell. In this first episode, it is a physical distance which separates our main couple.

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A chain of short stories about their distance.

After this touching first episode, the film enters its next “story.” Time passes on. Takaki, too, moves away from his hometown to the warm regions of Tanegashima (a stark contrast to the first episode’s frigid finale). Now a high schooler, Takaki meets a new girl, and though she tries to admit her feelings to him, Takaki knows all along that his heart only belongs to one person: the woman of his past. Time and other relationships have left him traveling aimlessly. In the final episode, Takaki is old. Maybe not in the physical sense, as late 20s—early 30s is still quite young, but his spirit definitely seems lost—his heart broken from years without seeing or hearing from her.

The painful reality is that, as life would have it, she has moved on, already engaged to another man. And that’s just it—the final separator which drives these now-unrelated adults is life itself. Life is always changing, and as we continue down our own paths, we sometimes have to leave others behind.

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At its core, 5 Centimeters Per Second strives to present one’s “first love,” and how difficult it is to hold onto it—so much so that it almost feels not worth experiencing at all. Takaki, by his end, is lonely, depressed, and empty. It’s a sad film, yet a brutally honest one. Shinkai’s first feature-length film in a world without giant robots or fantasy towers is painfully real, and that aspect remains what distinguishes Shinkai from today’s anime directors. By this point, Makoto Shinkai had earned the appreciation and respect of his more mature adult viewers.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011)

This is the journey to know the meaning of “goodbye.”

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Shinkai returns to the realm of fiction with this next film. Clearly inspired by the magical presentation of Studio Ghibli movies, the story follows young Asuna, an excellent student who maintains her family’s house in a rural town during her mother’s absence. Aside from spending time with nature, Asuna is alone. She finds escapism in her secret hideout up in the mountains, and frequently tunes into her old crystal radio for relaxation. One day, she unexpectedly picks up on a curious frequency: a rather melancholic melody, different from any song she had ever heard before. As if fated to meet, a mysterious boy named Shun rescues Asuna from a wild, bizarre creature, unintentionally dragging Asuna and her teacher, Mr. Morisaki, on a perilous journey to Agartha, a land long-lost to time and human presence.

Though not his smartest film by any means, Shinkai has been longing to visit this colorful, enchanting world—Agartha—for some time now. The luscious planet upon which Nagamine lands in Voices of a Distant Star; the domain where the comatose Sayuri resides in The Place Promised in Our Early Days; Takaki Toono’s realm of dreams in 5 Centimeters Per Second—each time this wondrous world reappears, it offers comfort to the characters. Not coincidentally, the design remains the same, too. From the gorgeously iconic “Shinkai clouds” to the seas of green grass and remains of old ruins, Agartha FINALLY gets the thorough fleshing-out that it has since deserved, and I’m just glad we got to go there at long last.

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But Children Who Chase isn’t all sunshine and roses. Awaiting Asuna and Morisaki is an adventure rife with death, and a thorough demonstration as to what happens when man attempts to bring those passed back to life. Foolish, blind greed and a gaping sense of loss are what separate Morisaki from someone pure-hearted like Asuna. But in the same way, the journey of letting go and understanding what “goodbye” truly means allows for the film to end with an odd, lukewarm sensation of happiness. Adventure yields danger, but to those who learn their lessons, the hope to live a fulfilling life burns on. God may be a cruel teacher, but so is history.

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Children Who Chase Lost Voices is far from a realistic story, and thus, the pattern of Shinkai’s fantasies ending contentedly continues. Is he trying to say that reality is just full of heartache and nothing else? Perhaps so with his next couple of films.

The Garden of Words (2013)

Before there was love, there was loneliness.

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A personal favorite of mine, Shinkai’s The Garden of Words provides a 46-minute feels trip through an unusual couple’s short-lived romantic spat.

Tenmon takes a break from the music to allow talent like Daisuke Kashiwa’s immersive piano soliloquies to establish an atmosphere unlike ANY other. And the visuals—THIS is the incredible level of quality which defines Makoto Shinkai’s digital landscaping, lighting, and realism today. Visually, The Garden of Words remains the most beautiful short film I have ever seen, and it will probably hold that title for a long time to come!

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On a rainy morning in Tokyo, aspiring shoemaker Takao Akizuki does what every student on a rainy day wishes they could do—he skips class to sketch designs in the city’s beautiful garden. Thinking he’d be all alone in this calm misty weather, he accidentally meets a beautiful yet reserved young woman. Her name is Yukari Yukino, and though she continues to skip out work to drink and eat chocolates in the garden, Takao takes a liking to her poetic words. To [figuratively] get her back on her feet, Takao offers to make Yukino new shoes. And thus they vow to themselves: for each day it rains, I will spend time with her/him.

