Your name, Weathering with You, Garden of Words: is usually what you might think of when you hear the name Makoto Shin Ai. Known for his incredible animation abilities, Makoto Shin Ai often leaves us breathless after leaving the theater. To state the obvious, his works are clearly praised for its intricate details and environments, having won him a Japan Academy Prize award for Animation, Screenplay of the Year, and more. But taking a closer look, we want to ask and explore the big question. What makes his works so special?
Earth, Water, Air, Fire...
Not only does Shin Ai carefully create his animations with realistic details; he often uses the four elements to his advantage in order to create a certain mood or environment. This setting ultimately sets a foreshadowing upon different parts of the storyline. For example, in the Garden of Words (2013)--it rains incessantly at the start of the story, symbolizing change and the start of something new, exactly what Takao and Yukino get by meeting each other. Certainly, not everyone knows the meanings of weather hazards, but quiet, earthy scenes are definitely some food for thought when waiting for some dialogue to begin.
Takao and Yukino in the Garden of Words (2013)
The Animation Details
But back to the breathtaking animations, of course. Shin Ai’s artistic directing really is special. Of course it’s impossible without the rest of his team, but standing on the front lines makes him responsible and evidently, represent the production of all the films. The color palettes and settings used in each one of his films relatively stay the same, contributing to the overall theme and feel of the story. Below is a screen capture in Weathering with You (2019), bringing in tones of the Tokyo city life that Morishima wants to escape to so desperately. The light up signs and neon poles are there for a pop of color, reminding us that the city is fun and exciting.
Even the promo ad in Your Name (2016), is carefully created to summarize the story with no words needed, pleasing first time viewers with a refreshing image that represents the contrasting countryside and city life that creates a divide yet parallel between the two main characters, Taki and Mitsuha.
Carefully orchestrated music accompanies the eye-capturing films, setting the mood just right for particular scenes where you need to laugh, cry, scream, and everything in between. The nostalgic tunes often evoke feelings of friendships and the ups and downs of life, themes that relentlessly occur in almost all of his films. Below are long, long long soundtracks of his best pieces for big Makoto Shin Ai fans, or first time viewers/listeners. I recommend this playing in the background when you're studying, or personally, feeling down. They're soft and intricate, heavily reflecting his artistic beliefs in his stories. This alone tells us Shin Ai simply wants to be able to create comfort for his viewers, but not without moments of shock and struggle--nothing new if you're, well, a human.
For Your Name:
For Weathering with You:
For Garden of Words (My personal favorite):
So, honestly, what makes Shin Ai's works special? While I'm sure most of you expected a technical answer, I'm also sure what I'm about to say is pretty predictable. Shin Ai's works are special because movies are special to us. Just like how we prioritize our family and friends and our goals, we hold a special place for movies that have the ability to evoke feelings that resemble our life in a 2D way. They're incredibly hard to replace. While this may sound like I'm meshing Shin Ai in with just a big pool of animators, I'm not because the answer is obvious that he is extraordinarily good at what he does. He happens to be exactly what in a society of ever-changing trends and styles, reminding us that these things he incorporates in his films are forever. And to be honest, while they drive us crazy-- they're essential in life.