Makoto Shinkai – “Someone’s Gaze” Short Film Review

(Someone’s Gaze [ENG SUB]—unofficial YouTube upload)

Makoto Shinkai (Director) – Someone’s Gaze

Reviewed on January 29, 2019

dareka-no-manazashi

Nonetheless, amidst all of the praise towards the created mood and realism Someone’s Gaze brings, there is a consistent critique: length. The film is too short. On the one hand, I can see why that singular aspect is troublesome. In my view, though, length itself is irrelevant. However, once we account for a film’s duration potentially affecting, for example, character development, we can now see where the negativity towards Someone’s Gaze stems from. That said, I disagree with that critique. I argue Shinkai’s Someone’s Gaze should, first of all, be gauged on its merit; we, as critical viewers, need to look beyond length and raw entertainment.

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Film Score: 7/10 – “Above average”

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Returning After Seven Months

Perhaps the following is a purposeful underestimation, but this post will mark the end to a seven-month hiatus I took from writing reviews. There are a lot of thoughts I have and although I do wish to share them, I do wish for the review itself to remain the priority. If anything, a more personal post can be made later. However, for those curious—and for those who still even check back to this blog—I did make the decision to temporarily put aside writing reviews. Due to the toll schoolwork began to have on me and then juggling student-teaching a few months later, it was not realistic to allocate time to writing reviews. In fact, there are some permanent choices I have made along the past months: The biggest one is probably that I will seldom subtitle videos. Exceptions will exist from time to time, but that additional hobby has been erased. (My YouTube channel will, obviously, still remain open for the sake of older videos. But, I plan to use it to now mainly upload snippets of films I will review—though give or take copyright issues may affect this plan.)

Back on topic, however, some readers might now be curious on why this particular post exists if I am supposedly too busy. And that is where the difficult answer comes in: I have prematurely paused my student-teaching and will instead focus on graduating with my degrees and focus on teaching licensure in a future date—if at all. Personally, I was struggling with a sense of academic burn out and combined with feeling overwhelmed and, on many occasions, feeling hopeless, I truly needed a break. I definitely am not proud that I could not just push through, but I think my experience should be a reminder: We all have different limits and paces, and that is fine.

In terms of how this news relates to the blog in general, I still am indeed incredibly busy but I will plan to write a few reviews here and there. Will there ever be a consistent schedule again? I cannot promise that at all. But I do know that I personally wish to get back into more informal writing and to continue practicing my writing—audience or not.

Before Returning to K-Pop Reviews

As for K-Pop reviews, while I am updated with recent releases and am still fairly tuned into recent K-Pop news and incidents, I will not be reviewing songs for quite some time. On the drastic side, it might even be a few months before I review K-Pop songs again. Instead, I simply wish to share and review what I have been engaged with recently: Webtoon “graphic novels” (or “comics” depending on one’s interpretation) and many Japanese animation films. Given that, for example, I plan to review around 25 or so Webtoon graphic novels and am currently working on 3 other film reviews, this queue will push aside K-Pop reviews for quite some time. Of course, though, I will throw in variety and thus a song might be reviewed amidst the other scheduled reviews.

Current Reception of Makoto Shinkai’s Someone’s Gaze

Finally focusing on the review at hand, current receptions to the short animation are—generally—very positive. Nonetheless, amidst all of the praise towards the created mood and realism Someone’s Gaze brings, there is a consistent critique: length. The film is too short. On the one hand, I can see why that singular aspect is troublesome. In my view, though, length itself is irrelevant. However, once we account for a film’s duration potentially affecting, for example, character development, we can now see where the negativity towards Someone’s Gaze stems from. That said, I disagree with that critique. I argue Shinkai’s Someone’s Gaze should, first of all, be gauged on its merit; we, as critical viewers, need to look beyond length and raw entertainment. Additionally, we should even look beyond the emotional appeal: Even if I did sincerely shed repulsive amounts of tears and snot, we still need to analyze the film itself versus the fact that I was bawling in only approximately 5 minutes. Once we focus on the film itself, then will we finally find—in my argument—the exceptional strengths to it.