More rainy days arrive, and as the two secretly convene in their garden of words—of shared acceptance and belonging—the two unknowingly start to lighten their own personal burdens just by being together. Tokyo’s rainy season may be long, but like all good things, it doesn’t last forever. As warmer days creep ahead and the chance for precipitation diminishes, Takao and Yukino’s relationship risks drying up like the rain which brought them together.

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The Garden of Words paints the true vision of life’s loneliness before love intervenes. It’s the gentle story about finding solace in another, and learning to alleviate one’s personal worries through something as simple as conversation. At first, a lack of courage casts Takao and Yukino as an awkward couple. Only after Yukino is revealed to be a teacher at his school do we see the true separator at hand: the age gap, and the societal notions that place stigmas on teacher–student relationships. YUKINO KNEW THE WHOLE TIME, yet held of on saying anything for fear of judgement. And in the end, Takao yells at her, forcing her on her feet through their compelling emotional conflict.

Realistic in every sense of the word, its finale feels bittersweet, yet resolved. Separated from each other, the two resume pursuing their own personal aspirations. Though somewhat sad, in truth the ending is optimistic about the different directions Takao and Yukino take, as it was through comfort in one another’s presence which allowed them to find their way back on the path—and with a stronger, more confident “footing” this time around.

The Garden of Words rings true as the new Shinkai standard, but thematically, it revolutionized Shinkai’s game: for the first time, a realistic story does, in fact, yield a happy ending.

Someone’s Gaze (2013)

There are a lot of things you two have forgotten.

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Returning to form, Makoto Shinkai cranks out another charming yet touching short (6 minutes in length) with the release of The Garden of Words. It hearkens waaay back to his beginnings, with the simple yet relatable tale of a girl and her cat. Aa-chan lives in a near-future Japan, and has recently made the big transition of living on her own following graduation and the start of a new job. With her mother working overseas as a doctor, her loving father is left behind at the apartment with the family cat, Mii-san, who happens to be very old by this point. Seeking a way to reach out to her, her father tries several times to reconnect with his distancing child, but the gap is too awkward for him to bridge. Eventually Mii-san passes away, but this sudden grief holds the power to reunite a tired daughter, a busy mother, and a lonely father.

All that emotional energy conveyed in such a short time serves to remind us as to Shinkai’s greatest strength, that is, being able to make his viewers experience heartbreak followed by hope (or hopelessness) in a matter of mere minutes. Someone’s Gaze is especially relatable, as the burnout experienced by today’s youth and the parental fear of their children growing up in today’s world both hit us hard at some point in our lives. With maturity comes opportunity, but that often involves temporarily leaving an old way of life—and the people in it—behind. In truth, familial bonds change over time, and as we grow up, it can be hard to maintain that “want” to communicate.

Like The Garden of Words, Shinkai permits for a realistic story to end optimistically hopeful, perhaps marking that the guy really is turning a new leaf from his long history of depressing, failed love stories.

Cross Road (2014)

I sought to find something great, and while it may not have been what I expected, I found something . . . or rather, someone. 

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Although this latest short is actually just a 2-minute commercial for the Z-Kai cram schools, it was still directed by Shinkai, and holds that same breathtaking, picture-perfect style to boot. As college entrance examinations draw near, two students living completely different lives focus their time and energy into a correspondence education service. Juggling their studies with their already-involved daily lives, the two diligently work towards that high goal of college admission, unaware of how much they share in common. It’s a brief yet inspiring “work hard, play hard” preview into a film that I can only imagine would’ve been absolutely stunning had it received the length it deserved. Not as absurd as those 30-second Cup Noodle ads, but even just a couple minutes more would have doubled the story’s length. I suppose we don’t always get what we want; such is life.

Despite the let-down of a run time, Cross Road still manages to follow a truncated version of the Shinkai formula: two individuals in similar situations are separated by different lives, but their unexpected meeting reveals that, through hard work, the hope to overcome their challenges increases. Call this a lighthearted take on the next and final film—the realistic outcome of what possibly could have been.

Your Name. (2016)

Wherever you are in the world, I swear I will find you again—no matter what. 

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Your Name. exploded onto the anime scene, continuing to break record after record until it became the highest-grossing anime film in the world (among other nominations). Funimation and Madman Entertainment’s combined efforts to license, dub, and promote the film through staggered theatrical releases maintained its hype not just for the remainder of 2016, but for most of 2017, too. Even now, anime fans who are finally getting around to watching it share their praise with the community, reviving the excitement of this rom-com drama to no end. By this point, Your Name. wasn’t just another Shinkai film—it was a moving, breathing phenomenon.

