A reflection on your name., its successes, and its meaning.
This article will contain minor spoilers for the film your name (or, if you prefer, Kimi no Na wa).
It's difficult to say exactly what makes your name. such an enchanting film. I have some ideas, though. First off, there’s Makoto Shinkai's really excellent editing, RADWIMPS' memorable soundtrack, Masashi Ando and Tanaka Masayoshi's soft character designs, and the easy charm the script imbues into the movie's lead and supporting characters. And then, there’s how, out of the potent blend of the film’s sekai-kei-type story and its many contemporary concerns, a remarkably single-minded movie arises. Metaphorically, it's much like the braided cord that ties lead characters Mitsuha and Taki together across the distance between them; in film criticism terms, your name. simply knows what it is and what it is trying to do—and, most importantly, how to do it.
As you may have guessed, I like your name. quite a lot. I was lucky enough to see it twice in theaters (subbed both times, for those curious), and if it's still showing the next time I have a free weeknight or weekend evening, I'd happily go see it again. I've bought the OST (a physical version because I'm old-fashioned like that), and I'm really eagerly awaiting the chance to watch it on BD at home.
And yet, I don't think I'll ever consider your name. a favorite of mine. I was moved by the film both times I saw it, and I think it's gorgeous to look at, and easily rewatchable, but it just didn't hit those buttons for me that my favorites do. I'm not even sure it's my favorite Shinkai work, let alone my favorite thing in its genre. But when I think about this movie, those sorts of personal preferences somehow don't dominate my headspace like I'd expect. Instead, your name. has transcended my preferences and become something more to me. Something bigger than just my individual experience with the film. Something I can't tie down by only thinking about it through my personal lens. Something I feel is important.
In short, your name. is a film I want to show to everyone I know.
Making Anime Accessible
Basically, there are two reasons (although each of them has their fair share of sub-points) why I think your name. makes me feel this way, and both of them involve the aspects of the context of the film. But before we get there, I think it’s essential to mention the all-important characteristic that makes both of those ways of thinking possible: The simple fact that your name. is delightfully accessible.
If you think about it, "I want to show this movie to everyone I can," is not really a typical emotion to feel about something. Even just considering my favorite anime, there are plenty of shows that, although I love them, I don't want to show to most people for various reasons—whether it be the inclusion of overt fanservice or just plain weirdness. But aside from the thrice-repeated moment of Taki clutching at him-as-Mitsuha's chest, your name. is almost completely free of anime’s most off-putting quirks.
The results of this accessibility are readily apparent for anyone whose been following the news about the series. Its record-breaking run in Japan, its success in overseas markets like China, and even its penetration into mainstream news outlets despite its limited theater release in the States. Heck, my mom sent me a text about your name. because she'd heard a review of it on NPR before I'd even had a chance to see it! It's an easy film to watch and like, even—and perhaps especially for—people who don’t typically watch anime.
Going Outside the Anime Fandom Bubble
So, on to the first reason I want to show your name. to people. Or, if you will, the first context: your name. as an anime outside of the anime fandom.
The accessibility of your name. is a good explanation for the "how" part of explaining your name.’s arrival in this context, but it doesn't show why this film, specifically, is one that I feel is important for anime that’s acquired cultural existence outside of the anime fandom. Of course, it's nice that your name. proves anime can be accessible to people who don't always watch it—that it can exist as an animated film rather than just an anime. But it's also a film I feel has the potential to restructure how people outside of our little fandom bubble think about anime.
With the accessibility point addressing some of the more lowbrow assumptions about anime (tentacles, you know), the other side of the issue of mainstream anime perception is the frustratingly common equation of Hayao Miyazaki with anime of artistic merit. Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli's films are really the only product of Japanese animation that have any sort of mainstream cachet in the West, which means that for people who don’t know anime, Miyazaki = good anime (i.e. not sex and violence). And that's why it's grating to hear talk of Shinkai as "the New Miyazaki," when the success of your name. seems like a prime opportunity for anime to break out of the two stereotypical boxes it’s been forced in to. Because if you actually watch your name., it's obvious that—commercial success aside—Shinkai and Miyazaki couldn't be less alike.
This isn't really the place to go into an in-depth analysis of the cinematographic differences between Shinkai and Miyazaki, but that's okay because I think the more salient point is that their fundamental priorities, the themes they tackles, and the stories they want to tell are very different. I don't want to overstate the contrasts between them, but your name., I think, is a classic in an entirely different way that Miyazaki's films are. Whereas Miyazaki's films seem more inspired by the past (I'm thinking references to Japanese mythology and his fondness for stories that feel like fairy tales), Shinkai’s work feels much more rooted in the present day. Even just taking your name. as an example, it’s a modern urban fantasy with a much more localized conception such tradition ("katewaredoki" comes from a dialect, after all).
