The Part of Your Name That Could Only Be Expressed in a Novel
- Interview with Director Makoto Shinkai (Part II)
Director Makoto Shinkai’s newest animated film “Your Name” was released on August 26. With 13.54 million tickets sold and over 17.6 billion yen in box office revenue, the film is already one of the biggest hits of the year and has appeared at the top of movie rankings in Japan for nine consecutive weeks. Moreover, the film is already being talked about all over the world for winning Best Animated Film at the 49th Sitges Film Festival in Spain. Unfortunately, the film is out of the running for the SUGOI JAPAN Award 2017 for anime*, but the novel “Your Name” specially written by director Shinkai has been nominated in the entertainment category. The novel, yet another new work by director Shinkai who was fastidious about showing a “form of expression that can only be achieved through a novel,” sold 500,000 copies even before the film’s release, and after its release sales soared to 1.3 million.
In celebration of the nomination, we sat down for a two-part interview with “novelist” Shinkai. In this second part, we ask director Shinkai about the music used in his work and how “Your Name” is being received overseas.
Creating titles that resonate like music in the hearts of whoever comes across them - now, and also in the years to come
Marveling at the effects of music, and composing monologues as if they were parts of a song
-- We know the lyrics of RADWIMPS - who provided the music for the film - had an impact on the novel itself. Can you please tell us more about this impact?
Shinkai - The moment I heard “Nandemonaiya” (“It’s Nothing”), I knew that our film would be finished. Before “Your Name”, I had not yet created a good story that clearly had a happy ending. Sure, being able to meet the one who will become the most important person in life is undoubtedly a fantastic experience. In reality, things usually don’t work out that way. Because of this, I tend to write about the times when the connection is not made, when the character is unable to find that important person. To be honest, I was hesitant about letting “Your Name” end in a positive manner. Before writing the lyrics, Yojiro (Noda) had read the script, and he came up with a particular line that goes “just a little more, only just a little more, let's stick together just a little bit longer”. When I laid my eyes upon those lyrics, I knew that wrapping up the film by bringing the characters together in a happy ending would be alright.
Just a bit more, a little bit more. Enveloped within those words is a possibility of separation someday. The day for goodbyes might come, but then again, the characters could possibly remain together if that day never does arrive. Feelings of uncertainty and hope for the future are contained within the cries for “just a bit more”. With the buildup of each cry and each demand for hope, the future becomes something that is worth believing in. I feel that the lyrics have the potential of guiding us towards all the possibilities that may exist after the end of the film.
I also feel that music is as powerful as we believe it to be. It has the aptitude to store melodies and words deeply within our minds, and I’ve always marveled at the strength of music. Even though I may not be able to create the same effect, I truly wish to create expressions that are comparable to music.
-- Do you also have similar admirations for Japanese poetry and classical literature that are often referenced in your works?
Shinkai - Yes, I do. The fact that a limited number of words and characters can expand into such vast horizons goes to show that Japanese is indeed a rich language. Then again, poetry also exists in English, so the richness of language may not be specific to a single one. Certain methods of expression can be passed down from generation to generation, and I want the same to be done in my works as well. Compared to a classical Japanese poem, the volume of information loaded within a single animated film is much greater. Sure, the properties of new media may be the complete opposite of classical poetry and literature. However, if I can use the same set of words and characters to produce works that are rich in emotion and imagery, the audience may expand upon what they are presented with, and see a world that is even greater and deeper than what I have imagined. That is something that I hope will happen.
-- Were there any techniques based on music production that were used for “Your Name”?
Shinkai - “There are times when I wake up and find myself in tears” was the introductory monologue used in the film, and I wrote it as a lyric rather than a line in the script. In fact, I compose all of my monologues as if I were writing a song. Although there are cases where I select the voice actor’s proposed rhythm when it delivers a better effect than what I have in mind, I tend to provide very specific instructions regarding the punctuation, breaths, rhythm, and speed of my monologues. The same goes for my novels as well. As I write, I read the lines back to myself in search of a satisfying rhythm.
-- The presence of monologues is a recognizable trait of your works. Did you always have a particular preference towards monologues since you first started working on animated titles?
Shinkai - While “She and Her Cat” from my amateur days and Voices of a Distant Star - which was my commercial debut - were more like accumulations of monologues than films, that was everything I believed I was capable of producing back then. Dynamic animated films, music that would never leave your head after you heard it, and many other types of work were all beyond my abilities. Because of this, I knew that I had to concentrate only on what I was good at. These thoughts were the strongest during the earlier stages of my career.
-- “Your Name” was created after your work evolved with each title. This time, the film, the novel, and the music have all come together to show how significant media mixes can be. Can you tell us more about this?
Shinkai - For this title, we did not simply collaborate with RADWIMPS for music to use in the film. Just like the film and the novel, the music also has its very own characteristics that are entirely unique to its media form. It possesses its own way of conveying meaning. Each type of media is unique, and each is necessary for the creation of “Your Name”.
