Ris­ing star

Makoto Shinkai’s lat­est an­i­mated film com­ing to Chi­nese main­land

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at xu­fan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

In Ja­pan’s an­i­ma­tion world Hayao Miyazaki is a mas­ter. His clas­sics ac­count for around half of Ja­pan’s top 10 high­est­gross­ing hits, but his sta­tus is now be­ing chal­lenged by a ris­ing star.

Makoto Shinkai, hailed as the “new Miyazaki” by the for­eign me­dia, re­cently saw his lat­est an­i­ma­tion fea­ture Your Name knock two of Miyazaki’s block­busters off their slots on box-of­fice charts.

The movie, which over­took Princess Mononoke to be­come the third-high­est gross­ing do­mes­tic film in Ja­pan of all time, will open in the Chi­nese main­land on Dec 2.

In ad­di­tion to its pop­u­lar­ity at home, the film has al­ready proved its met­tle be­yond Ja­pan. Lat­est sta­tis­tics show that Your Name has bro­ken Ja­panese film box-of­fice records in Tai­wan and topped Hong Kong charts in its pre­miere weekend.

“Per­son­ally, I don’t quite like an­i­ma­tion films, but I watched Your Name not to be seen as out of touch,” says Alec Su, a well-known Tai­wan­based singer-ac­tor, dur­ing his re­cent Bei­jing tour.

Xu Zheng, the fa­mous Chi­nese ac­tor-direc­tor be­hind the Lost fran­chise, wants ev­ery frame in the film to be paused to give a zoom-in look, as the back­ground scenery is breath­tak­ingly beau­ti­ful.

For diehard fans, Xu’s com­ments res­onate wide.

Shinkai’s nick­name among Chi­nese fans is “em­peror of wall­pa­per”, a trib­ute to the scenes fea­tured in his movies. They are seen as good op­tions for screen savers.

Un­like most Ja­panese an­i­ma­tors who started their ca­reers as ap­pren­tices fol­low­ing a vet­eran, Shinkai be­gan as a graphic de­signer in a video games com­pany.

His early works were mostly one-man projects us­ing per­sonal com­put­ers.

One of the high­lights of his work is that he dig­i­tally trans­fers pho­tos to cre­ate pic­turesque scenes in the an­i­mated world, which are real and fan­tas­tic at the same time.

On a pro­mo­tional tour in Bei­jing, Shinkai, the direc­tor, says his scenes are not cre­ated to meet aes­thetic de­mands, but for the story.

“I want au­di­ences to be­lieve that ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble. To­mor­row, or the day after to­mor­row, you may meet the most im­por­tant per­son in your life,” says Shinkai, while speak­ing about his film­mak­ing.

In the 107-minute tale, two teen pro­tag­o­nists — a school­girl from the coun­try­side and a Tokyo boy — un­ex­pect­edly swap bod­ies, which gives both fresh ex­pe­ri­ences and a chance to ex­plore new life­styles.

But after they grad­u­ally de­velop a chem­istry, the plot takes an un­ex­pected twist — the girl was ac­tu­ally killed in a dis­as­ter three years ear­lier.

Most of Shinkai’s pre­vi­ous ti­tles ended on a sad note, but Your Name is dif­fer­ent.

The 2011 To­hoku earth­quake, the most pow­er­ful earth­quake recorded in Ja­pan’s his­tory, is one rea­son why Shinkai changed his style.

“Be­fore that (the earth­quake), Ja­pan was a sta­ble so­ci­ety. The pub­lic be­lieved that daily life would go on as it had in the past, with no hint of tur­bu­lence,” he says.

“But the earth­quake made ev­ery­one ner­vous: Now, the city or town, which they had lived in for decades, could dis­ap­pear sud­denly. So, I needed to in­ject some color or op­ti­mism into the movie,” he says.

In his work, Shinkai, who has been an an­i­ma­tor for around two decades, fa­vors ado­les­cent ro­mance. And this can be seen in The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004), 5 Cen­time­ters Per Se­cond (2007) and The Gar­den of Words (2013).

Many fans say they are touched by the “pure love” they find in his work, and find that Shinkai’s style has hit a new level in Your Name, in which he skill­fully weaves time travel and ro­mance into a sus­pense-filled tale.

Mean­while, an­i­ma­tion film ex­perts say Shinkai’s pop­u­lar­ity also has so­cial and in­dus­trial sig­nif­i­cance.

Cao Xiao­hui, vice-pres­i­dent of the an­i­ma­tion in­sti­tu­tion at the Bei­jing Film Academy, says: “Ev­ery 10 years or so, Ja­pan pro­duces a world-class an­i­ma­tor. Be­fore Shinkai, there was Tezuka Osamu, Miyazaki, Otomo Kat­suhiro and Kon Satoshi, but few of their an­i­mated clas­sics were screened in China.”

He also thinks the growth of cul­tural com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween China and Ja­pan has led to grow­ing do­mes­tic de­mand for qual­ity an­i­ma­tion films from Ja­pan, one of the world’s largest an­i­ma­tion pro­duc­ers.

This view is echoed by Zhao Feng, an an­i­mated film re­searcher at the Chi­nese Film As­so­ci­a­tion, who says that China has seen dozens of Ja­panese an­i­ma­tion films be­ing screened since last year.

Stand by Me Do­rae­mon, shown last year, be­came the high­est-gross­ing, non-Hol­ly­wood for­eign film of all time in China, thanks to its pro­tag­o­nist, a ro­botic cat, which aroused sweet child­hood memories in mil­lions of Chi­nese.

Zhao also says the com­mer­cial suc­cess of such an­i­ma­tion films has made Chi­nese distrib­u­tors pur­chase more Ja­panese movies, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the lack­lus­ter film mar­ket this year.

“Al­most all the fa­mous an­i­ma­tion works — from One Piece Film: Gold and Chibi Maruko-chan: The Boy from Italy to De­tec­tive Co­nan: The Dark­est Night­mare — have had film ver­sions screened in the Chi­nese main­land this year,” says Zhao.

But none of them were able to recre­ate the box-of­fice magic of Stand by Me Do­rae­mon.

Your Name could prove to be dif­fer­ent, say in­dus­try watch­ers.

Tak­ing an­other track, Cao says that Ja­pan’s an­i­ma­tion movies can also be in­spi­ra­tional for Chi­nese an­i­ma­tors. “China is not short of tech­nol­ogy, but has a way to go when it comes to emo­tional and thought-pro­vok­ing con­tent,” he adds.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Makoto Shinkai’s an­i­ma­tion film YourName, fea­tur­ing two teen pro­tag­o­nists, will open in main­land the­aters on Fri­day.

Makoto Shinkai in Bei­jing for a pro­mo­tional tour.

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