Like any high school girl born and raised in the Japanese countryside, Mitsuha Miyamizu craves the wonder and excitement of city life. Unfortunately for her, the family’s shrine needs its maiden, restricting Mitsuha to her life in the boonies. Meanwhile in the lively Tokyo, high school student Taki Tachibana labors away at his part-time job with the hopes of eventually pursuing a career in architecture.

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One day, Mitsuha awakens to an unfamiliar ceiling, but the chic apartment and bright view of the city skyscrapers instantly identify as Tokyo. “This is my dream life! But wait . . . wha—I’m in a boy’s body!” Out in the countryside, Taki finds himself waking up in a similar frightening situation. A strange phenomenon swapped the two’s places, and in order to figure out the reasons for their predicament, Taki and Mitsuha live out random days in the other’s shoes, learning about the differing lifestyles, and that above all, fate works in mysterious ways. As Taki and Mitsuha desparately begin searching for the other, their actions begin to dramatically impact the course of destiny, forever altering the threads of fate which tie them together.

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Your Name. almost feels like the culmination of all of Shinkai’s themes, plot points, and even character personalities that make a work, well, Makoto Shinkai’s. Enormous skies, photo-realistic cities, intense lighting, a calm atmospheric music score, themes based on things taken for granted in daily life, and lots of trains. THIS is what Shinkai represents to us now, and on that cinematographic level, Your Name. is perfection. (Also, like, Radwimps wrote the greatest insert songs to an anime EVER.)

A girl and a boy torn apart by an impossible distance, but brought together through circumstance and, of course, fate. At first, that distance is literal: Taki lives in Tokyo, while Mitsuha resides miles away living her humble country life. And part of that is the trick, the gimmick behind the landscape facade, for as soon as the big reveal of the comet Tiamat’s destruction is made, BOOM—time turns out to be the true separator here. Though Taki felt confident and sure of this feeling tugging at his heart, his confession was sadly three years too late.

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And because of this he suffers. Mitsuha suffers. These star-crossed lovers save their beloved Itamori and all its kind, caring folk, BUT—as if their story weren’t painful enough—one last divider severs their last chance of reuniting: their memories of each other are lost to time. Is it a realistic element? Hardly, but it does lead to one of the most happily fulfilling endings I’ve ever experienced. Here’s why.

Makoto Shinkai’s latest film borders on tragedy. Up until this point, it was about to become the biggest heart-breaker in anime film history. But thankfully, Your Name. appreciates a sort of cosmic balance to all the good we do—Shinkai calls that seemingly magical, underlying, connecting force musubi, and we can thank it for honoring Mitsuha and Taki’s feelings for one another. By the film’s end, the two are left with just that—a subtle feeling of the all their shared struggles, surprises, happiness, sadness, inspiration, appreciation, love. . . now memories lost to a different time.

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But when distance tried to physically separate them, Taki and Mitsuha took the trains;

When time placed a rift between them, dreams gave them clues to find each other;

When katewaredoki briefly cut their first meeting short, Mitsuha fought on to finish Taki’s mission;

When memories of one another’s name left their minds, love held on tightly to that lingering feeling—that’s why Taki wrote “I love you” on Mitsuha’s hand, for bridging the timeline gap at twilight involves giving up memories of the other. Names will fade, but emotions have the power to transcend time;

And when tragedy attempted to end their tale of romance and miracles, fate reconnected the strands of love to the cord of hope. Thus, Taki and Mitsuha became destined to meet again.

Separated by distance, connected by fate.

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What Shinkai’s Works Have Taught Me

Have you ever felt that “feeling,” that despair of something that can’t be changed or is beyond your reach, but you still long for it anyway? I’d like to call it “love,” but Makoto Shinkai interprets such a complex emotion as “longing in solitude.” It is only through loneliness that we understand what compassion really feels like, after all.

Shinkai’s works tend to feature unusual yet somewhat realistic relationships, which more so play out as bittersweet than truly tear-jerking (save for maybe Your Name.) He covers a broad range of relationship stages, too, from the cutting of ties and moving on (5 Centimeters Per Second) to the early beginnings of expression (Garden of Words). Unlike most film writers and directors, he delves into themes like pain, longing, yearning, loneliness, and emptiness to give the audience stronger, almost more common emotions to connect with. His creative use of time laps emphasizes this distance or emotional disconnect that the characters and audience experience, and his hyper-realistic visuals never fail to immerse you in the setting he wants, be it on faraway roving fields of green, a quiet Tokyo apartment, or a rainy day in the park.

