In the steps of a hero: Makoto Shinkai
Watch out Hayao Miyazaki, you've got some serious, new competition
Hailed as the new Hayao Miyazaki, Makoto Shinkai is one of the brightest new stars of Japanese animation.
His new film, A Chain of Short Stories About their Distance, is now available on DVD. The animated feature comprises three related stories about young love and loss. This is Shinkai in his element - visual poetry that is widely imaginative, achingly beautiful and melancholic.
The young animator was born in 1973 in Nagano Prefecture and studied literature at university. He had developed a passion for animation and manga at high school, when he came across his favourite Miyazaki film Castle in the Sky.
A passionate animator, he spent seven years working on his first short, She and Her Cat, which tells a touching story about the relationship between a cat and a young woman from the perspective of the feline. The monochrome short won the grand prize at the 2000 DoGA CG Animation contest.
Shinkai's breakthrough short, Voices of a Distant Star, is a futuristic love story about two teenagers separated by time and space. This success was followed by the feature-length The Place Promised in Our Early Days, which was released in Japan in November 2004. The critically acclaimed animated feature won several awards in Japan, Korea and North America.
His latest project doesn't feature fantasy or science fiction elements. Instead, the animation maverick enlivens a common anime topic: a poignant tale about first love and growing up.
The first episode Okasho (Cherry Blossom Extract) portrays the friendship between Takaki and Akari, primary school students who are separated when Akari's parents move for work.
It is a simple tale about friendship. There is a dream-like quality to every scene, conveying the possibility of romance.
The second episode Cosmonaut takes place a few years later and is told from the perspective of Takaki's class mate Kanae.
More energetic and less contemplative than Okasho, it not only explores the issue of unrequited love, but also looks at the insecurities faced by teenagers who are uncertain about their future.
The final chapter, Byosoku 5 Centimeter, sees the three characters going their separate ways after graduation. Akari is about to get married, while Takaki, fresh from another heartbreak, remains single.
Accompanied by the catchy theme song One More Time, One More Chance, the chapter ends on a bittersweet note.
Shinkai is not yet as well known as Miyazaki, but he has proved himself a worthy successor.