Makoto Shinkai is Overrated

I recently watched 5 Centimeters per Second due to its stellar reviews and almost unanimous praise. However, when I finished watching it, I didn’t think it was that good. If I were to compare this movie to a sandwich, the phenomenal backgrounds and lighting would be the fluffy delicious bread surrounding the soggy lettuce and bland turkey that was the story and characters. Sure you could remove the unsatisfying filling, but in the end, just like eating bread by itself, 5 cm/s was unsatisfying fluff.

I’m pretty sure I’ve already enraged a good chuck of people by now, but bear with me as I try to justify my point of view. Perhaps it is because I’m an emotionally dead engineer, but I found it really hard to find a message out of 5 cm/s. Was I supposed to sympathize with any of the characters? I didn’t. The main dude was a foolish romantic blinded by his idealistic childhood romance. As far as I’m concerned, a lifetime of isolation and depression is what he deserves for clinging to a past defined by a single evening. What about the surfer girl? Isn’t her unrequited love for the guy tragic? No. She came off as obsessive, and I found the guy so detestable that it was hard to justify her feelings. In the end, 5 cm/s reminded me of Key visual novels, tragedy porn as called by the awesome folks at Colony Drop. While nobody dies in 5 cm/s as opposed to ALL Key VNs, I feel that this movie is meant for the easily emotionally manipulated.

I think that I just don’t buy tragedy stories. I live with the philosophy of learning from mistakes and focusing on the future. In the immortal words of Coach from Gunbuster:

Aim_For_The_Top!_Gunbuster-ep4.DVD(H264.AAC)[KAA][36975CD2].mkv_snapshot_08.01_[2009.11.09_16.23.31]

While we’re on the subject of mecha, this brings me to the second of Shinkai’s works that I’ve seen: Voices of a Distant Star. I found the concept interesting. The idea of communication lag has never really been covered in sci-fi, and it is one of those things most works just gloss over. However, after watching it, I couldn’t help feeling that I’d seen this before. It’s because all of Makoto Shinkai’s works are about the how tragic separated lovers are. Like 5 cm/s the art was great, with the exception of some rather dated looking CG, but I’m willing to let this slide. What really bothered me was that it was the same emotionally hollow tragedy as 5cm/s. Despite the two characters being in love, I never felt much emotion between them. Also, his love lasting for 8 years after she probably died in space is laughably improbable.

This brings me back to Gunbuster, which focuses on another peril of space travel, time dilation. Due to traveling at near light speed for so long, the main character Noriko ages much slower than her friends, such that her friends are married and have kids, while she is essentially the same age. In the explosive finale, she chooses to save the earth knowing that she will never see anyone she knows and loves ever again. This theme is handled masterfully, making Gunbuster one of my favorite pieces of media of all time.

What I’m trying to say is that Makoto Shinkai’s films have no substance. Despite being a story about humans, it lacks a human element to it. I can’t sympathize with or even remotely connect to any of the characters in his works, making them feel like cold, hollow dolls. But what I’m really saying is that you shouldn’t waste your time watching Makoto Shinkai anime and watch Gunbuster instead.

Life has been busy lately. New season is crap overall, but there are some gems. Trapeze looks like it was made on LSD, and I love it for that reason alone. Railgun is pretty good in that it mixes things up instead of going for a frame by frame adaptation. Kampfer was bad until I realized the entire show was an enormous joke of itself, at which point I started to love it. Kimi ni Todoke looks great and has a good story, but has pacing issues similarly to the manga. Nyan Koi has occasional moments of brilliance, but ultimately feels like a poor man’s Seto no Hanayome. Expect a more complete season review sometime. Take it easy.

6 Responses to “Makoto Shinkai is Overrated”

  1. I think that the appeal of Makoto Shinkai lies not so much in the stories that he tells so much as the drive behind it all. He’s like the Robert Rodriguez of anime – a guy who came out of pretty much nowhere with this little low-budget indie piece that blew everyone away with some clever ideas.

    I agree with you that Shinkai is a filmmaker who so far has yet to demonstrate great versatility, but so what? Mamoru Oshii hasn’t made anything resembling human characters since Beautiful Dreamer but I still love him too. While I don’t want to put Shinkai on the same pedestal as Oshii, my reasons for loving both are similar.

    It’s simply because they have actual visions and the directing chops to translate them to the screen. The way Shinkai plays with light and quiet moments harkens to Akitaroh Daichi’s more somber moments in his shows.

    • djwhack03 Says:

      What gets to me is all the praise he gets and that the media is calling him “the next Miyazaki,” which he even acknowledges as an overstatement. I don’t think that VoaDS was all that clever. The idea was good, but the execution was really poor, so he’s nowhere near Rodriguez level of awesome.

      I’m not too familiar with Oshii’s work, but the few of his movie’s I’ve seen are plot driven, so unrealistic characters go unnoticed. Shinkai’s films on the other hand are character driven, but have weak characters, which is like trying to drive a car with flat tires.

  2. Yes, I think it’s because you’re an engineer, lol. No, really I do see the justice in your position. I think you put the case very well. But for me 5cm/sec is still so far above the rest — including Miyazaki — that comparisons aren’t possible. It has something nothing else has.

    Sure, the story is awkward and indefinite. Same with Voices. But it combines with the visual and aural aspects that you call “fluff” to create poetry. Haiku, in fact. And real haiku, the kind that expresses the truth about the world that cannot be put in words. The Zen Buddhist truth. The immediacy of the now. For me, it is art at very high level. Religious art. I come away feeling the deep sadness and beauty of existence.

    I have liked SF about time dilation — Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “Endless Universe,” for one — and I haven’t seen Gunbusters. So thanks for mentioning it.

    • Animesukier Says:

      @hashi

      It’s fitting that you’d be the only person I know of who appreciates “Endless Universe”. That’s a compliment, in case you’re wondering. You always have such good taste and a thoroughly thoughtful approach. Well, if we exclude a certain failed marketing experiment called Simoun, you do🙂

      Sorry about the OT, I just happen to love that novel. “5cm” I’m yet to watch. Since I’ve read enough about it to have a pretty good idea of how I’m going to feel about it, I’m saving it for a rainy day. Didn’t really get into “Voices”, though, so I’m with you there. But “She and Her Cat” was such a lovely and poignant moodpiece!

    • Your comparison of 5cm/s and poetry convinced me that I can’t appreciate it due to being an engineer. I never liked poetry all that much, even when I was a kid, lol.

      Let me knwo what you think of Gunbuster. The art might seem a little dated, and it starts off slow, but the ending is amazing.

  3. Yeah, I loved the trailer for 5cm/sec but the movie itself was bland. All of his stuff is extremely worthy of print screen > set as desktop background, but it’s hard to love him when all his work comes from the same stream, albeit with increasing production value.

    *shrug* If he successfully made a movie about human emotions and longing, I feel like engineers as well as poets would be able to relate.

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