Whether it’s because of humility or out of respect, anime auteur Makoto Shinkai scoffs at the idea of being called the next Hayao Miyazaki. But some facts cannot be ignored. His previous film, Your Name, was the highest grossing anime picture in history before Spirited Away, 18 years after its conception, had its long-awaited theatrical release. And Shinkai’s latest feature, Weathering with You, appears to be following a similar trajectory.
The movie, set in a rain-soaked Tokyo, follows a young man who meets a girl that can pray for sunshine, and has already become the sixth-highest-grossing anime film in the history of the Japanese box office.
We Got This Covered had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Shinkai after Weathering with You made its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Be sure to check out our conversation down below and enjoy!
As a writer and an animator, when you begin crafting a new story, how correlated are those two styles? How often are the images that come into your head when you’re writing the ones that end up in the film?
Makoto Shinkai: I actually think of words and dialogue before any visual images come to mind. And once I draw a film, I get empty, like currently, I’m empty right now. But first, I really want to think of the dialogue that I want the characters, character or characters, to say. And that’s how I start. So, in regard to Weathering with You, I wanted Hodaka to say, “I don’t care about the weather, I’d rather have you.” I really wanted him to say that line, so then I started thinking about what kind of story it would have to be in order for him to say that line. And then after that, I come up with a visual image.
So, when we’re talking about the creative process, how did you apply that with Your Name? What was the line of dialogue that you wanted to start out with there?
Makoto Shinkai: That was so long ago, I don’t really remember. Of course, there was that “we’re switched” part, but I think, now that I remember, I think it was the line, [“I’m always searching for something, for someone”]. That comes up in the very beginning.
You’ve said that the criticism you faced for Your Name was a huge inspiration for Weathering With You. I was wondering, coming out of the gates of that film, a huge success, what did you know you wanted to do for your follow up?
Makoto Shinkai: When Your Name came out, I got a lot of criticism about how films shouldn’t be this way. For Your Name, I used four songs from Radwimps and sometimes the music was so blasted that it was in conflict with the dialogue. Some people were like, “this is just a music video, it’s not a film.” And also, “using the disaster as the motif is very horrible, and films shouldn’t be this way, they shouldn’t do that.” Or having someone come back to life. Everyone kept saying, “this was wrong, this was a mistake,” and then I was thinking, “no, I don’t think there are clear rules like that to make a film.” So, I think that emotion really came through in making Weathering With You.
You use the disaster effect again in Weathering with You. How did Japanese audiences react this time around?
Makoto Shinkai: There are some criticisms to the disaster, but not as much. So, maybe they got used to my movies. Or, in  another movie came out that was based on a disaster called Shin Godzilla. After that, as the disasters became more normal, it became more used in films. So maybe they got used to that, but there aren’t as [many] as Your Name.
In addition to the criticisms, you’ve also listed Miyazaki as a huge influence on you. But with that said, you’ve also kind of renounced your comparisons to him. What do you want to tell someone who calls you “The Next Miyazaki” to separate your work from his?
Makoto Shinkai: So, I think “renounced the comparison” is a little bit off. Because I feel like Miyazaki is too great, not just his expression, but [the] way he sees the world is so great that I can’t be compared to him. It’s really like comparing an adult to a child. To be compared to him at this point in my life, I feel like my work is still too immature and too imperfect. But I guess to Japanese young kids, maybe they’re not too familiar with Miyazaki anymore – because his last film, The Wind Rises, came out about six years ago – so maybe kids feel [more relatable] to my films because they’re more available. So, I do feel responsible to take on the role of being the director to give hope and emotions [to audiences], just like Miyazaki did to us. My skills, in regard to how much I can express, may not be up to par yet, but as an adult, I do feel like I want to fill in that role and bring the emotions that he brought to me.
Before I let you go, I wanted my last question to be about your relationship with Japan, and Tokyo specifically. In your last two films, you’ve had characters from outside of Tokyo who wanted to be a part of the culture in some way. I was wondering, growing up outside of Tokyo, what were your impressions of the city?
Makoto Shinkai: I grew up [in the Nagano Prefecture] where it has a lot of tall mountains. So, it was really like walls around me growing up. So, I always wondered what was on the other side? What kind of people are there on the other side? I always had this admiration of what’s going to be up there. When I graduated high school, I used the opportunity to go to college in Tokyo. When I got there, it was actually pretty dirty, and the people were so cold; they’re not that nice; summer was so hot; it was not pleasant at all, nothing I had imagined. I didn’t like Tokyo for a number of years. But then, once I started living in Tokyo, all these memories were created – I made new friends, and [it became the place] where I first held hands with my girlfriend and walked down the street – and Tokyo became beautiful in that sense. So, when I make my films, I want to depict that beautiful side of Tokyo.