Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Director Makoto Shinkai Examines Climate Change & Weather

With GKIDS Oscar contender Weathering with You, director Makoto Shinkai crafted a story inspired by his interest in climate change.

“We’ve always known climate change is happening, but it was always a faraway concept. But now, we can really feel it. Every summer, there’s heavy rainfall [in Japan] and a lot of water-related disasters, but climate change happened, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” the director says. “The world has changed, so I wanted to depict young people, and how they live in this crazy world.”

The director’s follow-up to Your Name—which was the highest-grossing anime film of all time, at the time of its release—Weathering with You centers on Hodaka, a teenage boy who runs away to Tokyo, where he befriends a girl with the ability to manipulate the weather.

On the press circuit for the film, Shinkai was surprised to learn that in the United States and elsewhere, there is no concept of a ‘Sunshine Girl’ or ‘Rainy Guy’—a person with the abilities that Weathering with You’s Hina has. “In Japan, it’s very common for someone to say, ‘Oh, you’re such a Sunshine Girl,’” he explains. “‘Thank you for making it sunny today.’”

For Shinkai, one of the goals with Weathering with You was to depict a realistic, albeit slightly heightened version of Tokyo. “We wanted to make it more beautiful than it actually is, so that when someone from outside of Japan sees this film, it’s like, ‘Oh, Tokyo is so beautiful. I’m going to go visit.’ And then, once they visit, they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s not that beautiful,’” the director says, with a laugh. “That’s how beautiful I wanted Tokyo to look in this film.”

“Also, it’s really about the characters’ point of view, how they see Tokyo,” Shinkai adds. “Hodaka comes to Tokyo and falls in love with Hina, so the city that Hina lives in looks more beautiful to him, because he’s in love.”

In order to capture real Tokyo locations like Shinjuku Station with a fair degree of accuracy, Shinkai engaged in a long process of location scouting. “All of the [crew] went to various locations. We even got a helicopter chartered, and took pictures from above to map and scan, so that we could make a 3D CG version, and recreate Tokyo from above,” the director says. “So, even though there’s one part that we might’ve changed for the story, geographically, it’s very accurate.”

It was through the use of light and color that Shinkai and his team were able to craft their exaggeratedly beautiful portrait of the Japanese capital. “Like, we know that the sun won’t come in this way, from this angle, through this building,” he explains, “but we made it that way, just so that it’ll look more beautiful.”

For the director, the greatest challenge with his latest film was controlling all the different stages his animators were taking the film through, and maintaining the stylistic balance he was after with his animated film. “As a director, I do the storyboards all by myself at the very beginning, and I think that’s important. That’s also challenging, because I have to get everything right in the storyboarding,” he notes. “Because in the end, after the storyboards, it’s just about replacing them with the completed picture.”

After finishing the romantic fantasy pic—which received four Annie Award nominations, and was selected as the Japanese Oscar entry for Best International Feature Film—Shinkai found himself creatively empty. “When I work on a project, I put everything in it. So, I’m still thinking about my next project. But I do want to have my next film within three years, because I really feel like what I want to do and what the audience wants to see, unless it’s done within three years, there’s going to be a disconnect,” the director reflects. “In order to make a movie within three years, I have to submit a plan by this year’s end. But I’m still empty, and I’m actually getting a little anxious, because I’m not thinking of anything. So, I’m just praying that I’ll think of something on the plane ride back home.”

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