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Most of all, through distance, Shinkai is able to explore the gap between two people’s feelings: why it exists, and how it is a natural part of the human experience. Life isn’t that glamorous fairy tale that Disney or Hollywood make it out to be. Instead, Shinkai tells us it can be messy, and often times painful to shoulder alone. It’s okay to fall both in love and out of it, as people are always changing. He also teaches that you can, in fact, grow as an adult; emotional maturity has nothing to do with one’s age, for even as adults we can get lost on our path. 

None of us are invulnerable to emotional struggle, grief, and even depression. But none of us are forever doomed to loneliness, either—such is why even his most realistic works end in both sadness and happiness. After studying all of his films, I can confirm that NO CORRELATION between the level of realism and whether the ending is positive or negative exists, as Shinkai doesn’t sugarcoat the reality we live in. He presents it for what it is, which has its fair share of good and bad times.

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Ultimately, no amount of magic or sci-fi gimmicks can determine whether YOU chase after the ending you want, for you, too, are constantly growing and learning new things. The hope that we can always change for the better resides within us all—you simply have to decide who you want to be for yourself, and make that leap of faith over the scary distance to connect with another. While you’re at it, don’t forget to enjoy life’s little things we often take for granted.

In Makoto Shinkai’s picturesque, emotionally charged films, I found a rekindled passion for life’s hidden beauties, and so long as he continues to explore the growing distance between us and how finding solace in another can heal our emotional wounds, I’ll always look forward to his next creation.

I still don’t know what it really means to grow up. However, if I happen to meet you, one day in the future, by then, I want to become someone you can be proud to know. –Makoto Shinkai, 5 Centimeters Per Second

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Afterwords

At a touch over 5,000 words, this is officially the longest post I’ve ever written, and if you read all of it, you’re my favorite person ever—I hope you learned something new! As you can tell, Makoto Shinkai’s works mean a good deal to me. Most find them repetitive, as in “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” But really, that’s not the case, as each offers a different commentary on relationships and life, even if the execution or premises feel very much the same. So instead of fighting against the argument, I wanted to write this—to leave behind my innermost thoughts and emotions on Shinkai’s films in hopes that whoever stumbles upon this in the future might feel the same way, and that I can comfort them with my musings.

Have you ever resonated with one of Makoto Shinkai’s films, be it his oldest shorts or his latest hits? If so, do you happen to have a favorite or two? I want to know! If you’re fairly new to this director, was Your Name. your introduction to Shinkai’s scenic style? You have to let me know that, too! I’ve met several new faces (including a dear friend) through Your Name.‘s theater experience (which you can read about here), and I hope that you, too, get the chance to share one of his films with a friend or even a lover.

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This officially concludes my comparative study over the creative works of Makoto Shinkai. It’s been a long time coming, what with the writing process and reserving time to rewatch ALL of Shinkai’s films in order, and I’m finally glad I got to share it with you. Despite being terrifyingly long, it’s one of those posts I feel proud to have written. Please let me know any thoughts of the films or this post down in the comments, as I’d love to hear your feedback! Also, feel free to share this to any Shinkai fans you know out there!

As it happens to be on love and romance, I saved writing this post for February, so Happy Valentine’s Day, my dear readers! Whether you spend this season of love with others or save it for yourself, know that I’ll always be wishing you good health and happiness! Thank you so, so much for reading this lengthy analysis—’till next time!

With much love,

– Takuto, your host

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47 thoughts on “On Love, Loneliness, & the Growing Distance Between Us | The Works of Makoto Shinkai

  1. ghhaa – this was beautiful, It left me a little wistful and maybe a little lonely but also cautiously optimistic. I haven’t seen all of Shinkai’s works but of the ones I did see 5cm is my favorite.

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    • MUAHH thanks Irina! All of those feelings are indeed diagnosable symptoms for the Shinkai Blues, to which I like to think I tried to do justice. 5 Centimeters Per Second is an admirable pick for sure. For the longest time, I had avoided watching this film. When I finally got around to it, I didn’t think it was deserving of all the praise. But then, in typical me fashion, I watched it again. And again. And again. And now it’s one of my favorites, haha!

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      • The rock under which I live gets bigger every day. This is the first time I hear anyone other than me mention 5 cm….Next you’ll tell me people have heard of this wonder woman movie…

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not going to lie, this means a lot coming from you–thank you very much! I, too, thought that his works didn’t leave much of an impression (my intro being Voices of a Distant Star). But when I started to experience that void or feeling of longing afterward–that ability to give me such strong feelings in an incredibly short time span–I quickly realized that his style was something for me, or at least worth exploring to say the least. Now I look forward to everything he produces, regardless of whether the latest work “fails or succeeds” at surpassing the previous film’s quality. This was an ambitious project to tackle, but I’m thankful that you read it, and were able pull the themes out of it!

