No, Shinkai is NOT the new Miyazaki

Only good news has been heard about the movie Kimi no na wa. For example, it has passed the 20 billion yen mark. It’s being considered for an Oscar nomination, which is amazing since Americans have really shit taste in what they watch (at least Spotlight was great). RADWIMPS is even getting in on the glory, with their song being on the top of ratings. Due to Kimi no na wa.’s seemingly endless hype train, which only seems even more ascertained since the movie has just hit Indonesian theaters (which also means “get ready for the cancer”), there are also some who are equating Shinkai to the glorious godfather, Hayao “Anime was a mistake” Miyazaki. This hype is not unjustified; Kimi no na wa. has indeed trumped over two of Miyazaki’s highest grossing filmsKaze ga Tachinu and Ponyo.

However, is Shinkai really the new Miyazaki? More importantly, should we think that Shinkai is even close to Miyazaki? My stance on that is no, Shinkai is NOT the new Miyazaki.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to get lynched by a bunch of Shinkai fans (both newcomers and serious masochists who have watched his previous works). I’ll just make myself safe by saying that I have also been a fan of Shinkai and have watched most of his works. In fact, Byousoku 5cm was one of my favorite movies. I’m also a Miyazaki fan, with Graves of the Fireflies and Kamikakushi also being in my list of favorite movies. Also, I don’t intend on shitting on Kimi no na wa. I think I made it clear that I enjoyed the movie as much as the next guy.

Also, I should make clear that I’m not intending to take a shit on both Shinkai and Miyazaki. Both of them have my respect for being professional storytellers. However, I believe that the two cannot be put on the same pedestal. Miyazaki is Miyazaki, and Shinkai is Shinkai. Though both may be storytellers or even animators, both should be considered as unique individuals with different backgrounds. And as such, the themes that their movies bring are also different. I emphasize on themes here. In a nutshell, Shinkai shouldn’t be equated with Miyazaki because their movies serve different purposes. One tries to appeal to modern Japanese youth, while the other tries to convey social commentary.

Look, Kimi no na wa. was a great movie. Even Shinkai’s previous works, such as Hoshi no aru kodomo and Kotonoha no niwa were stunningly awesome in terms of graphics. Shinkai, indeed, is a capable storyteller and animator. However, when we consider the themes that Shinkai has brought to us over the years, it’s always the same: a story of romance that will never be, with a dash of supernatural phenomena or science fiction or even Japanese literature or even nothing special. Of course, Kimi no na wa. broke the “unrequited love” theme that we’ve come to expect from Shinkai, but it nonetheless tells us a story of youthful romance being interfered (and later brought back together) by a sci-fi/spiritual phenomenon. In some aspects, he is more like Haruki Murakami than he is to Hayao Miyazaki. Shinkai’s works simply appeal to the popular masses with little social commentary in it.

But does it really do anything beyond providing 90 minutes of wishful release?

Compare that to Miyazaki’s works. Miyazaki’s works tend to reflect his stance on socio-political conditions that Japan is experiencing. Some major themes that Miyazaki has touched upon include the role of women in society, anti-war or liberalism, and environmentalism. Nausicaa brought these three major themes together in one feature-length animation that was simply superb. In Nausicaa, women from across the spectrum (ugly to beautiful, peasant to princess, young to old) contributed to the progress of the communities in the Nausicaa universe. The environmentalism was also strongly evident in Miyazaki’s interpretation of the Gaia hypothesis. Finally, the protagonist, Nausicaa, was strongly against the use of force unless desperately necessary. Nausicaa’s non-violence was also shown even when she was faced with those bugs that protected the forests.

Another type of commentary is visible in Kaze ga Tachinu, which was basically an animated biography of the inventor of the Zero planes. The movie came out in 2013, which was right during a period when Japan was finally starting to think about their post-war identity. On one hand, there’s Shinzo Abe and the conservative right-wings pushing for a return to the traditional facade of empire and glorious Dai-Nippon; on the other hand, you have the normal Japanese public who believe the current pacifist stance is good enough. In other words, Japan was basically having identity issues. What Kaze ga Tachinu tacitly tried to convey was this particular message:

We may have had a war-ridden history, but that doesn’t mean we have to return to it. It is time to come to terms with our past and make sure not to repeat the same mistake for a better future.

The portrayal of the Zero inventor, Jiro Horikoshi, as being an optimist-turned-downer after discovering that his planes were being used to kill his fellow Japanese (by literally flying them to their deaths) and other people conveyed a strong yet subtle message

Interestingly, in the same year, a live-action feature called The Eternal Zero, was released. This movie could be considered the anti-thesis to Miyazaki’s Kaze ga Tachinu. It took a more conservative view of the Zero pilots who were killed in the war by glorifying the Imperial Japanese military. It was also a convincing feature which represented the views of the conservative end of the political spectrum.

So what’s my conclusion on this? The stark differences between these two storytellers should be taken into consideration before we even consider equating them. Both operate in different realms — Shinkai in the world of romantic depression; Miyazaki in the world of politics and philosophical expression. Shinkai goes for the popular vote and tries to make his content as relatable as possible (not that it’s bad or anything; it’s his right to do whatever he wants), while Miyazaki doesn’t mind shitting on things he deems necessary to be shat upon. As such, Shinkai is NOT the new Miyazaki. Both have their own place in the ever-expanding spectrum of anime creators.

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