Makoto Shinkai: The Master of Loneliness

If you have any interest in anime, Makoto Shinkai is a name you may have heard of. If not, I am here to introduce something exciting to you! Makoto Shinkai, sometimes named “The Next Miyazaki” started his animation career in 1999 with the 5-minute short: She and Her Cat. Since then, he has slowly climbed the food chain of the Japanese animation industry – from short film to feature length productions.

I am here to count down my favorite Shinkai productions. No matter who you are, if you have even the slightest interest in animation or the drama/romance genre, these are a gold mine. His style includes eye-dropping visuals, lots of poetic narration, and themes of loneliness. Although there are occasional action scenes, these are an undercurrent compared to the ocean of emotion poured into his works.

5. The Place Promised in our Early Days

I believe this is easily the weakest of his works. The Place Promised in Our Early Days hit Japanese cinemas in 2004, and while the visuals and music are beautiful, 20 to 30 minutes of it could have been cut out. A lot of the narration is repeated, and the setup contains many unnecessary pans and stalling. Basically, the script needed to be shorter. For such a thin story, it didn’t need to be feature length. The amazing intensity of the trailer does not live up to reality.


4. 5 Centimeters per Second

5 Centimeters per Second could be more accurately described as 3 short films combined into one feature length production. The first hour tells two different short stories, while the last half is a sort of music video, recapping the events of the previous two. Don’t let that put you off, though. Made 3 years after Place Promised in 2007, it also excels in the animation and music categories. The differences are: the script is tighter, and there is no element of science fiction. They are just bittersweet retrospective looks at relationships. You can see the trailer here.


3. She and Her Cat

Despite being his first work in 1999, She and Her Cat comes in at number three. Even though the animation is the weakest of his productions, the artwork itself is very strong. The use of highly detailed stills and pans can be seen throughout. The whole movie is narrated from the perspective of a cat. Much like Makoto’s other work, it manages to invoke deep emotions even though it is only five minutes long. I have re-watched it many times, and it always gives me a strange cold feeling afterwards. I think it is well done for someone’s first experiment with animation. Since the short film is not for sale, it can only been seen as part of the Voices of a Distant Star DVD, or you can watch it here.


2. Voices of a Distant Star

What makes Voices of a Distant Star famous is that it was made by one man with his mac. Watching it you can clearly see how much work has gone into each individual frame. This is Shinkai’s second short film (clocking in at 30 minutes). He originally did part of the voice acting along with his wife, before it was released to TV. It’s about a girl named Mikako, who is separated from her high school sweetheart when she is recruited to fight an Alien invasion. While the character designs are very square and rigid, the power of the writing and music sets it apart. The combination of theme, music and writing manages to evoke the right feelings no matter what age you are. I first watched it at 15; now I am 21 and I still feel the characters’ loss, just for different reasons.


1. Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below

This is Shinkai’s most recent feature film, and was only released in Australian cinemas this year (2012). Compared to 5 Centimeters and Place Promised, this story actually manages to have enough content for its length. It is the least like Shinkai’s other movies, as well. The theme of loneliness is only briefly mentioned, while adventure/action takes the stage. Someone compared it to an anime version of Disney’s Atlantis, and this comment is not without merit. The film was renamed “Journey to Agartha” in the UK! The reason this is number one is because it appeals to a much wider audience with the mix of genres. Its only downfall would have to be the ending, which pulls an Arriety. It just ends without explaining anything, for no real reason.



So to conclude, stop being an animephobe for an hour or so to pull at your heartstrings in a way they will not have been tugged at before.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. AnnaLar

    Damn you ruined my Saturday evening Wynter! How am I going to do anything else but to watch a Shinkai flick?! WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO ME?!?! 😉

  2. Mike G

    I’ve only seen 5 Centimeters Per Second. Will definitely seek out the other four. Thanks!

  3. Mark Haddick

    I’m sorry, this isn’t a very well written article. At least research the director you want to write about.

    She and Her Cat was not the first work Shinkai did, Other Worlds was.

    Not even a brief mention of the Egao music video he did or the Ani*Kuri15 short he did when you mentioned She and Her Cat either?

