Shinkai seeks global success for film that conquered Japan

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Busan (South Korea) (AFP)

Makoto Shinkai's animated hit "Your Name" has conquered Japan. Now the director hopes the world will fall for its charms.

"It is a unique film and has been a unique sensation," said Shinkai, speaking before his film screened at the 21st Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) in South Korea, the premier event of its kind in Asia.

"It's hard for us to believe that it's been viewed by more than 10 million people in Japan -- mostly the young generation -- and hopefully we can see the same result around the world."

"Your Name" is a touching fantasy-romance set around the lives of two high school students who swap bodies when they dream, and who try to alter history.

It has topped the box office charts in Japan for the past six weeks, with a total take coming into the weekend of $126 million, according to industry figures. That's moved the film past "Godzilla Resurgence" as the number one box office hit in Japan this year.

Shinkai believes the film has tapped into emotions still raw in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami disasters of 2011 that claimed an estimated 16,000 lives.

"They took away the lives of so many people and they changed everyone in Japan," said Shinkai.

"The wish afterwards was that we could all live longer, and so this film's biggest motivation was to reflect these dreams of the Japanese nation. Life means so much more to us now."

Shinkai's film has now passed the $119 million made by "The Wind Rises" (2013), the last full-length production directed by the now-retired animation master Hayao Miyazaki.

Miyazaki was responsible for the Oscar-winning "Spirited Away" (2001), the film that remains Japan's all-time biggest earner with around $290 million in global box office takings.

Since the 75-year-old left his director's chair in 2013, fans across the globe have been waiting for a successor to emerge.

The 43-year-old Shinkai certainly fits the bill, having found previous acclaim -- although on a far smaller scale -- with the likes of the romantic fantasy "Children Who Chase Lost Voices' (2011).

"I am always being compared to Mr Miyazaki but at this stage of my career I am still learning about how I can connect with the audience, especially the young audience -- and I think I have a long way to go," said Shinkai.

"Your Name" is the first non-Miyazaki animation to top the $100 million barrier in Japan and its distribution rights have been sold to more than 80 countries, including the United States.

Festivals such as BIFF are testing the international waters for Shinkai’s production before its general global release, expected to begin in January.

Tickets to the three screenings of "Your Name" in Busan sold out in minutes, according to festival organisers.

"Your Name" has been a cultural sensation in Japan. The story was lifted from the pages of a successful manga novel of the same name written by Shinkai and fans flocked to take selfies at the sites which were re-imaged in the film in the director's small home town of Koumi in Nagano prefecture. Other scenes were shot in Gifu prefecture and the capital Tokyo.

BIFF will screen around 300 films during its 10-day run and continues until Saturday.