After the presentation of “Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below”, Makoto Shinkai came forward to address the crowd and take questions from the fans in attendance. Shinkai directed the film and was also responsible for the screenplay and storyboarding. What follows here is a mostly-complete transcription of this event, reproduced to the best of my ability. Shinkai spoke through a translator.
Makoto Shinkai’s Introduction
I came into the film around the last five minutes, and seeing your reactions in response to the movie really brought me to tears. Thank you very much.
This is the first film since I did my last film, 5 Centimeters Per Second. So after that movie was completed I thought, “Hold on, what was I going to do next?” And then I had an opportunity to work overseas, and I spent the next year and a half working in London. So during my stay in London, I had several airings of 5 Centimeters Per Second and I wanted to cause a very Japanese aspect of the film to be accepted by foreign fans. So I thought, having made colleagues and friends overseas, I wanted to create a film that people of any country could sit down and enjoy the visuals and the story of the film for two hours.
In this new film in the character of Mr. Morisaki, the teacher, I carried on one of the themes of Takiki from 5 Centimeters Per Second, how he lost his first love and how he chose to live his life afterwards. I thought okay, what if Takiki had gotten together with Akari, and gotten her and lost her. How would he have lived a sad life afterward? That was the thought I had when creating that character.
On the other hand, the character Asuna is this little child, so she doesn’t quite realize what it is that she’s lost. And for her, she wasn’t sure if it was Shun that actually had died, or if it was Shin after all. In order to figure that out and understand that herself, she chooses to make the trip to Agartha. In the scene where she’s being surrounded by the Izoku, she says, “I was just lonely.” For her, what was important was to make that journey to make that realization.
So her purpose was to journey to try to figure this out. This is the reason why she’s depicted as running from the very beginning of the film to the very end, until she could find the answer she was looking for. Of course in the process of completing the film there was a great earthquake in Japan, and I couldn’t help but keep that in mind as I brought this film to a conclusion. But if I start launching into that, it will take a really long time. (audience laughter) So I will make that the conclusion to my introduction.
Makoto Shinkai’s Audience Q&A Session
MAKOTO SHINKAI: …When I was thinking of what to depict in my next film, I thought “tell a story of a successful love” or an “unsuccessful love.” Having thought on it for awhile, I realized there are probably more stories of a successful love out there. I felt that when you don’t have successful love, one happens to learn a lot of things from it, so I thought there was more storytelling there than in a story about a successful love.
Q: Being from Mexico, you really got my attention with the name of the Quetzalcoatl. How did you find out about the diety Quetzalcoatl in your research?
MAKOTO SHINKAI:When I created this world of Agartha, I wanted it to be the foundation that spouted all legends from around the world. There are terms that you find, some of them actually directly coming across to the topside world. So that’s really where my Quetzalcoatl is remaining. Like I said, I spent a good deal of time—a year and a half—in London, at the grand great museum there, and it had a very large exhibit on Quetzalcoatl there, and that became an inspiration for the film.
MAKOTO SHINKAI:As you pointed out it’s all about light/dark, life and death. The topside world is light, the underworld of Agartha is dark. Even in the daytime Agartha is life, and in the nighttime it brings death. So light and dark definitely play a key role in this, and also in the visual representation of the film.
Q: In the film Agartha is depicted as a place that’s been forgotten and slowly going to ruin. That’s happening in a lot of places in rural Japan. Was this something you were thinking of when you made the film?
MAKOTO SHINKAI: Well when the earthquake happened during the production of this film, it’s not like the idea suddenly came about or anything. Like in 5 Centimeters Per Second, there was the daily life in Japan. As long as there was that, it just didn’t change no matter where you were. That was one of the underlying themes of that. But nowadays that basic idea, with the economy and everything else going on, the idea that daily life goes on became a question for me. That belief and seeing the world changes and the atmosphere around me might have played a role in the creation of Agartha.
Q: Since you’ve clearly explored the topic of life or death in this field, could you tell us what other topics you want to talk about in your next film?
MAKOTO SHINKAI:Since this film has just premiered back in May in Japan, I haven’t really started to think about what I’m going to do next. But this sort of ties into the question. What if you have a comfortable life where you live and find yourself having to leave it? I think I might like to depict a story about a person leaving their home, whether that be a good choice or not, and depicting some of the positive actions coming from such a move away from what we consider to be home.
Q: You work so much on movies. Are you interested in pursuing TV series?
MAKOTO SHINKAI:It’s not like I don’t get offers, actually. Weekly broadcast seems kinda an awful lot of work for me! (audience laughter) I’d like to get a little more experience before I try to put myself into TV series.
