Makoto Shinkai and Hayao Miyazaki have vastly different directorial styles, but soon they’ll have a connection that’s unique among anime creators.
While anime is definitely a bigger deal in Japan than anywhere else, it’s still not entirely a mainstream hobby in its home country. Sure, certain kid/family-friendly franchises like Dragon Ball or Doraemon have become part of the nation’s shared pop cultural heritage, but for the most part, anime exists in a love-it or hate-it, or at least not-care-about-it, corner of the entertainment landscape.
That’s why the amazing success of director Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name has taken so many people by surprise. Sure, Shinkai had built up a fanbase with his visually breathtaking, emotionally charged approach to animated storytelling, but it was primarily made up of people who were also anime fans in general.
Your Name, though, has been the highest-grossing movie in Japanese theaters every week since its release on August 26, and even with its premiere coming after the end of Japan’s summer vacation, it’s performed well enough to become the top earner of any domestically produced film this year. As of September 20, Your Name’s box office total stands at slightly more than 9.1 billion yen (US$88.3 million).
With the film still getting plenty of positive buzz from critics and audiences alike, it’s looking almost certain that Your Name will blow past the 10 billion-yen mark before long, which will make Shinkai part of a very exclusive group. The only other anime director to have a film break 10 billion yen at the box office?
The Studio Ghibli co-founder has seen his projects surpass 10 billion in earnings five times, most recently with his feature film swan song The Wind Rises, and most dramatically with the Academy Award-winning Spirited Away, which remains Japan’s highest-grossing theatrical feature ever at 30.4 billion yen in receipts.
With the high-water mark set so high, it’ll be virtually impossible for Shinkai to match Miyazaki’s most commercially successful film. Still, when Your Name passes 10 billion yen, it’ll be a landmark day for anime as a medium, and with another Japanese animated film, A Silent Voice, premiering at number two in earnings last week, it could be a sign of more theatrical anime hits to come.
Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’s glad to see his ticket purchase helping Your Name make anime history.