Web Japan > Trends in Japan > Pop Culture > Up-And-Coming Creators In Japanese Anime


Director of films such as the Oscar winning Spirited Away (released 2001), Hayao Miyazaki, known the world over as a master of Japanese animated films, announced his retirement from feature films following the release of his final film, The Wind Rises in July 2013. His decision marks a half century milestone from 1963 when the airing of Astro boy started in earnest in TV animation, the same year as he entered the world of animation. Who will drive the Japanese animation industry which has reached maturity. The focus will be on the up-and-coming young film creators.


A scene from the theater version of Patema Inverted, released in 2013. © Yasuhiro YOSHIURA/Sakasama Film Committee

Depiction of reality


A scene from the opening episode of the TV animation Heidi a Girl of the Alps. The novel Heidi by Johanna Spyri is the original work. Released in 1974. © ZUIYO

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Japanese animation faithfully depicts relationships between characters and their world and presents a view of the story world from the character’s perspective, often employing a playwriting technique which draws our empathy. The fact that this is animation does not mean that any drawings will do. This is a method which builds neat detailed depictions and rules to enable the audience to feel the reality. This form of production was introduced by the young duo, Hayao Miyazaki and his sworn friend, Isao Takahata (who released The Tale of Princess Kaguya in 2013) in the TV animation Heidi a Girl of the Alps which they undertook in 1974 and they worked hard to spread it. An overseas location hunt (Switzerland) was conducted over one year for the Heidi production, rare in animation production at the time, to experience and observe the lifestyle and atmosphere, and the fruits of their observations were incorporated into the animation.

Animation films from the United States focus their depictions around the activities of fictional characters, such as talking animals or cars, and the background is little more than a stage. In contrast, one of the main features of Japanese Animation is the depiction of the background which conveys the theme and message of the story, over and above the characters.

Rural scenery of Japan: Mamoru Hosoda


A poster image from the theater version of the animation Wolf Children, released in 2012. © 2012 “WOLF CHILDREN” FILM PARTNERS

First on the list of creators who may succeed in this type of Japanese film trend is director Mamoru Hosoda. Hosoda selected actual Japanese rural landscapes, surrounded by abundant nature, as stages for his stories. Summer Wars released in 2009, was set in Ueda Nagano Prefecture, and Wolf Children released in 2012, set in Hosoda’s own home town of Kamiichi in Toyama Prefecture, and they were huge sensations.

The Wolf Children is a fantasy story about children who can transform from human to wolf forms woven into the familiar and universal themes of parenting and independence from parents, attracting the audience as would real events. In addition to the outstanding animation techniques which capture the expressions of emotion and movement of the characters, the background art sends a vivid view of the world which permeates the minds of the audience. Even when drawing the house in which the mother and children live, true reality is pursued through the detail given to small objects and the feel of the living space and outside, hand drawn flowers fused with CG sway. The production gives the feeling that everything in the world which evolves on screen is alive, and the audience feels the heartrending story more strongly.

Director Hosoda began his activities in earnest during the late 1990s when animation production entered the digital age, and is familiar with techniques integrating hand-drawings and CG, and with the sensitivities of the internet age masses. He is one director worthy of taking responsibility for Japanese animation in the 21st century.

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From the Wolf Children © 2012 “WOLF CHILDREN” FILM PARTNERS
A scene depicting an old rural house in Wolf Children. © 2012 “WOLF CHILDREN” FILM PARTNERS
Director Mamoru Hosoda

Melancholy Setting: Makoto Shinkai


A poster image from the theater version of the animation, The Garden of Words, released in 2013. © Makoto Shinkai / CoMix Wave Films

From the generation below director Hosoda, who is 46 this year, Makoto Shinkai (age 40) is worthy of attention. He is a filmmaker who attracted much attention with his 25-minute short film The Voices of a Distant Star in 2002, in which he took charge of direction, screenwriting, production, animation, art, and editing almost entirely by himself. Characteristic of Shinkai's work is a method which captures poetry and melancholy in the settings, such as in the clouds and sunsets. A 45-minute medium-length story The Garden of Words released in 2013, can be thought of as a compilation of this.

The stage for The Garden of Words is a real park in the center of Tokyo, and the story depicts the relationship and misunderstandings between a young boy and a girl separated by an age gap. He depicts, with the realistic light and shade, the feeling of the humidity in the air of the rainy season, and the incredible beauty of the fresh green drenched in the fresh rain, which expresses the character’s emotions. Within the images, even everyday items and vegetation in the park impressively capture detail and become elements which build the story and bringing it to life. The audience will encounter moments when things regarded as commonplace and dull, suddenly look as though they shine. The view of how an everyday living environment is seen gains the empathy of many young people.

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From The Garden of Words © Makoto Shinkai / CoMix Wave Films
From The Garden of Words © Makoto Shinkai / CoMix Wave Films
Director Makoto Shinkai

View of the real world changes: Yasuhiro Yoshiura


From Patema Inverted © Yasuhiro YOSHIURA/Sakasama Film Committee

One more generation below, is director Yasuhiro Yoshiura (age 33) who has attracted close attention recently. Yoshiura is a man of accomplishment, who not only handles story, screenplay and direction, but also dubbing production, shooting and editing. He distinguished himself with Are you enjoying the time of EVE?, released through WEB distribution in 2008-2009 (a total of six episodes), and the movie version was also a hit. In his first feature-length animated film, Patema Inverted, released in 2013, he challenges an adventure story of a young boy who tries to protect a girl from another world.


Director Yasuhiro Yoshiura

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The leading characters of Patema Inverted were born into worlds in which the effect of gravity was reversed, with the result that if they don't continue to hold on to each other, the girl will fall towards the sky. They overcome that fundamental difference and endeavor to understand each other and this pure attitude is moving. If the audience looks up at the real sky after watching this movie, they may feel the illusion of falling into the sky. It may be a mere assumption that objects fall from top to bottom. Questioning this may break down barriers and open new possibilities, and this is the message of the movie.

(February 2014)

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