Today marks the beginning of Global Shinkai Day, an online weekend festival celebrating the works of anime auteur Makoto Shinkai. The commemoration first started last year at this same time by fan site Cherry Blossoms Falling and Crunchyroll, who streamed his first three major works for free. It became a substantial hit and makes it return tonight at 5 PM PST (8 PM EST). Once again, they will be available for free viewing until 8 PM PST (8 PM EST) Sunday. All of the features will be available in Japanese with English subtitles, though a dubbed version of 5 centimeters per second will also be present. [Correction: Scratch that, the dub was initially present, but was taken off a few hours later without any given reason.]
Voices of a Distant Star (2002)
This half-hour feature put Makoto Shinkai on the map. Though he had made various shorts prior to it, Voices of a Distant Star was his first fully-fledged work, but what made it so noteworthy was that he made it entirely by himself (except the score, which Tenmon produced and has done so for all of his other work to this present). It was also originally voiced by himself and his wife (who has helped him in later works), but the version presented here was handled by professional voice actors. It is a deep and beautifully animated piece reminiencent of the '80s masterpiece Gunbuster that explores the distance between two young lovers, a reoccuring theme in many of Shinkai's stories.
The place promised in our early days (2004)
Shinkai's first full-featured film (though technically divided into four episodes) is perhaps his most praised work. The focal point of "distance" is still present, but this time it involves a love triangle between two best friends and the mutual female friend that both of them like. Like Voices, their tale is told against a sci-fi/war background (with planes involved rather than mecha), and yet, it is even more gorgeous and unique than its predecessor. Thanks to that title's success, Place was staffed with other animators besides Shinkai to help make it. But in the spirit of his breakout hit, he still had a hand in virtually every aspect of the film, from direction and writing, to 3D work and photography (and even the ending theme lyrics!).
ANN Link, CoMix Wave Link
5 centimeters per second (2007)
The most recent work of Makoto Shinkai was yet another beloved, award-winning piece. An hour long and separated into three "episodes," 5 centimeters per second takes the "distance" theme and both makes it the central theme and takes it to another level. Unlike the previous two, 5cm is based more in the realm of reality than in science fiction save for the middle section, which still has a tinge of the "other" subject that Shinkai loves to dip into. On the flip side, unlike Voices and Place, 5cm is currently out-of-print in North America after ADV Films lost it and many other titles in the wake of the Sojitz fallout. It remains in limbo, but Japanese producer/distributor CoMix Wave financed a new dub by Bang Zoom! that was debuted for last year's event. I recently learned that this dub is apparently being used by Australian distributor Madman for their region's release, but it appears that ADV's old dub (widely considered to be a masterpiece) may remain lost to the ages like the company that once held its license (though it should not be hard to find it on YouTube and elsewhere). Personally, it is my favorite work of his and it is one of the best anime I have ever seen--which is saying a lot, given my short list and selectivity on such praise). Like his other masterworks, it is punctuated by excellent animation, acting (especially on the Japanese side), and score, most notably the use of background songs and the primary theme, "One more time, One more chance" by Masayoshi Yamazaki. Much of the same staff is currently at work on Shinkai's next feature to-be-named.
Makoto Shinkai's Personal Site
Chief Site of Shinkai's Work