Over 1.3 million copies of the novel were sold because of the synergy it had with the film. Honestly, I don’t consider the numbers to be a form of recognition towards my abilities as an author. I also don’t believe it means I’ve become capable of writing novels that are commercially successful. What I do believe is that I have created a novel can be enjoyed even on its own. Yes, images from the film were available, but that doesn’t mean the novel became simplified or was dependent on the film at all. I know that the members of RADWIMPS, along with every other staff member involved in the music and the novel, worked without ever relying on the film. After the first day of the premiere event, what Producer Genki Kawamura and I talked about was how challenging the production process was, and how nobody took the easy way out. The tasks were tough, but everyone involved in the music, the image production, and the novel offered every last bit of their skills and their energy towards their creations. Perhaps our passion reached the audience and the readers.
Meeting the genuine expectations of those who look forward to our work
-- “Your Name” has already been featured in film festivals outside of Japan. How have the reactions been?
Shinkai - Although I have yet to ask members of the audience directly about their opinion, I do believe that overall reactions have been quite positive. The film won an award in Sitges in Spain, and was also featured at various events in Los Angeles, Busan, London, in addition to other locations. I attended the events myself and found the reactions from European and North American audience to be much more vivid than the Japanese audience. Some would be shouting out “oh my God”, and cheering for each scene that was shown on screen. I enjoyed watching the film together with such lively audiences.
In Los Angeles, the film was not shown at a film festival. Rather, it was screened at an event that drew around 3,400 fans who had been offering their support for years since the release of “5 Centimeters Per Second”. It was quite the scene, to be honest. During the teach-in that followed the screening, a fan told me in tears that they considered taking their life, but now considered the option of living on after watching the film. Other comments of appreciation including those along the lines of “thanks for making this film” and “you’re my hero” are also very memorable. The responses I received overseas are very much similar to those coming from the Japanese audience, which made me realize that perception and feelings remain the same, regardless of where you go. There are some people who were truly moved by deeper parts of the film, and some even took it as serious as their life decisions. Of course, only a few members of the audience might have felt that way, but their attitude truly encouraged me. It goes without saying that I need to always stay serious and focused while I work, but these experiences reminded me of how important that really is. There are numerous offers extended from a variety of countries for the translation of the novel, and if the novel does become translated, I would certainly like to hear the thoughts of the readers.
-- This was the first time you worked simultaneously on a film and a novel. Any chance you will be releasing a novel before the film sometime in the future?
Shinkai - There is a chance, but it becomes a slim one when I think from the perspective of the director. Because we had already created the settings of “Your Name” for the film, I was able to complete the novel in around two and a half months. If I were to start from scratch, however, the process would have taken at least half a year. This would create an extended gap of time between the films that we are able to release. The thought of making the audience endure longer waits is frightening, so it may be better to start on the film before thinking about the novel. Putting aside the topic of feasibility, I would like to try writing a novel that is not associated with a film one day.
-- On the television program “SWITCH Interview Tatsujin-Tachi”, you described how you felt as if you were chasing. Chasing after remnants of the applause you received in the Shimokitazawa Tollywood theatre in Tokyo following a screening of “Voices of a Distant Star” in 2002. It seems like the applause for you is becoming louder, and is resonating across borders as well.
Shinkai - The feeling of chasing after those remnants remains the same, but I don’t consider those feelings to be particularly special. We all have something that we continue to pursue with our heart and soul. I’m positive that other animation directors, authors, and creators in general feel the same way, too. Our purpose remains the same, and I want to stay the way I am as I continue to create in the future.
Interview conducted at the Toho Main Office on October 4, 2016
Text by Tachibana Momo
Photography by Tominaga Tomoko
Translated by Tokyo Otaku Mode Inc.
*The eligibility period for the anime category ran from July 1, 2015 to July 31, 2016. Since “Your Name” was released on August 26, 2016 it missed to cut-off date to be nominated this year.
**Box office revenue, tickets sold, and other figures are current as of November 3.
Born in 1973 in Nagano Prefecture. Animation director and novelist. Shinkai debuted in 2002 with his original anime “Voices of a Distant Star”. Since then, he has gained considerably high support both within Japan and abroad as a next gen director for his works including “The Place Promised in Our Early Days”, “5 Centimeters Per Second”, “Children Who Chase Lost Voices”, and others. In 2012, director Shinkai received a thank-you letter from the Cabinet Secretariat’s National Policy Unit for his role in energetically bringing Japan to the world. In 2013, his film “The Garden of Words” was released countrywide and went on to win the Grand Prix award in the AniMovie category at the Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film in Germany. As of November 3, his newest film “Your Name” has topped film rankings in Japan for nine consecutive weeks, having sold 13.54 million tickets and earned 17.6 billion yen in box office revenue. Moreover, the novel “Your Name” sold 500,000 copies even before the movie’s release and jumped to 1.3 million sold after. The film also won the award for Best Animated Film at the 49th Sitges Film Festival in Spain in October and has been nominated for the Official Competition of the 60th BFI London Film Festival, a historic first for a feature-length animation.