Random Thoughts (and Theories) About Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name

Makoto Shinkai’s latest is a thoughtful, winsome, and visually gorgeous film.

Note: This article contains potential spoilers for Your Name. Consider yourself warned.

Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name has been nothing short of a runaway success. It’s now the highest grossing anime film of all time, beating Hayao Miyazaki’s beloved Spirited Away. It was the box office champ in Japan for a record twelve weeks. And, as this Atlantic piece reveals, Your Name has taken Japan by storm, inspiring a cottage industry that includes bus tours, cafes, and sake.

But its success stretches beyond Japan’s shores. Your Name is the highest grossing Japanese film in China and Thailand, is the first Japanese film to top South Korea’s box office in over a decade, and it’s had successful runs in Australia and New Zealand. By all accounts, it’s had good success for a non-Miyazaki anime here in the States, too.

The film’s commercial success has been matched by considerable critical acclaim, as well. And it’s not difficult to see why. Your Name is a visual feast filled with lushly detailed animation and scenery that easily matches any Studio Ghibli film. And it uses those visuals to tell a poignant, universally appealing story about love and friendship — albeit one featuring body-swapping, massive destruction, and supernatural phenomena.

But if you’ve been following Shinkai’s career since 2000’s Voices of a Distant Star, none of that should come as a surprise. Shinkai’s films have always featured lush visuals and dripped with poignancy; Your Name is no different. If anything, the film finds Shinkai digging even deeper into his favorite aesthetics and themes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I think that familiarity led to Your Name having less of an emotional impact on me than I’d expected. I certainly enjoyed Your Name and highly recommend it, but the ending left me underwhelmed even though I enjoyed what Shinkai set out to do.

Now on to some random thoughts and observations…

If there’s one thing I appreciate most about Shinkai, it’s how earnest his films are. For all their melodramatic exploration of unrequited love, loneliness, etc., there’s nary a drop of cynicism in his films. You get the distinct impression that Shinkai truly means every wide-eyed, heartfelt emotion his films seek to evoke. (In an interview, Shinkai said he made Your Name to help younger Japanese “believe in their future.”) In an age characterized by so much distrust, cynicism, and snark, that sort of wholesomeness and idealism is refreshing (even as it risks boxing in Shinkai as a filmmaker).

One word can sum up Your Name’s primary theme: longing. The two main characters — a high school-aged boy and girl named Taki and Mitsuha — wake up to find themselves in each other’s bodies for some inexplicable reason. Your Name sets this up with zero explanation, putting you in the confused characters’ shoes as they come to terms with what’s going on.

Plenty of humorous hijinks ensue even as a deep bond slowly forms between the two. Shinkai uses sci-fi tropes to pile on the melodrama and poignancy as Taki and Mitsuha search for each other, with some twists thrown in along the way. As I reflected on the film, I was reminded of one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes, from The Weight of Glory:

I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you — the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things — the beauty, the memory of our own past — are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

Or, in Your Name’s context, the life of a person we have not actually yet met.

This is getting really nitpicky, but I wish the film’s ending had gone on a little longer. In its final scenes, Your Name jumps ahead five years. Taki and Mitsuha barely remember each other now, but each possesses a longing, though for who or what they don’t know. They randomly bump into each other a few times but any recognition quickly passes, leaving them all the emptier. Of course, the two come together in the film’s very final scene, but I wish Shinkai had explored this situation a bit more. Would Taki and Mitsuha still feel that longing after 10, 15, even 30 years? Would it plague them well into adulthood, or would it eventually fade away completely?

Shinkai has revealed that Your Name’s production had to wrap up earlier than he liked because they ran out of money. I can’t help wondering if more production time would’ve allowed Shinkai to expand the film’s denouement a bit more, which, lovely as it was, felt a bit abrupt in its current form.

As I mentioned earlier, Your Name is a true feast for the eyes. If you thought The Garden of Words and its animated depiction of rain was special, you’re in for a real treat. One particular sequence, in which Taki has some sort of mystical vision, is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen from Shinkai, and is pretty mind-blowing; I just stared at the screen in wonder as it unfolded.

There are plenty of other scenes that, while not as experimental or “out there,” are still beautiful, be it the sight of a comet streaking across the night sky, an ancient shrine in the wilderness, or a rural town at twilight. Put simply, Shinkai’s attention to detail is second to none.

One aspect of Your Name that left me with a curious mixture of disappointment and fascination was the intriguing mythology that Shinkai sets up in the film, and how he uses it. Which has led me to develop a few (spoiler-filled) theories as to what, exactly, happens in the film.

  • Early on, we learn that Mitsuha’s family maintains their village’s local shrine. Much to her embarrassment, Mitsuha’s grandma forces her to participate in various shrine rituals — like chewing rice to make kuchikamizake sake — which only increases her desire to live someplace more glamorous, like Tokyo.
  • In light of their body-swapping, Taki decides to meet Mitsuha face to face. However, his memories of Mitsuha are inexplicably fading and he doesn’t know the name of her hometown. When he finally finds it, he discovers that it was, in fact, destroyed by a comet fragment three years ago and that Mitsuha was killed in the blast.
  • Taki remembers enough to make it to the surviving shrine (which he’d visited while in Mitsuha’s body). There he drinks some of Mitsuha’s sake, sees a painting of another comet, and has the aforementioned mystical vision of Mitsuha’s life. That reawakens his memories and re-establishes his link with her. (Trust me, this makes sense in the film.)
  • Working together, though separated by three years, the duo concocts a plan to save Mitsuha and her fellow townspeople.
  • So my theory is that the shrine — which is basically a giant rock in the heart of a crater — was the result of a previous comet strike and “remembers” (in the way that mystical shrines are wont to do) the devastation. It also knows (because it’s a mystical shrine, natch) that another strike is imminent. The shrine uses Mitsuha and her family as the means of saving its worshippers (i.e., Mitsuha’s town) by linking Mitsuha — who, at one point, wishes she was a handsome Tokyo boy — to an actual handsome Tokyo boy (Taki) in the post-comet future. Their burgeoning understanding and relationship spans time and thus, is able to prevent the calamity from happening again.

To be clear, Shinkai doesn’t spell any of this out, but there are clues sprinkled throughout the film (e.g., the shrine’s location, the comet painting on the shrine’s walls, the various mysterious phenomena that occur near the shrine, Mitsuha’s grandma’s speech about the nature of time). Shinkai has also discussed the influence of mythology on Your Name (he specifically mentions the story of Orpheus), so it stands to reason that he included something otherworldly in the film’s storyline.

But what we do get is so tantalizing that I found myself wanting to know more about the shrine and the history of Mitsuha’s family. There were several moments when I thought Your Name might be heading in that direction, only for it to become clear that Shinkai’s usual — though still enjoyable — ruminations on longing and love were still the film’s core. And maybe that’s for the best. The fact that Your Name left me with some longing of my own seems rather appropriate.

All comments, nitpicking, and theories aside, Your Name deserves its acclaim. Simply put, it’s a thoughtful, winsome, and visually gorgeous film. Its massive success is hopefully a sign that more such anime will be made and find similar success, both domestically as well as outside Japan.

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