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  2. Wow…you have put a lot of work in this post. And it certainly payed of! Really enjoyed reading this. I haven’t seen all of Shinkai’s works yet, but what I have seen of him is truly beautiful. I finally have access to Your Name, so I hope I can see it somewhere this weekend. Great post!

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    • I really have, not gonna lie–thank you so much for noticing Raistlin!! You absolutely NEED to watch Your Name. not only for its significance on the anime community, but also because it’s just freakin’ INCREDIBLE! Thanks for reading!

      Like

  3. A very well-written post! I enjoyed reading this. Of Shinkai’s works, I’ve only seen Voices of A Distant Star, 5 Centimeters Per Second (first one I watched), Garden of Words, Cross Road, and your name.. Each visually stunning in their own way that they made my eyes glued on the screen.

    Garden of Words is also my favorite out of them all. When I watched 5cm, I remember being so disappointed because I expected a lot from it. Not that it’s bad, but I guess I just thought that I’d cry a lot seeing a lot of the reviews. When I watched your name., the part when Taki and Mitsuha crossed paths on that snowy night on the bridge, I had my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t end like 5cm and I’m glad it didn’t!

    I love how Shinkai portrays the theme of separation/connection in various ways. I think it’s a theme that easily resonates with people as we are all individuals who can’t live in this world without connecting with others.

    Liked by 2 people

    • First off, thanks so much Ameithyst! While Voices of a Distant Star was my intro, I totally agree with you in that these were all visually stunning in their own way. So picturesque! (Also, hooray for another person who has actually seen Cross Road!)

      For the longest time, Garden of Words was my favorite too, and you know what, it might still be (the aesthetic is on point, and the cool color scheme with the shimmering rain, AGH, I just love it all)! It’s funny that we also share the same opinions on 5 Centimeters Per Second, as my first reaction to it was quite lukewarm, too (obviously now I have a greater appreciation for it . . . 100 rewatches will do that to a person). And I think EVERYONE is glad that the bridge scene didn’t end like 5cm, haha!

      Clearly, Shinkai sticks to but a small handful of themes to work with. But these are also the elements that he excels with, and I wouldn’t have his style change if it means losing that special trademark touch that makes his works, well, his. I like how you worded this last bit–without others, we are essentially nobody. To bridge that gap and reach out poses a risk to that individuality, however, thus making live the struggle to find a balance between isolation and connection. The results = a longing to be with someone.

      I could go on, but we both know that we appreciate Shinkai’s works, and hey, sometimes that’s all that matters! Thank you again for the lovely comment, and for reading such a long post!

      Like

  4. Really great article. I’ve seen trailers for more of his work than I realised, but I’ve only watched two of them: 5cm Per Second and Your Name. Both were stunning to look at it, and Kelly me engrossed throughout. With 5cm I was actually hoping that Takaki would get together with Kanae in the end, but it seems that it just wasn’t meant to be. The mags addition of this was really good too.
    Your Name I only watched a few days ago. That was really nicely done, and certainly lived up to the hype for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, two is better than none–and you’ve seen some of the best ones, too! Everyone wishes that 5cm could end that way, but alas, that unfortunately wasn’t the story Shinkai was trying to tell. Then Your Name. comes along and says, “Oh yes we CAN have a happy ending!” And then it does, and it made the yearning for Mitsuha and Taki to be together all the more powerful.

      It’s easy in today’s world to get swept up by the hype, so you don’t know how happy it makes me to hear that it was all worthwhile. Thank you so much for reading, and for sharing your thoughts on the post and the films!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is one of the most beatiful post I’ve read until today! (Well, in this case listened since I’m using an app to reads me the posts while I’m working xD)
    Really great way to expose Makoto Shinkai work and explain the differences of each one of his masterpieces and show the best in each of them!
    The first movie I saw from him was 5 Seconds per Centimenter and then I saw Your Name. (Of course). To be honest, I never understood how people compared them, because besides the amazing animation that both have the stories are completely different and end in completely in different ways. It amazes me how much feelings Makoto is able to take out of me with his works. For example, 5 seconds per second has a slow pace and there are many parts that is not really that much happening, however he is always able to make me enjoy those moments non the less through feeling relaxed and appreciating all the great animations!
    Again, great job with this one! Yes, it’s long, but it is really well written! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Even though I’m nearly a month late to responding, this comment made my day, Arthifis! (And what app allows you to do that?!)