Q: A common theme in your work seems to be loneliness, the search for meaning, the search for a human connection. There’s an existential wandering. As a musician, seeing someone find meaning and purpose in a song really, really moved me. If it’s not too personal to ask, do you struggle with that? Do you feel lonely and do you have any favorite philosophers?
MAKOTO SHINKAI:For the purpose of this movie, Shun, Asuna and Morisaki each has their own loneliness inside of them. One of the choices I had to make in the movie was the loneliness that all the characters holds within them: I have to choose between that loneliness having some sort of outlet or resolution in the movie, or maintain said loneliness throughout and carry on beyond that. It’s hard to explain, but there’s a least-easy resolution of the loneliness going away, or finding an ending where the loneliness changes shape, changes form, can move on easily by connecting with other people with their own lonelinesses. It’s hard to explain, but it wasn’t an ending where we wanted to have an easy resolution, or at the same time not carry it all the way through.
MAKOTO SHINKAI:Before going to England, I did a lot of cultural work in Qatar and the Middle East. I visited many ruins in all these various countries, and I have to say some of the ruins that I witnessed in the Middle East definitely played an influence in some of the visuals of the movie. In Japan, with everything being made so neatly and with all the earthquakes, we just don’t have very many old buildings. They’re renovated, or just destroyed and never come back. But when I visited the Middle East, there were ruins from 4,000 years ago that kids were playing soccer around. That sort of gave me a whole new view of things. And it definitely was an influence on the visuals in this movie.
Q: I just wonder, is there some place that’s represented as Agartha in the real world for you?
MAKOTO SHINKAI:Obviously this movie borrows on the whole theory of the hollow Earth with a whole separate civilization underground. It was definitely the foundation for this movie. If you ask me if I believe in the hollow Earth theory, I guess I can’t really believe. We understand earthquakes now; how can we believe in something like that? But perhaps part of me believes there’s some other place, whether it’s underground or elsewhere. I’d like to believe there’s another place like that.
Q: One thing that stood out to me is the philosophy of Agartha, where their civilization is in decline, and maybe because it’s best to just accept it. Throughout the movie we see characters with different philosophies on how to struggle not just with death itself, but with living life. What are your own thoughts on whether to accept these aspects of life, or struggle against them?
MAKOTO SHINKAI:First of all, the people of Agartha have accepted that they are not long for the world. But Shin, even though he’s a resident of Agartha, doesn’t believe that. He’s not sure how he feels, but he knows that he just won’t accept it. If you’d asked me this question fifteen years ago, I think I would definitely have sided with Shin. But now that I’ve become older, I can’t help but say I seem to understand the point of view of the rest of the people of that world. When doing this film, I didn’t want to side with either side. Both sides had valid reasons for their beliefs, but since I’m depicting Shin on film I’m going to emphasize his feelings just the same way I would do Morisaki’s motivations. But I personally wouldn’t want to deny one side or side with one side.
Q: I think Morisaki is a good person, but he dedicated his whole life to retrieving the person he loved. I also noticed there are some Japanse army books in Asuna’s secret base. Is that on purpose, are those from her father?
MAKOTO SHINKAI:I think Morisaki’s a character who knew it was impossible to bring back the dead. But he couldn’t find any other purpose in living without looking for that, despite that. That’s how he chose to live for the last decade. So just as he did in the first classroom lesson, how it was impossible for Izanagi to bring his dead wife back, he understood this from the beginning. I think with all these little details and stories within it, if you watched it two or three more times I’m sure you’ll find more details. I do realize that there aren’t a lot of opportunities to see this film, but all I can do is apologize for that. The books inside the cave that she [Asuna] was storing things in was an air raid shelter in the war, so those were already there when she started using it for her own purposes. Those weren’t her books.
Q: I’ve noticed in your movies that there’s never just a clear sky or just a dark starfield. There is always a blue sky laced with a clouds, or aurora borealis at night, not to mention nebulas in space. I was just wondering if you had a fascination with the night sky?
MAKOTO SHINKAI:First of all, when you’re making animation, if you have only blue skies, it looks like you weren’t spending too much time animating. So I can’t help but add clouds in. (audience laughter) I have to say since I was little, I loved looking up in the sky. I grew up in the country, so at nighttime the stars were very clear. Now I see clouds all the time, but I still love looking at the sky. I can’t help it if I put as much detail into it as I can.
Q: [missed dialogue]
MAKOTO SHINKAI:…For example, there’s a scene where Shun kisses Asuna on the forehead. That moment when the kiss happens is the moment when the sun went behind the horizon, but the skies were still bright, and then her reaction. When you see her running down, it’s darker. So I really did pay attention to the passage of time and how that would affect the light in the scenes. So take a look at the movie and try to see differences in the use of the light.