    And while I agree Hoshi Wo Ou Kodomo is the best movie he made, I own the Japanese Blu Ray for it alongside the 5cm Per Second International Edition, why did you think it was? I’m sorry, but just saying it’s the best because it appeals to the widest audience is not a reason, it’s a fact. You are telling me that it has a wide appeal, not that you liked it because of how the characters develop or how the story moves or the animation or anything like that.

    If you’re interested, the reason I think it’s the best is because I actually like the ending and how the theme of moving on (which is also featured in all his movies but was ignored here) was used for the end and had me tearing up. I felt that having Asuna have to feel the pain of the death of the person who saved him throughout the movie making her feel isolated and alone.

    If you think I’m nitpicking, it’s because I feel that the article could have been wrote better had a bit more effort been put in to it.

    • Jordan

      It sounds like you were looking for a more in depth coverage of each of the titles mentioned.

      I was aware Other Worlds was his first work, however it is short and it did not receive much exposure to my understanding, which is why it was left out. I did not mention his other minor works such as producing or directing parts of anime, or graphic design because I wanted to focus more on the anime he had made.

      If you want more detail on my thoughts of “Children who chase lost voices” I have written about it in my other blog, which you can find in my profile. The “mini reviews” are brief to keep audiences attention – it is aimed at people who may not be so into anime. I don’t want to ramble on forever to someone who has a short attention span.

      I’m sorry the content of this article has disappointed you. Since we are allowed to write multiple articles about the same topic, it sounds like you would feel better if you could have your say on Shinkai as well.

      • Mark Haddick

        I’d write something too long and too in depth in tht case.

  4. David Tatlow

    This is very cool. I loved 5cm, and now I’ll be hunting these down!

  5. CriticalOtaku


    I’ve seen half of The Place Promised in Our Early Days, all of 5 cm per second, and all of The Garden of Words, and while I did think 5 cm per second was pretty good, I never really understood why Shinkai’s referred to as “The Next Miyazaki.” I mean, Miyazaki’s had a long career of incredible films and from what I’ve noticed with Shinkai’s works, his films, while visually stunning, always feel like they’re lacking something. For example, 5 cm per second could have been an incredible film if the third part wasn’t so rushed (from what I remember it couldn’t have been longer than 12 minutes or so compared to the previous 2 parts, each of which was at least 25 minutes long)–he introduces a lot of interesting elements in the third part but then he just suddenly drops it with a fairly contrived ending (I don’t mind the fact that they don’t end up together–it’s actually a good depiction of stark realism) when they happen to cross each other’s paths after so many years–they could have been in the same vicinity but it would have been even more powerful if he was brooding over their lost love without necessarily realizing she was so close–I mean, considering how he spends his entire life thinking about her without giving notice to the feelings of those around him since her, it would seem more fitting, I think, to have him be more focused on his sense of unrequited longing rather than the person herself. This is of course just my opinion–feel free to disagree.

    The Garden of Words especially could have benefited from an additional 15 minutes or so–to avoid the melodrama at the end–or the stakes could have been raised if she had actually engaged in some kind of physical relationship with him before he found out that she is a teacher at his school–but maybe this is a bit predictable or clichéd.

    I’m not trying to put down your recommendations, as I actually find a lot of things that I really like about Shinkai’s films too, it just frustrates me how certain things are unsubstantiated or not necessarily “complete” by the end of his films.

    • Jordan

      He does like leaving his films open ended. I’m not really sure why. It annoyed me the most with “The Children who chase lost voices” because there were obvious story points that were left unexplained.
      I agree that “The Next Miyazaki” isn’t exactly accurate given how different the themes these two directors tackle are. I think it may be talking about popularity as Makoto Shinkai got quite popular amongst anime fans quite quickly.
      Thank you for your comment 🙂

  6. Tatijana

    I have no actually heard of any of these. Def. learning a lot reading all these older articles haha.

  7. It sounds like (from your perspective) that this director has lack of storyline as a chronic issue.

  8. His work sure evokes emotions of lonliness. What I noticed is that a lot of characters like whispering, which is not what you see in regular shows.

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