      It was a LOT of work compiling and then elaborating on all of this information, but I’m really happy how it all worked out. Those two are the popular ones, but they’re excellent films, so I have no qualms there, haha! They ARE completely different films, each tackling entirely different sets of themes and then playing them out with their own distinct tones and characters. If 5cm is as much of a slow-burner as you say (which it is), then Your Name. is one of those films where something has to be going on all the time to create that seamless flow. Both unique presentation and pacing styles, and both WORK for their respective films.

      Reading your thoughts made me really appreciate how, through the films he makes, Shinkai is able to bring people together to talk about and address these kinds of ideas. It may have been on the long side, but I’m happy I wrote it–even if it just means getting to chat with a friend like yourself! Thank you so much again for all the kind words!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Don’t stress about it! Everyone’s being busy! 😀 I’m happy that I made your day eheh The app is called read aloud and it’s a chrome’s extension 🙂

        I can imagine the work you had to put into this post, but you really should be happy with it because it was really an insteresting and insightful post. I really loved reading it! 😀

        It is some kind of magical doing isn’t it? I mean, putting out a work that gets so famous throughout the world already makes you a genius, but to the point of making friends talking about it and just discuss someone’s work is even going further than geniousness!

        I would just add a comment regarding the tags, don’t see this as a bad thing, but as a friendly advice 😛 You should not use so many tags in a post because WordPress will send you really down below when people are searching for something. For example I was searching Makoto Shinkai to get to this post again (long story short I published a lot of links in one day and your comment went down the notiications to the point of not showing anymore) and this post does not appear which for me was really strange… I even thought you were not using tags, but in this case the problem is that you are using too much >.< Maybe I should do a post about these kind of "tricks". It's only this is a great post and it's a shame that is not ranked higher in the Reader Search 😦

        It is really a GREAT post! Continue with the awesome work! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • I JUST DOWNLOADED READ ALOUD AND IT’S SO COOL. IDK why, since it probably just uses the Google Translate interface/voice, but I hope it’ll be of some use.

        And hmmm, that’s some advice well-worth considering. I never really thought that anyone used the tag system, but when I was first starting out, a couple of those “really big bloggers” suggested tagging the heck out of things as a way to cover a large range of searches, rather than trying to hit the top on one or two. Anymore, I just do it without thought (and for my own sake of archiving), as I could honestly care less about publicity. But hey, if it works for you, I’ll be sure to try it out in the next post!

        Again, thank you for the helpful advice and ideas, Arthifis! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Nice! I don’t if you will feel like this, but everything I heard from the plug-in seems like a really well constructed scientific article because of the girl robotic voice ahahah

        Hmmm… Really? Well, we have different ways to see things then xP I did some research to understand what the tags were for and I read that it would be better to have less tags so you can come up in the beginning. Probably people who have been here for some time won’t use them because we have already so much reading to do by just only catching up with who we are following xD However, I do think newcomers will use it to find people talking about the same things they want to discuss xD But well, I do care about publicity, but that’s only because I work in marketing and it’s in my blood at this point ahah

        Oh no problem~! Everytime I can help I will 😀 We are all here to help each other ^.^

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for this! I’ve seen about half the things on this list and you definitely did a great job talking about all of them! 5cm is my favourite, but I wonder if that would change after I watch some of the older films.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are more than welcome–thank YOU for reading! Watching more than half of the films on this list must mean that you’re a pretty well-rounded viewer, as not many delve into Shinkai’s works beyond the big name few. 5cm is a favorite for so many, and understandably so. Works older than that will have some weaker character designs, but I can assure you that they still carry that beautifully unique Shinkai style.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. One of my biggest pet peeves as an anime viewer amidst fellow fans is when, more often than not, 5 centimeters per second gets typecast as “just” a love story (owing to its being a “romance” at its core). I mean, of course, people are free to enjoy the movie the way they see fit — but part of me really does feel for the movie, as there’s so much more going on, and at the extremes I wouldn’t even call 5cm/s a love story if at all.

    There is love, yes, but as is the case with all of Makoto’s works they’re not so much about the love as they are, more or less, about two key things: separation (which you’ve so beautifully threaded across all his visual features) and coming of age (wherein I find that characters first undergo an emotional upheaval brought about by some measure of time before being able to come to terms with their reality). All that being said, thank you so much for making this, and I hope that the people who come across this post embrace these themes as you have.