Plot Summary

            Before hopping into my counterargument towards current critics that claim the short length hinders the film, let me first give a general outline to the film. Due to the nature of this review, while I will try to minimize spoilers, there will inevitably be some revealing information. Readers desiring to watch the film in a genuine experience should in fact do so before reading the rest of this review. Warnings aside, the plot is simple. Some might even dare say the plot is too simple.

The film focuses on the Okamura family and has an omniscient narrator. Later as viewers will learn, the narrator—while having an omniscient role—is not an abstract, literary narrator at all but is discovered to be a certain character. Her role as narrator, though, involves clueing in viewers to the Okamura family’s life. We learn that Aya, a single daughter, is now a young adult living independently from her parents. However, we see a core tension playing throughout the film: Does time—or better yet, simply maturing—bring permanent changes to a person’s life values, or are there some values that are indeed everlasting regardless of how much time passes? In short, then, Someone’s Gaze is a short animation about Aya’s journey into adulthood and the role family plays throughout her life as a little girl to her now being a matured, hardworking woman.

Looking Past Length

As many critics have argued, the shorter length to the film is detrimental. And indeed: there are some compelling points to be made here. For example, some viewers may claim that due to the film being set at only approximately 7 minutes, there is simply a shortage of being able to understand and grasp the film’s own setting. Where does the animation take place? Timeline? Moreover, there are sincere concerns for character development due to the shorter duration. Are we, as viewers, able to obtain a sense of who Aya is—aspects such as her ambitions, personality, and perhaps her own struggles? How about her family and more importantly, her relationship among her parents? Reiterating what these critics have said, a majority of them are on the pessimistic side: No, viewers simply do not have the time needed to truly understand the significance of the characters, the setting itself, and any conflicts that arise.

I, however, would challenge those notions. First, let us focus on the sheer setting itself. When it comes to Someone’s Gaze’s setting, it is true that there are some limitations. For example, as viewers we never discover the exact year the plot takes place nor do we even have any accurate sense of the events that occur—examples including when time shifts between Aya moving out, her father’s invitation for dinner, or even when a certain character passes away. However, what I urge us to evaluate here is this question: Does it truly matter with needing to know specific details to the setting? If this were, say, Your Name (another film I plan to review), then certainly time and dates play a very significant role. But in Someone’s Gaze, the level of scrutiny placed in the setting along is unwarranted and reaps no benefits whatsoever. What matters is that viewers are able to track that time changes in the film; as long as there is a sense of Aya maturing as an adult and discovering her personal values, then how much time passes matters less than viewers being able to identify the “what” element that time itself does progress. It could be days, weeks, months—even years. None of the specificity matters as long as viewers understand time changes, and indeed, Shinkai ensures viewers are able to easily follow such through the use of flashbacks, changing the portrayal of Aya’s apartment room, and so forth.

Regarding that there is not enough time for character development to occur, this is another point I would contest. Despite being shorter than 10 minutes, the film skillfully covers Aya’s history. Now certainly it is not necessarily in depth; in fact, we can summarize her background of growing up as purely one of receiving boundless love and joy—indeed, this is an overly simplified take to anyone’s life. But, nonetheless, the character development for Aya exists: We see her struggle with adapting to an independent lifestyle; we see her varying, experimental perspectives on the role of parents; we even see her own treatment towards her cat change over the years. Much of this coverage, though, can be credited to a technique Shinkai relies upon: Good ol’ fashioned narration. Without intending any negative connotation in the following statement, Shinkai truly does rely upon a rather rudimentary form of storytelling to help bridge in potential gaps viewers might have. Questions we have of Aya are answered directly by the narrator; she—the narrator—after all, does explain Aya’s growth from girlhood to womanhood and even explains the internal convictions Aya establishes throughout the years.

Other Strengths to the Film

With now having personally dismantled current critiques—or at least I attempted to—we will now turn our attention towards other, general praises I have for the short film. Something I find compelling in what is seemingly a mundane, slice-of-life animation is the element of tension and that it homes in on specific conflicts. In fact, especially for students who read this blog, the idea of looking for tensions and conflicts is a vital skill not only in the language arts field; this skill is valuable in any discipline and career—and as a critical, growing person. As long as a tension exists—even if it is nothing dramatic per se—it is enough to drive storytelling and, if it is a relevant tension, such a tension will draw in audience members into caring for what has to be explored.

