When you think about Japanese animated movies, there are a few names that immediately spring to mind. Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki are high on that list, but so is Makoto Shinkai. To learn more about this exciting and relatively new anime creator, we’ve compiled Makoto Shinkai's best movies.
Note that this list is purely subjective, and solely based on the opinion of this particular Shinkai fan. I would urge you to explore his catalogue for yourself to discover even more hidden gems ahead of Suzume's international release!
About Makoto Shinkai
Born Makoto Niitsu, Shinkai is one of the leading animated film creators in Japan right now. He is most known for the film Your Name, which broke global box office records for a Japanese animated film in 2016.
Compared to many of anime’s most-known names, Shinkai is a new face on the scene. His first feature-length film was released in 2004, and he is said to have been inspired by well-known anime such as Studio Ghibli films and the Evangelion movies.
Many of his films are romance-led stories with a fantasy or sci-fi twist. The theme of distance is a common thread in much of his work, with that distance impacting the relationships between characters.
So, without further ado, here are some of Makoto Shinkai’s best films that you have to check out!
Weathering With You (2019)
Weathering With You was seen as the follow-up to Your Name, and while not as successful, the reception was still critically positive.
The story follows a runaway high school boy and orphan girl in a Tokyo that is being battered by extreme weather events. When the boy saves the girl, she reveals to him her ability to call forth sunshine through prayer.
The two of them work together to try and use her power to help the people of Tokyo, although the power ends up coming at a cost.
Weathering with You was particularly well received for its stunning visuals, especially the depiction of rain. While there are better narratives in Shinkai’s other films, this is still a cinematic treat.
The Garden of Words (2013)
For many, The Garden of Words represents Shinkai’s transition from indie films into big theatrical productions. Despite a runtime of just 46 minutes, this film has everything you would expect from a heartfelt anime romance.
The film primarily takes place in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, a public park that offers quiet refuge for a boy and a woman.
Takao Akizuki is an aspiring shoemaker who skips class to draw, while Yukari Yukino is a woman skipping work for her own reasons.
Hiding from the rain and the outside world together, the two bond over Takao’s passion for shoemaking.
The story explores a whole range of themes, with plenty of symbolism to discover and unpack.
One of the most prominent is the age difference between the two characters and how that influences their relationship, despite their similar issues.
Voices of a Distant Star (2002)
Voices of a Distant Star represents early Shinkai at his very best. While only 25 minutes long, the fact that this was written, directed, produced and even initially voiced by Shinkai himself makes this a must-watch.
The story follows a young boy and girl whose relationship is stretched when the girl is sent to fight in a war in space. The two continue to support each other through text messages, but as the girl gets further away, the messages take longer to arrive.
Eventually, their short text messages take years to reach each other. The film follows both of their lives as they progress while holding onto the remains of their love.
Voices of a Distant Star was made by Shinkai by himself over seven months, using the tools available at his main job with videogame company Falcom.
Initially, the film was voiced by Shinkai and his girlfriend, although later releases replaced them with professional voice actors.
This film is a perfect example of a master animation creator at work. Despite a shoestring production, the film has incredible scope and truly inventive and touching romance elements for which he would later be renowned.
The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004)
Off the back of Voices of a Distant Star, this film was Shinkai’s first major production, with a full team helping to create a feature-length release.
The Place Promised in Our Early Days takes place in a Japan that has been split in half by Soviet occupation of Hokkaido in Japan’s north.
Two boys and a girl live close to the border and become fascinated by a giant tower built on the Soviet side.
The three of them promise to visit the tower one day, but when the girl mysteriously vanishes, the boys' friendship grows distant. Years later, mysteries around the tower resurface which link to the girl’s disappearance.
Out of all of Shinkai’s major films, this is probably the least romantically inclined. However, it’s a fantastic example of Shinkai’s ability to wrap universal themes of friendship and love around a mind-bending (and almost psychedelic) science-fiction plot.
5 Centimetres Per Second (2007)
Personally, this is my favourite Shinkai film.
While 5 Centimetres Per Second's plot doesn’t have the same weight as our number 1 choice, this is the best example of Shinkai’s ability to weave interesting narratives into touching human stories.
The film takes place over three ‘episodes’, each a stage in the life of Takaki Tōno.
In the first part, Takaki makes a long journey to see his best friend Akari Shinohara and confess his love for her before he moves away. The second part follows Kanae Sumida, a girl at Takaki’s new school who has fallen in love with him, despite his distant nature.
The third part follows Takaki, now an adult in Tokyo, as he tries to process the feelings that remain from his childhood. Meanwhile, Akari prepares for her upcoming marriage.
The title comes from the speed at which cherry blossoms fall to earth, which is representative of human life in Japan.
This is one of Shinkai’s most realistic works, with no fantasy or sci-fi elements. However, 5 Centimetres Per Second still maintains that wistful charm that creates magic in itself.
Your Name (2016)
There’s no hiding from it – Your Name is a fantastic film. While other films of Shinkai’s may be better on the eye or have a better story, none are as complete as this.
Your Name follows Taki, a boy living in Tokyo, and Mitsuha, a girl living in the countryside, who mysteriously start to swap bodies.
The two of them start to fall in love, helping each other and leaving messages for when they swap back.
When the body-swapping suddenly ends, Taki is determined to find Mitsuha in real life. However, he soon discovers the true nature of what was happening to them was much more than he expected.
Your Name is very likely to be remembered as Shinkai’s magnum opus. The film showcases his excellent touch for both romance and science-fiction anime alongside vivid animation and an excellent soundtrack.
Of course, this list is always subject to change! Who knows, maybe the upcoming Suzume no Tojimari will be his best yet?