    As a final note, Garden of Words is my favorite one too 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s an unfortunate typecast indeed, and the worst part is that some viewers don’t even think about why it ends the way it does. “Aww, they didn’t get together? This film sucks. Time to find another romance show” NO, what a terrible thought process. Fans should be asking themselves not HOW it ends this way, but WHY–“Why would Shinkai write the story in this way?”

      Romance revolves around an excitement for the mysteries and joys of love and life. Meanwhile, Shinkai’s works are, as you say, about separation (or loneliness), coming of age, and emotional distance.

      I’m incredibly glad that this post was of use to you, as it was written not only as my own reflections, but to inform others about what these works mean (to me). It’d be awesome if this post made its way around so that I could share the heart of Shinkai’s works! Many thanks again for sharing your thoughts! (and Garden of Words, oh my young heart!)

      Like

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  9. Finally read it great work Taku ! I applaud you for taking the time with looking at all his films and shorts. That i can see would have taken a great deal of time my friend.XD This was beautifully written haha 5000 words Later. I haven’t watched all of Shinkai’s films yet or shorts. But your right Shinkai has a gift for love themes what a great man XD

    Liked by 1 person

  10. “Tis, not the joy of our heart beat, but the emotions that sets to us the path to find what we seek in our hearts.”

    Always proud of you Taku, a brilliant piece of work. 5k is no feat to be dismissed at. Nice to see you enjoyed Shinkai’s works.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a lovely, fitting quote.

      Rocco you’re going to make me CRY. Thank you so much for reading all 5k words, and for always being there to support me. Through writing this post, I learned not only that I have a greater connection to Shinkai’s works than I’d like to admit, but also that we should treasure relationships–friendly and romantic–in the present as much as we can!

      Liked by 1 person

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    • Those parts you didn’t read likely had major spoilers, so good for you in wanting to save the surprise for your viewing! Thank you so much Jon, and hey, thank YOU for allowing me to share it once more through this nice new idea you’ve got going on—it was a pleasure~!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I did promise I’d read this and I finally got to. This is absolutely incredible. I’ve only watched Your Name. but now I think I need to watch all of these. It’s amazing how so many themes overlap among the films, but they’re still different. And such important themes at that. I enjoyed reading every word of this, and I applaud you for all the work you put into this, you’ve created a work of art. Absolutely incredible post, Taku!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You took the time to remember to read it and here I am replying over 2 weeks late–my bad!

      I’m really happy you made it back over here, and ooh, a Shinkai first-timer with Your Name., are we? That’s awesome! Now you’ve got an entire catalog to sift through for your enjoyment. He’s a pretty cool director and writer, and it’s a shame that people categorize all his films under the same labels. They ARE very similar, but as you mentioned, they all tackle different, important life lessons.

      Thank you so much for your kind words, and for reading this all—truly, I am without an adequate response! Thank you!!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Great write up. I must admit that I didn’t read the entire 5000 words, because a lot of these films I have yet to watch so I want to avoid potential spoilers. Usually when I say “I want what they are having” it’s in response to seeing someone drunk off their head hehe.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Everyone has already said it but this was a great read! I think I’m one of the people who was introduced to his work through Your Name but I didn’t know he had more stuff?! And I know 5cps is on Crunchyroll, I’ve eyed it a couple times but didn’t watch it. Part of me just didn’t want to watch it because everyone else already had (I know, crazy, you’d think I’d watch it bc of that!) but I didn’t know it was by the same guy.

    I think a few months after watching Your Name about a dozen times in theatres I went to a convention and they showed two of his films (but I didn’t know it was the same guy), The Garden of Words and Voice of a Distant Star. And the only reason I even went to go watch these was because I had nothing better to do but wow after the screening I was so glad I went! The experience of watching it in a room full of people with the chairs all close together probably wasn’t the best but I just really enjoyed them. I finally got to see GoWs, which has gifs everywhere. It had been on my to watch list but I’d never gotten around to it. And Voice of a Distant star, I didn’t even know that film existed but WOW, I had to try to not cry while I was in there. I just felt so sad because both of these “couples” were seperated by things they couldn’t control. And you basically explain all of this much better. After watching those and even Your Name, I just felt a void in my chest. It’s really amazing the amount of feelings that he’s able to put into those short films, something that I definitely admire and that few movies really capture.

    And now that I know what other stuff he’s made I’m definitely going to go and check them out!