Indeed, for Someone’s Gaze, there are various tensions at play and many of which are questions all of us have asked as we age through this world: What is the balance between growing up and living independently; what is the role of family as everyone ages; what are some timeless traditions to hold onto in an increasingly evolving technological world; how does one jump the gap between childhood to adulthood—and in fact, is there even a clear distinction between the two? Although there are numerous tensions to draw upon, what I find worth appreciating is that Shinkai specifically attempts to address the overarching topic of simply the change one experiences from childhood to adulthood. Even if, as seen, that topic can be broken down into smaller, more precise questions and conflicts, that topic in of itself is at least the general, driving force from which viewers can work from.

Especially when comparing Someone’s Gaze to, say, Wolf Children (another Japanese animation film), we can begin seeing the importance of focusing on specific tensions versus scattering viewer’s thoughts all over. In Wolf Children—and I do plan to review it eventually—while it touches upon many crucial topics ranging from single-parenting to social isolation to the struggle of finding one’s identity, I boldly argue that the film fails to dive in deeply enough on any of those tensions. To use an analogy, it is far better—in the case of films—to dig deeper versus digging more frequently. For Shinkai’s short film, he does exactly that: Rather than beginning the process of digging hundreds of holes, he instead only digs a few but each hole is now far deeper than Wolf Children’s direction of valuing quantity over depth. (And for a side note, another film I plan to review that equally is guilty of “quantity over depth” is Light of the Firefly Forest. That film had so much potential to explore the physicality to romance and how time and distance affects romance and yet it—again, in my opinion—failed to bring more insightful discussions and instead opted to focus on other, various themes and topics.)

Aspects Critics Should Focus On

Despite all the praises I have for the short film, however, there are still noticeable flaws. I will focus on the one that I believe does actually hinder the film—and I am surprised it has not been the true focus of the film as much as the shorter length. The issue I am referring to is an overly cliché phrase far too many use in the academic realm—even if, yes, it is wise: “Show; don’t tell.”

Given that the film needed to rely on an explicit, detail-spewing narrator for the sake of clarity and time constraints, this strategy does come with its drawback. True in writing and in film, one of the reasons for why observing key details is preferred over narrators outright giving explicit details is for allowing audience members to have a sense of progression and interpretation. There is unequivocally a difference between me stating, “Aya felt bad for talking poorly of her parents and, as a result, matured from this experience” to the film itself showcasing step-by-step the actions Aya took and how her actions would then reflect over her changed attitudes. In fact, additional gleanings could happen that an explicit narrator strips away—more so if the narrator is seen as the “objective” view. Thus, the narration in the film, even if needed and understandable, is something I find that interferes with being able to truly see Aya’s personal maturity. At the very least, it seems that Shinkai attempts to minimizes the narration’s harm by pairing up the narration with scenes that do some “showing”—but then again, it begs this question: Why include the narration and therefore an imposed interpretation in the first place if the scenes themselves could have done the “showing” independently? Drawing upon the scene where Aya does snicker about her parents with her friends only to then later cook a meal for them due to her own personal guilt, the narrator was not necessary at that moment and it would have been far more effective to have those scenes play out in of themselves. (And on the positive side, Shinkai’s other film, Garden of Words, actually experiments with not just a lack of an omniscient narrator, but with minimal dialogue at all. Garden of Words, then, would be a prime example of why it is critical to allow viewers to have a mental space to breathe and ponder over their own thoughts.)

The Verdict

In the end, I highly recommend watching the film. If I have not convinced you to watch it yet, then consider this: It is only 7 minutes. At worst it means no longer having the time for a snack; at best, it means watching a meaningful film that, in turn, provides a chance to reflect over one’s own maturity. That said, I will warn that this film should be watched privately and with tissues nearby—and if pets are nearby, then to give them tight hugs as they question your eccentric behavior. Or maybe that was just me. Jokes aside, even if Someone’s Gaze depicts a traditional family, the short film’s reminder of the importance of love—both giving and receiving—and of the importance of family in whatever capacity that may be for every individual is something to always bear in mind. Those two factors, it seems, will forever be timeless in our lives no matter how old we get or how technologically advanced societies become.

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