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TOP JAPANESE FILMS: MAKOTO SHINKAI

Whether it be through cartoon animation or ramen, which sounds so good right now in this rainy weather, Japanese culture has been making waves in various landscapes in the country, long before the dominance of our Oppas and Noonas from K-dramas and K-pop scene. Shout out to the ARMYs and BLINKs out there!

For this article, we will put the spotlight on our Japanese neighbors, who have proven, once again, that they are in a league of their own. Even though Japan occupied our country from 1942 to 1945, its biggest influence came decades later, through the form of animation, or what we giddily call animé. So, let us narrow down this story by focusing on one man. His name? Makoto Shinkai. 

Whether you’re a weeb (non-Japanese person who loves Japanese culture) or not, chances are you have already encountered the great Makoto Shinkai and his works. But, for the benefit of those who do not know him, what better way to introduce our main man but to list down some of his best works?

Makoto Shinkai is known for his whimsical and on-point direction of some of our time’s bests. His stories would range from too-close-to-home story arcs to downright kawaii and disturbingly relatable. So, here are three of our picks from Shinkai’s top-shelf films.

Fair warning: the following parts may contain some spoilers

The Garden of Words (2013) – Available on Netflix

4 stars

If there is one thing to note about Makoto Shinkai’s work, it’s the pattern and theme he uses for his work; human connections. Before his most famous works Kimi no na wa and Weathering with You, there was The Garden of Words. We mentioned earlier how some of his works are disturbingly relatable. Whether this is the aim of his works or not, they never fall short of giving you cues about how every frame in his films depicts actual human connection. 

The Garden of Words, though with very little spoken dialogue, relies on cues that may prove to be challenging for a non-Japanese audience who is not familiar with Japanese nonverbal cues and body language. We think, however, that this is the best way to portray adulthood through human connections. Takao, a student, aspiring to be a shoemaker. Yukino, a teacher, who struggles to carry the pressure the society imposes on adults. They cross paths in a garden in the middle of the city. A juxtaposition of the carefree life of teenagers and the burdened daily life of adults. 

What the film lacks in spoken dialogue, it makes up for with symbolism. Yukino would often take her shoes off whenever she’s in the garden. Here in our country, we’d often take our shoes off at home or in other people’s homes. A representation that Yukino considers the garden as her haven. Another symbolism is the constant frames of the two characters walking. A depiction of the metaphor “walks of life” or “walk to get to somewhere in life.”

But our key takeaway from is how it highlighted the fact that adulthood is not dependent on our age. One could be at a certain age and act childish while the other had to act like an adult at a very young age. Adding the norms in society and the pressures of being a part of it, The Garden of Words portrayed authentic, humane experiences through hyperrealism and traditional animation. 

Weathering with You (2019) – Available on Netflix

4.1 stars

If we have not established yet that Makoto Shinkai’s theme is almost always focused on human connections, Weathering with You is another proof of it. This time though, with a little bit of magic, and this is what’s making film animations appealing; they often tickle our imagination and open our minds to various interpretations.

Weathering with You is a story about a boy named Hodaka. He ventured into finding better things life could offer by going to Tokyo. It is the city where he met Hina, a Weather Girl. Not the type you see in local news shows giving weather updates, but an actual person who could control the weather. 

Like The Garden of Words, Weathering with You depicts human connections through the circumstances of misfits of society. But the most striking theme in the movie, aside from the evident weather issues, is rural exodus. The reality and struggles of people leaving their rural hometowns to move to the big city for better careers and opportunities. 

If one would look at it in a grander scheme of things, Weathering with You outlines climate change. An illustration of how those who came before us have left us with a planet that is slowly suffocating from human technological advancements and low regard for nature. This Makoto Shinkai’s on-point and livelier portrayal through animation sustain his brand of thought-provoking symbolism of human connections and social issues. 

Kimi no na wa (Your Name) (2016)– Available on Netflix

4.5 stars

Our personal favorite and arguably Makoto Shinkai’s best is also his most famous illustration, by far. From the well-thought-out soundtrack that exudes calmness (RADWIMPS on Spotify) up to the quaint effects and animation, it’s hard to miss out on every bit of this masterpiece. We dare say that Kimi no na wa solidifies Shinkai’s place up there with the rest of the greatest animator-writer-directors of all time. 

To pay respect to the greatest animé of all time, we won’t be sharing any plots about the movie. Kimi no na wa is one of those movies that must be seen in its full glory. So as not to take away from future audiences the experience of witnessing something great. Piece of advice, you might need a box of tissue or two for this one. 

Aside from the three mentioned films of Makoto Shinkai, we also recommend you check out his earlier works. 5 centimeters per second and Voices of a Distant Star are also worth watching.

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