For someone who prefers reading and writing short stories, I prefer movies to consume-in-bursts TV series. I could come up with several reasons as to this choice, but movies just tend to be a less compromised creative output, if you ask me.
That, I believe, is another thing that differentiates me from the typical otaku, but I’m referring to the stereotype though: he, or she, who follows the popular, and the latest and greatest in, say, anime. On my end, I put on my wannabe-critic cap, and do some online research first, consult with Noel Vera if he has written about it already, and screen movies based on directors. Anime or NOT anime, that’s usually how I am before deciding to watch a film.
5 Centimeters Per Second
Makoto Shinkai has been touted as the next Miyazaki, and the movies I’ve seen so far does prove that Shinkai’s output is more than impressive to the eye, his storyline a few notches up versus the typical mecha-context love story, but this is not in the vein of Miyazaki’s timeless works. The imagination seems to be limited to the what-if’s of middle-school friendships and crushes, and growing up and being involved in modern Japan’s space alien battles (Voices of a Distant Star), and post cold-war scenarios (The Place Promised in Our Early Days). I’m not dismissing what he’s done so far, but I find the Miyazaki comparison a long shot.
The Place Promised in Our Early Days
The Place Promised in Our Early Days comes off as the weakest of the lot (of 3) I’ve seen, with a Hollywood-worthy storyline:
The story takes place in a alternate postwar period, in 1996, where Japan is divided. Hokkaido is ruled by the “Union” while Honshu and other southern islands are under US authority. A tall tower was built on Hokkaido, which could even be seen from Tokyo. In the summer of 1996, three middle-school students make a promise that they’ll cross the border with a self-constructed plane and unravel the tower’s secret, but their project was abandoned after the girl, Sayuri Sawatari, became mysteriously ill and transferred to Tokyo. Years later on the brink of another war Hiroki Fujisawa finds out that Sayuri had been in coma since then, and he asks Takuya Shirakawa to help him finding a way to wake her up (via IMDB)
His Voices of a Distant Star stuck out more because the plot was simple, and it chose to focus substantially on the separation of a light-years distanced relationship. The lack of polish is obvious, as this was written, produced, and directed (and even dubbed, on the original version) by Shinkai himself, but to consider this as a lesser work based on that point is invalid since, as with any cinematic work, production value is always secondary. Voices tends to be a better (traditional) sci-fi work than its predecessor as well.
Voices of a Distant Star
Shinkai’s works has a visual distinction: the metallic sheen on most surfaces, the blinding light flares, the afternoon sunlight in the classrooms, the odd frame compositions (which was liberally used almost to the point of distraction), to name a few. Nothing new, but the atmosphere it gives makes them powerful elements to the work, that it seems to add another layer to whatever emotional moment seen on screen. With 5 Centimeters Per Second, his first non sci-fi work, that pleasing balance of breathtaking animation and filmmaking is achieved.
Takaki and Akari are two classmates in elementary school. During their time together they have become close friends. Their relationship is tested when Akari moves to another city because of her parents’ jobs. Both of them struggle to keep their friendship alive, as time and distance slowly pulls them apart. When Takaki finds out that he is moving further away, he decides to visit Akari one last time (via IMDB)
Again, I don’t see the Shinkai taking over Miyazaki’s place: Miyazaki creates fantasies with castles, witches, talking animals, and kids. Shinkai’s children are old enough to do everything possible and impossible for their first love, even if it means great sacrifices and selfless martyrdom. Two different beasts, really.
I worked through 5 Centimeters, then Voices, then Place Promised, and admittingly, this was the wrong order.
A few Satoshi Kon films on Part 2.