I didn’t set out to be an animation director at first – “Your Name” director Makoto Shinkai reveals that audiences are what shaped him into who he is
In a recent interview, anime director Makoto Shinkai talks about how he came to pursue a career in directing animated films and what makes him stick to the genre even though it had not been what he originally aspired to. He also shares insight on the way his approach to filmmaking has changed over the years.
Throughout his 20-year-long career in creating and directing animated films, Makoto Shinkai has steadily risen to worldwide fame, becoming one of the leaders of the anime industry with titles such as Garden of Words, Your Name, and the most recent Suzume, released in 2022.
According to an article by Denfaminicogamer, Shinkai’s roots are actually in the video game industry. From 1996 to 2001, he worked for Japanese game developer Nihon Falcom, where he had created opening clips for games such as The Legend of Heroes and Ys series. The melancholic opening for Ys II is very much telling of his future tendencies as a director. But how did he become what he is today?
In an interview with AnimeAnime.jp published on October 12, Shinkai gives some insight about how he started out with animation in the first place, commenting, “I didn’t originally set out to be an animation director, I just knew I wanted to create something “film-like,” and ended up choosing animation because it’s a method that allows you to create film on your own by simply drawing. This is how my debut title, Voices of a Distant Star (2002), came to be.” As it turns out, animation seems to have initially been the simplest way for Shinkai to put what was inside his head into film-form.
But how did things develop from there? Shinkai goes on to explain, “However, I then ended up continuing with creating animation for 20 years, which made me become known in the world as ‘a person who makes anime,’ so in some ways, I feel like the world and my audience are what made me into an animation director.”
He goes on to reflect on this, sharing his opinion that people don’t become who they are solely through their own decisions, but that how they are perceived by others and expectations placed on them also shapes people into what they are. Shinkai mentions that over the past 20 years, using animation as his medium has become a given, the basic premise of his work and that he cannot imagine switching careers or pursuing other mediums at this point.
Aside from the public’s perception of Shinkai influencing his decision to stick to directing anime in the first place, the public has also apparently come to directly influence the content of his works. In response to being asked about “non-negotiables” in his creations, Shinkai answers, “Up until my early 30s, I used to think that I’m supposed to create based on what I truly want to make from the bottom of my heart and based on what moves me deeply. But recently, rather than pursuing non-negotiable ideals, I find it my duty to look for a common place between what audiences want to see in this day and age and what I’m able to create. This is why, whenever I take up a new project, I adjust my conditions little by little.”
In the same vein of being conscious of what the audience wants to see when creating a new work, Shinkai also talks about incorporating “hooks” that will appeal to audiences and raise curiosity and interest towards the work. He mentions that, as people always unconsciously keep trying to guess things like what a character is going to be like and what is going to happen next while watching a film, it’s important to keep defying these expectations little by little, keeping the audience surprised.
In regard to his future projects, Shinkai reveals that his next goal is to create something that will “change his target audience,” in the sense of wanting to make an animated film that will appeal even to those “who don’t watch or even hate anime,” reaching wider and further than movies up until now.
In creative work, following your own vision and ideals is often emphasized, but Makoto Shinkai gives unique insight on how the perception of others has contributed to him shaping up as an artist.