Recent years have seen a growing number of films challenge what American animation can encompass, from the “Spider-Verse” movies to the work of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” director Jeff Rowe. It’s something Shinaki has become keenly aware of as he seeks to help Japanese animators (himself included) “expand our worldwide audience and footprint,” as he told Bibbiani. That said, he feels it’s important that animators also retain the cultural nuances of their work.
“I think very much what I do is rooted in Japanese culture, and I think it’s important to cherish what cannot be localized because it feels like there’s something there,” he explained, citing this as the key to standing out in the worldwide animation industry:
“Because you look at companies like Disney or Pixar and they’re already doing the super multicultural, something that it’s for everyone, all audiences, all ages [type of filmmaking], and very intentionally done so. In order to almost differentiate or value add in a different way, I think it’s important for us to bring in these subtle nuances that almost cannot be localized, but people still find engaging. So I think regardless of what I do in the future, I will continue to have that in my mind as I create new films.”
Speaking to Shinkai’s point, it’s possible to enjoy a film like “Suzume” without fully grasping its references to Japanese history. At the same time, it’s elements like these (combined with their unique aesthetic sensibilities) that allow the likes of Shinkai and Miyazaki to continue standing out, even as their American competitors aspire to carve out a larger slice of the global box office pie for themselves. Up-and-coming animators would do well to heed Shinkai’s words.
“Suzume” is now streaming on Crunchyroll.