Your Name. Your New Favorite Anime film. Seriously, It’s THAT Good.
by Michelle "Ms. Geek" Klein-Hass
There are too many super-specific references to things that are deeply ingrained in Japanese culture to make Kimi no Na wa (君の名は) aka Your Name a hit in the United States. But right now it’s the fourth highest grossing film to ever open in Japan, the second highest grossing Japanese film ever, and the biggest grossing Japanese film since Miyazaki’s masterpiece Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro Kamikakuchi, 千と千尋の神隠し) in 2001. However, it is the highest grossing anime feature worldwide. Ever. Which suggests that the story is just universal enough to gain a sympathetic audience everywhere it opens, no matter where in the world it is.
This is the story of two teenage kids (isn’t it always?) separated by distance and by one of them living in the Tokyo megalopolis and one of them living out in a remote, rural part of Japan. Mitsuha is a girl from a family who has tended a Shinto shrine for hundreds of years. Chafing at the restrictions of life as a hereditary Shinto priest, her dad is estranged from the family after her mom, his wife, dies. Mitsuha has lived with her shrine guardian maternal grandmother ever since. Her dad has thrown himself into politics with as much vigor and passion as earlier generations of his family has Shinto. He is now the mayor of the town, and constantly campaigning for his next term.
Mitsuha doesn’t like being trapped into a life she doesn’t entirely believe in either. Her father’s politics and her role as a Miko (shrine maiden) is a constant embarrassment to her, and one day she wishes upon a star that she would be reborn -- and soon -- as a boy in Tokyo.
OK, going to stop right there. Yes, superficially, this is the body-swap trope. Or as TVTropes.Org calls it, the “Freaky Friday Flip.” But this is not merely that trope played out with a hick from the sticks and a city slicker. This forges a soul bond between the two of them that is quite profound yet quite chaste. Aside from the obligatory “OMG I have breasts/OMG I have a ween” moment, it’s not like the famous flip in the last episode of Excel Saga where it becomes very, very sexual. It’s a sharing of spirits, where one cannot live without the other after it occurs.
Taki, of course, is living under way more sophisticated circumstances. We meet him as a High School boy with a dream of becoming an architect. He’s working nights as a waiter at a swanky Italian restaurant in a fashionable district in Tokyo. And he’s getting ready for University.
At first, Mitsuha enjoys living in Taki’s body, enjoys how he has more agency over his life than she does, and has fun having him do things that he would not normally do, like fix a co-worker’s skirt with cute embroidery after a troublesome customer cuts it with a box cutter.
The two of them learn to communicate with each other using an encrypted diary app on each other’s respective phones. She lets him know what goes on when she is inhabiting his body, and vice-versa. However, ominously, one day the updates from her stop, and so do the body swaps. And that’s where I will have to leave you in this story because here there be spoilers.
What is not a spoiler is how Mitsuha and Taki’s life exchanges widen their view of their world. How can they not? Japan is still a country where gender roles are still rigid and hidebound. It’s a country where expectations can sometimes still circumscribe a life and force it into a mold one normally cannot escape. It is a profoundly feminist film, but made by a man, anime auteur Makoto Shinkai and his ComixWave Films boutique studio.
The story started out as a light novel written by Shinkai, which was published by Kadokawa Shoten just before the movie came out in Japan. The novel was drawn as a complete storyboard for the film, then the animation went into production. The film actually was premiered in Los Angeles, at the immense Anime Expo yearly convention, in 2016, then was premiered in Japan about two months later. It has taken this long for the film to make it to the United States because the English Language production entailed rewriting and re-recording the RADWIMPS songs that are a vital part of the film in English, as well as a complete English dub produced by Funimation Films.
I missed the subtitled premiere at AX 2016, alas, and ended up seeing the dub because that’s what my movie theatre was showing at its matinee performance. However, the dub is a decent one, up there with, say, the dub of Summer Wars, and the RADWIMPS songs are just as good in English as they are in Japanese. It helps that the translator, RADWIMPS vocalist Yojiro Noda grew up in and went to school for a time in the US: his translations of the lyrics make sense, his pronunciation is textbook American English, and the songs would be at home on any alt-rock or even pop radio station in the US. It is likely that, since the American showings of Your Name are for a limited time only and in limited theatres, you will probably encounter the film when it comes to streaming services and DVD/BD.
Try to see it in theatres, however: the artwork, backgrounds in particular, are gorgeous and painterly and every bit the equal to what you see in Studio Ghibli films. The animation is not overly stylized, but does not go to the other extreme of being Disneyfied cushy. You will likely not be able to fully appreciate the power of the glorious 2D world on a small screen. This is a sumptuous visual feast. It is best served on the biggest platter you can find.