That's just a single aspect of how your name. steps out from underneath the shadow of Miyazaki's iron grip on the mainstream conception of anime films, but the larger point is that your name. threads the needle between the established high-brow and low-brow stereotypes of anime. Of course, it's not that your name. is the first anime, let alone the first anime film to do this, but it is the first one to do so that's really hit it big enough to make me feel like there's actually a chance for it change something. Because despite defying the stereotypes, your name. also finds a way to embody them—think, for example, of the way it employs the classic anime tripping trope as Mitsuha runs to confront her father near the end of the film. “Classic anime,” a simulcast watcher might say. But for the uninitiated audience, the trope perhaps manages to embody the spirit the trope has lost for hardcore anime fans.
An Open Heart in an Emotionless Theater
The second context for your name. is the wider landscape of pop media in the West. I don't think it's overstating it to say that your name. is one of the most emotionally transparent films that has made it to widespread distribution in the States in the last few years, and it comes at a time when the country is divided and exhausted and cynical, and the mass media either reflective of those cultural blemishes or of the corporations' desire to cash in their multi-billion dollar franchises with another Marvel movie.
Into that gritty, despairing morass steps your name., a film flush with hope in the midst of tragedy and love that blooms out of isolation. Polygon's Julia Alexander tackles one aspect of the film's emotional clarity in her lovely piece on the theme of longing in your name., but the film's honesty is multifaceted. There's the way Shinkai tackles the catastrophe of feelings brought on by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, the way Taki and Mitsuha's cross-body communication mimics the arc of a digitial friendship, and the profound way the film seems to understand and empathize with the millennial experience ("I'm always looking for something... someone... or just a job," Taki says near the end of the film).
I mentioned before that your name. feels like a distinctly modern film to me, but I'd like to clarify that when I say this I mean that it is extremely particular in its modernity. As I discussed in a post on Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju last year, one of the most powerful ways to construct a story that feels universal is to anchor it in the particular and the specific. Between references to real world events like the aforementioned earthquake, incorporation of defining features of the contemporary Japanese cultural landscape like LINE, gestures towards the decline of rural towns and their traditions in the midst of urbanization, and even the recognizably current motion of Taki having completely forgotten the Itomori disaster a mere three years later, your name. constructs a beautifully rendered pastiche of a particular version of our present moment—one that is both deeply Japanese and simultaneously deeply universal.
It is because your name. is so painstakingly specific in its depiction of Taki and Mitsuha's worlds—even if it is often subtly so—that its emotional core is so easy to grasp. The particularity of the setting and its accessible touchpoints draw us into the universal elements of the emotion. And even for someone like me who already treasures emotional transparency and clarity in art, the strength of your name.'s ability to call people into its heart-on-sleeve, unabashedly music video-like nature inspires me. I want other people to see the film because it is so touchingly honest. I want them to see it because it embodies a character of emotional vulnerability and genuineness that almost entirely absent in today's media.
A Reason to Watch, and to Share
i don't think your name. is an especially deep film, but its sound is a clear as a bell. it's beautiful.— Bless! Thunder Glow (@iblessall) April 8, 2017
I wrote that tweet after I saw your name. for the first time, and although I've come to view the film as having more depth to it than I initially gave it credit for, I think this is still an impression I hold. Because it's not as if your name. works emotionally because it plumbs the depths and complexity of the human condition. There are films out there that address far more "important" issues. But few are as purely distilled as your name. Few speak as directly and simply to our desire for connection, our longing for love and purpose, our fear of the world vanishing around us in an instant as this film does.
And I am convinced that, even more than the hope that your name. might expand the public’s perception of anime beyond boob grabs and Miyazaki, is a hugely valuable—and important—quality. It is that gorgeously clear sound that rings in your ears for days and weeks after you leave the theater that makes me want to show this film to people. I want people to watch this film and experience that kind of emotional honesty. I want people to know that those hopes, fears, and human needs are okay. That we're not alone in them. I think your name. is a film that can do that. And that's why I want to show your name. to everyone I know.
Isaac eases his compulsive need to write about anime on his blog, Mage in a Barrel. He also sometimes hangs out on Tumblr, where he mainly posts his drawing practice as he seeks to become a renowned idol and robot fanartist. You can follow him on Twitter at @iblessall or on Facebook.