Anime director Makoto Shinkai has had quite a journey in his career. He started making indie animated short films, which were his creations. These early projects might seem like small, personal endeavors, but they become even more meaningful when you look at them alongside his later work.
What’s impressive is how Shinkai transitioned from these independent projects to directing some of the most fantastic anime films, like Your Name. If you compare his early and later works, you’ll notice significant differences in how they were made. But what ties them together are the themes that run through both phases of his career.
In essence, every Shinkai film, even the less remembered ones, holds a real and important connection to the others in his filmography. Understanding this context adds depth to each of his creations.
Best Makoto Shinkai Anime Movies
1. Voices of a Distant Star (2002)
Voices of a Distant Star is often considered Makoto Shinkai’s first major anime, especially since he primarily worked on short projects before this. Even though this anime is short, just 25 minutes, it stands out in production compared to Shinkai’s earlier works.
The story revolves around Shinkai’s recurring theme of lovers dealing with immense distances keeping them apart. In this case, we have a mecha pilot fighting aliens in an interstellar war, and the challenge is reflected in the time it takes for text messages to reach his partner as he moves farther from Earth.
What makes this film unique is that Shinkai mostly self-produced it. From writing and directing to animation and even voice acting, he took on multiple roles, making it a remarkable passion project early in his directorial journey.
Since it was independently made, it might lack the polish of his later films, but it’s a fascinating starting point in Shinkai’s filmography.
2. The Place Promised In Our Early Days (2004)
The Place Promised In Our Early Days marks Shinkai’s first attempt at a full-length anime film.
It unfolds in an alternate history of Japan, blending fantasy and sci-fi elements. The story revolves around three students teaming up to construct an airship, aiming to reach a mysterious tower beyond an impassable border.
This film hints at the romance and supernatural aspects that would become staples in Shinkai’s later creations. However, being an earlier piece, it doesn’t quite match the effectiveness of some of his later works.
The animation is grainier than the smoother, high-budget quality in films like Your Name. The background and art direction aren’t as captivating as those in 5 Centimeters Per Second. While it’s intriguing as a stepping stone in Shinkai’s filmography, it may feel slightly less refined than his successful films.
3. 5 Centimeters Per Second (2007)
5 Centimeters Per Second is the movie that brought Shinkai into the spotlight for anime fans worldwide.
As a more seasoned filmmaker, this film shows a significant leap in skill. Shinkai’s distinctive background art can shine here with more polished character designs and animations. The themes of longing between separated lovers are handled with a refined elegance that we hadn’t seen before.
Comparing it to The Place Promised In Our Early Days and Voice of Distant Star, it feels like a step forward. Shinkai faced challenges early in his career, but this film is one of his most impactful and globally praised works.
Beyond that, it’s simply a fantastic movie. The moody color choices and atmospheric settings set it apart from Your Name, which has a more vibrant and energetic palette. These elements complement the film’s lonely and melancholic tone exceptionally well.
4. Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011)
In Children Who Chase Lost Voices, the main character encounters a creature resembling a robot from Castle in the Sky.
This movie stands out among Shinkai’s works. While many of his films touch on supernatural themes, like Your Name and Weathering With You, they often balance this with a realistic urban setting. However, children Who Chase Lost Voices takes a different route and feels more like an adult fantasy story you’d find in a Studio Ghibli film, especially one by Hayao Miyazaki.
Critics have often compared it to Ghibli, not always in a positive light. These comparisons became even more common with the release of Your Name. But let’s be real: no one can quite capture Miyazaki’s magic like Miyazaki himself.
The film’s resemblance to Ghibli classics, particularly Laputa: Castle In The Sky, might make it less remembered than other Shinkai films.
5. The Garden of Words (2013)
The Garden of Words is a brief love story between 5 Centimeters Per Second and Your Name.
Due to its shorter length, it doesn’t aim for the dramatic heights that some other fan favorites do. However, despite its smaller scale, it works well, and the two main characters, brought together by chance, feel authentic and heartfelt.
As expected, the artwork and animation in The Garden of Words are nothing short of amazing. Although the shorter runtime limits the number of locations, each is crafted with such beauty and detail that the film boasts an impressive backdrop.
The character dramas are also more intricate here, which is a refreshing change since some of Shinkai’s other films have tended to portray characters in broader strokes.
6. Your Name (2016)
Your Name became a global sensation, earning widespread critical acclaim and dominating the Japanese box office. It quickly climbed the ranks to become one of the highest-grossing anime films in Japanese cinema history.
While Shinkai’s earlier works had their share of praise, Your Name took things to a new level. The film’s success garnered international attention, ensuring that fans and critics would eagerly anticipate whatever he worked on next.
And it’s no surprise why the film struck such a chord. It nailed the emotional moments, kept the plot engaging with well-executed twists, and boasted stunning visuals and music. Your Name is perhaps the most enjoyable film in Shinkai’s body of work.
7. Weathering With You (2019)
Weathering With You is Shinkai’s newest film, often seen as a spiritual successor to the hugely popular Your Name.
People frequently compare the two movies because they share similar looks, themes, and a positive vibe. However, perhaps due to these similarities, Weathering With You didn’t reach the same heights in critical and commercial success as Your Name.
Even though it is a successful and well-liked film, following up on the phenomenon that was Your Name is undoubtedly tough.
Weathering With You is still a very good film; some argue it has advantages over its predecessor. While comparisons are bound to happen, Weathering With You might lack the intense drama and surprising twists of its forerunners, but it does present a more intimate and, at times, more effective portrayal of its main character.
8. Suzume no Tojimari (2022)
Makoto Shinkai’s new film, which will be released in 2022.