Famitsu.com is pleased to present a series of interviews with people of interest in the animation industry. In this second installment of the series, we present an interview with animation director Mr. Makoto Shinkai.
On November 11, 2022, Makoto Shinkai’s latest work suzume was released, three years after Weathering With You.
Since Your Name was a huge hit in 2016, Director Shinkai has been creating films with very high expectations from all over Japan. Despite this, he has never been defensive and has taken on a different theme from his past works, making suzume another masterpiece that can be seen as a new achievement for the director.
In this interview, such a Director Shinkai talks a lot about his thoughts on his latest work. What was the true meaning of the director’s comment during the interview, 「I felt that if I didn’t do it now, I wouldn’t make it in time」?
In addition, The interview will be less spoilerific in the beginning, but as the interview progresses, the level of spoilers will increase. If you have not yet seen Suzume please be careful. For those who have already seen the film, we hope you will read it all the way through.
It was the hardest two and a half years of my life during the making of the film.
I was surprised to see that suzume is a road movie with a fast-paced stage change. There are many impressive locations in each land, so you must have put a lot of effort into setting up the artwork, etc.?
Shinkai That was really …… hard work.
Shinkai It was the hardest two and a half years of my life, and I think it was not only for me but for all the staff as well.
-Was it really that hard!
Shinkai: As for the total number of cuts for the film, Your Name had about 1,600 cuts, and Weathering With You had 1,700 cuts. The total number of cuts for suzume was close to 2,000.
And as you said, it takes that much and a lot of effort to change the setting. Every time we go to a new location, the art setting, 3DCG, etc., need to be set up to the point where we can start making a new movie. If you look at the number of cuts alone, the number of cuts increased by about 20%, but in my physical, it was about twice as much work as in the past productions.
My sense is that it was like climbing a very high mountain like Mt. Everest and finally reaching the top while running out of acid I would come down the mountain and say, Give me a break! I never want to climb again! That’s how I feel right now, right after I finished making the film.
-(laugh). Why did you go through so much trouble to make an animated film in the form of a road movie?
Shinkai: When we were planning this film, our initial idea was to make it a story of mourning a place.
Mourning a Place.
Shinkai Yes. The idea was to see off a place that is being lost, to repose the souls of the dead, and to say goodbye while saying thank you.
Japan has a declining birthrate and an aging population, and there are more and more opportunities to see towns and homes that are disappearing. The same is true of my own hometown. It is becoming a lonelier and lonelier place. However, when we build a building, we hold a ground-breaking ceremony and scatter rice cakes, but when it comes time to put it out of use, we do nothing.
When someone dies, everyone mourns the deceased at a funeral, but I wondered what we could do in the face of the loss of an important place. From there, the idea of a story about mourning a place was born.
A door that appears in an abandoned building that is no longer used. In suzume I used the name back door「ushirodo」 from a word that appeared in a book about ancient Japanese artistic expression. The image of closing this door was also born from the association with the image of mourning a place.
Click on the image to go to the youtube video. ↓
-So, you are saying that because there are such abandoned places all over Japan, it become a road movie that shows these places?
ShinkaiYes. However, I thought that the tension of the film would inevitably become quiet if I made it a story that mourned a place, so I thought about what was necessary to make the film work as entertainment on top of that, and finally arrived at the Girl and the Chair Buddy was what I finally arrived at.
I started to think of the story of this movie as a buddy story, but I think that was largely due to the fact that I had become less interested in depicting a love story like Your Name due to my age, and wanted to depict a different kind of relationship in the movie. There is a similar reason why the relationship between Suzumei and her aunt Tamaki is largely depicted in the film.
There was a possibility that Suzume’s partner would be a milk carton instead of a chair.
-During the viewing process, I was surprised that it was an adventure story about a high school girl and a chair?I was surprised and watched it.
Shinkai: It was immediately decided to make a girl the main character. Simply because the protagonist of my previous work Weathering With You was a boy. Then, I felt that if we were going to go around a place like ruins, we needed a buddy, both pictorially and narratively, and there were twists and turns as to what kind of buddy we should make.
I considered various storylines, such as a buddy between two girls, or a partner who changes into a monster little by little as they continue their journey. The ruins and the monster seemed like it could be done as a picture, but since the premise was a quiet act of mourning a place, I thought it would be a little too cool and clichéd.
After all, I also wanted to make an entertaining movie with an element of laughter, so I thought it would be entertaining if the presence standing next to the girl was cute, or if it was a presence that just moved and made people smile. In the process of thinking about this, the three-legged chair was born.
-What other ideas did you have for the main character’s partner besides the chair?
Shinkai: There were many ideas in my thinking about choosing an inorganic object as a partner. For example, a milk carton. That idea was rejected, but the idea of something that is definitely different from humans remained until the end.
Around the time I started thinking about the film project, I went home once to my parents’ house, and I had a lasting impression of a lonely wooden chair for one person sitting at a deserted bus stop. That became one of the inspirations for the idea, and when I applied the foreign feeling to Suzume’s partner, it fit better than any of the previous ideas, and the present form was born.
The major influences were Haruki Murakami’s 「A Certain Short Story 」and that Ghibli film
When I was watching -suzume, I was reminded of the novel Kafka on the Shore. Please tell us about any works that inspired or influenced you in making this film.
Shinkai: There are many works that have influenced me, but Kafka on the Shore was one of the works that I reread in the making of suzume. In this novel as well, stones appear and cats talk.
If I were to cite a work that directly inspired suzume in the same Haruki Murakami works, it would be the short novel titled frog, Saving Tokyo. The main character, a frog, fights against a giant earthworm deep underground in Shinjuku to prevent earthquakes, and although the earthworm appears in suzume as a symbol of earthquakes, its naming is directly quoted from frog, Tokyo wo Saves.
Shinkai: Then there is Kiki’s Delivery Service, a Ghibli work. I also used Yumi Matsutoya‘s (Rouge’s Message) in this work, so if you have seen the movie, you might think “I knew it!
-The scene where Rouge’s Message suddenly comes on was great (laugh). And that too on the highway in a flashy red sports car.
Shinkai: As the story progresses, Suzume’s mind starts to become more and more tense from that scene. She is on the way to the major destination of the trip, and she has a big issue on her mind.
But I thought that if I kept making even the audience feel as tense as she did, they would get tired while watching. I felt that if a character who is completely different from Suzume’s principle of action would act carefree without being disciplined to Suzume’s feelings, the entire animated film would move smoothly and dynamically, so I introduced someone like Serizawa.
By the way, in that Rouge’s Message scene, there is a truck from Kuroneko Yamato (moving company) driving past behind the car.
-Oh! I hadn’t noticed that (laugh)
Shinkai If you ever watch the film again, please pay attention to it (laugh).
-What are some of the influences of Kiki’s Delivery Service in this film work?
Shinkai: Suzume meets various women on her travels. The structure of the scenario is influenced by Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Even now, when I watch “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” I can see that it “does” something very new as a story. The story is about a young girl’s independence, and the other people that Kiki encounters during her journey and her work as a courier are in fact all possibilities for her future self. She rediscovers herself when she encounters various other people: herself who has a child, herself who has become a grandmother, herself who has made painting her job, and so on.
The plot is brilliant, and I think it is an animated work with a freshness and a strong message that remains unchanged even today. Influenced by this, Suzume also structured the film to meet women of various occupations in various places.