    Also, I kind of love that he uses different loves in every one of these movies. Like the love of you and a pet (or your pet for you), a love between a couple, familial, unrequited. I just thought of this randomly but I recently read a book called Memories of My Melancholy Whores and there was a part in there, a quote, that basically said that unrequited love was the best feeling (or something like that) and I kind of get that sense in some of the stuff you’ve said. Like, the cat wants to know what happens when his owner leaves and he loves her but also he’s just happy that she comes home to him all the time. Then the whole Takaki (forgot what film) finding out that the girl he likes and has been (sort of) waiting for has already moved on. And the GoWs has the teacher-student thing going on. And in Your Name even though I really just wanted them to get together and be happy, they don’t really end up together (though the ending is optimistic)

    And something not really related but I’m going to be taking an animation class and he better be something we study because his work is BEAUTIFUL. Like, can someone show me how to do what he does?!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Everyone in this comment section has been so nice and supportive that it just makes my heart melt. More importantly, your first entry to Shinkai’s work was Your. Name, that’s awesome to hear! YES, as you can see, he’s got quite the portfolio. I recall glimpsing past 5 Centimeters Per Second on Crunchyroll numerous times before I finally decided to do the research on what exactly I was about to watch. Anyway, give it a shot—you may like it!

      You went to watch Your Name. that many times?? I’m so jealous, haha! Voices of a Distant Star and Garden of Words were my first two, in that order, so it’s cool that the panel not only showed them, but that you went! Both have this incredible emotional impact behind them, and yes, GoW is VERY popular, specifically among younger viewers like you and me. Like I had said (and you started to), Shinkai’s films really aren’t like most out there, especially in anime. I think being able to invest all that raw yet realistic emotion into its characters—only to take it away a moment later—is in itself a form of art, one that Shinkai certainly has down to a T.

      His films offer what our own lives do: all different kinds of relationships, situations, and forms of love. That book sure has an out-there title, haha, but you’re exactly right! For 5 Cm, there’s almost no better word than “unrequited” to describe Takaki’s situation (in fact, it’s so fitting that I’m quite surprised I didn’t use it myself). Also, like you say, it certainly applies to Chobi the cat, GoW’s Takao, and Your Name.’s use of fate, which prevents Taki and Mitsuha from expressing their feelings directly to one another. Love that you mentioned that word, Crimson!

      It’s a real shame that art teachers don’t tackle animation as “art” in their courses. I get it, it’s more on the digital side (as well as the obvious animation side), but when studying picturesque landscaping—especially of Japanese cities and architecture—like, “How come we don’t?” really does become the question! In the event where your animation class does not decide to take a trip through Shinkai’s style, definitely do yourself a favor and scope out his world for yourself. Though I wish I could be more closely involved with animation (maybe someday), for now, I have painting, and believe me: Shinkai was and IS a huge inspiration for the art I create now!

      This is one of the longest, most thoughtful comments I’ve received in probably over a year. Honestly, Crimson, why don’t we talk more?? Guess I’ll need to write more stuff so that becomes an option (and I need to catch up on your posts, too)! Thank you so, so much for reading—I’m really glad you enjoyed this post, and that you were able to pull something useful out of it! It’s these kind of responses that fuel my passion, and remind me as to the reasons why I write and tackle these ridiculous projects in the first place! Many thanks again~!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • lolol i might have, one of the perks of working at a theatre. i remember there was one day when i called to watch a movie and my boss was like hey you do know you have work later today right?? xD

        oh snap!! i’m a young person T_T i feel rejuvinated lolol

        yeah, i’ve noticed that there are some teachers that even discourage you :/ i had a painting teacher who told this one girl in my class that she had an anime style of art and that she should gravitate away from that and since then it’s sort of bothered me. oh and i def will be checking out these movies even if we don’t cover it in class (though I looked on our schedule and we do have a day for anime but it’s like a day #rip we’re probably only going to talk about some of the older anime that started the animation industry in japan, which is always great but i want moooooorrrreee. actually i looked up some classes my school offers and they have an anime history class?!?! how did i not know about this sooner??).

        uhm, idk actually, it would be nice if we did talk some more xD and yes keep writing~ and don’t worry, i’m behind on tons of stuff too (like this very delayed response Orz). #bloggerproblems eck.

        and no probs :3

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ooooh yeah that’ll rip ya, haha, and YES CRIM EMBRACE YOUR YOUTH. I’ve heard all kinds of off-putting comments from teachers on the topic of anime. They don’t want us starting with something that’s not the basics, ok ok, but where would we be without that inspiration, huh? I know some kids who ONLY took a drawing class because they liked drawing anime characters. Though they may not turn out to be “successful artists,” it’s possible to both study the classics AND appreciate this Japanese art. Talk about a trigger subject, but really, do take that anime history class—that sounds so cool!!

        “Any response is better than no response,” a motto that I’ll live (and probably die by to, lol rip). Don’t even get me started on being behind in this community, ahahaha! 🙂

        Like

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