Your Name has to be one of the most hyped up anime movies of all time. It grossed about 23 Billion Yen (190 Million USD) in Japan, coming in second behind Spirited Away on the charts for most popular domestic movie. This is a first for a movie not directed by Miyazaki to top the charts in any meaningful way. But that was last August. The hype has been growing ever since leading up to the much-publicized US release which would feature both dubbed and subtitled versions in choice theaters around the country.
My Facebook feed has been inundated with both Funimation news about the upcoming release as well as fans and critics adding their excitement and opinions (if they managed to see it early). Finally, that energy crested this weekend with the official release on Friday, and I found myself the following day staring at a crowded theater in Boston wondering if I was ever going to find a seat that wouldn’t eventually hurt my neck. Honestly, even with all the hype behind the movie, I was a little surprised at the large turnout even in a fairly sized city like Boston. But, armed with an oversized popcorn and soda — the smallest size you can get — I managed to a find a relatively good seat and settled in for my second viewing on Your Name.
[There will be spoilers ahead]
I had managed to catch an earlier copy of the movie sometime before this weekend, so I was familiar with the overall plot, with some of the finer details being lost to memory over the following months. However, I will say that seeing the movie in a packed theater with like-minded fans is definitely the way to go. The jokes I was expecting landed harder as the crowd joined together in laughter, and my overall enjoyment of the movie went up drastically especially as the high-quality animation started rolling on the big screen. And, if there was ever anything to get hyped about for this movie, it’s the animation. Makoto Shinkai and CoMix Wave Films did a fantastic job when it came to cinematography and adding detail to their world. There was one especially stand out moment in the film where Taki intentionally tries to switch bodies and the animators really let loose, giving dynamic style to a key moment of fantasy. I feel like that, the animation on the comet, and the total detail put into the backgrounds really made this movie interesting to watch even if the story didn’t really resonate with you.
I will say that there were moments during this second watch through that either didn’t hold up to the hype of my first or were diminished as I thought about it more later, outside the excitement of the theater. This movie managed to capture the imaginations of a lot of fans from Japan to the US, topping 600 thousand on its first day of release here, but I do feel like there are aspects to the movie that are geared towards a more anime-centric fanbase. The humor and melodrama throughout can be seen as almost inherent in Japanese storytelling especially anime. The repeated boob jokes make sense in the context of Japanese culture where young boys and girls sometimes have limited interpersonal contact with each other. In a lot of ways it makes sense in the context of body-swapping in general — who hasn’t thought about the first thing they would do if they were thrown into the other sex’s body? But, even with the laughter of the theater chiming in every time Taki touched the boobs he mysteriously gained, it started to get a little old.
That brings me next to the melodrama which is a key factor in a lot of anime and Japanese culture in general, dating back to Kabuki theater plays. However, in Your Name its use of melodramatic moments spelled its own demise on my personal charts. The main focus of the story is on the growing relationship between Mitsuha and Taki as they mysteriously switch bodies triggered by the act of dreaming. Therefore, their memories of their experiences in each other’s bodies can sometimes fade much like when you try to remember a dream you had right after waking up. What seems to happen, though, is that this fading of memories is used as a device that’s mechanics are changed based on how the director wants a scene to play out. In the beginning of the movie, Taki and Mitsuha don’t remember anything they’ve done when they’re swapped, but as the story goes on, the moments that they swap become more important and they begin to take notice and retain more of those memories. When we get to the end of the movie, Taki and Mistuha have to write their names on each other’s hands in order to remember who the other person is. This is after they’ve spent countless days in each other shoes, kept diary entries, and had their lives and personalities permanently changed by those experiences. What we get a the end of all of this, is Taki and Mistuha shouting to the world over and over again trying to remember each other’s name and what actually happened in those moments. These ending moments really don’t fit well with the overall story, especially one of love and self-discovery and really cemented my opinion that this really wasn’t going to be my favorite anime movie as so many others have exclaimed.
This doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the movie overall or choice moments within it, because there were a lot of scenes and meaning behind those scenes that tugged on my anime- and romance-loving heart. Take the body-swapping story line in general and how their actions while in each other’s bodies start to affect their lives overall. Body-swapping and stories of cross-dressing in general are not new to manga and anime, and they provide and interesting opportunity to examine how the writer chose to explore the issue of gender expression and performance. Pause and Select has a great video on gender performance in the series Boku Girl, and I think some of the ideas he presents hold true in this instance as well. Gender performance, as presented by the gender theorist Judith Butler, is the idea that the gender is formed through a person’s “performance” of gender. Male and female are commonly defined by gendered actions, and a person becomes that gender through the actions that they perform. I would highly suggest checking out the video above, as he does a better job of explaining this idea than I can do here.
But in terms of Your Name, how can we relate gender performativity to the characters of Mitsuha and Taki? Well, in essence, they are taking on the bodies of the other gender and have to learn to perform as that gender in order to fit in. Mitsuha learns what it means to act like Taki and vice versa. In the course of the movie, we see that not only do they learn to act like the other gender, but they also learn that aspects of the other gender can help them in certain situations. This becomes evident when Mitsuha gains the attention of Taki’s coworker, Miki, when she (in Taki’s body) helps sew up her ripped skirt, thus giving Taki a feminine side. Taki also shows Mitsuha that being more direct with what you want can help in the long run as well, especially when he stands up to her father and the bullies in her place. At the end of the movie, we see her incorporate that courage into her personality as she (in her own body) stands up to her father in order to save the town. We also see Mitsuha beginning to enjoy her time with Miki as their relationship grows closer, showing that perhaps Mitsuha is exploring the sexuality that also comes with her new body. When we see her staring in the mirror, remarking at how Taki is probably on the date she set up by now, a tear rolling down her face, we can construe that in two ways. One being that Mitsuha is sad that she won’t be the one spending time with Taki, and the other being she is disappointed that she won’t be spending more time with Miki. I almost prefer the second option, but I know the first was probably what Shinkai was going for.
In what I would consider the second half of the movie, the action really picks up and we see the conclusion to all of the foreshadowing we’ve been getting throughout the beginning. The comet gets closer and closer, Taki and Mitsuha begin to realize what they mean to each other, and the animation ramps up in preparation for the finale. We see the comet strike in those moments and get a true glimpse at what disaster means through a Japanese lens. Fueled by years of recovering from the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the comet’s impact pays an almost homage to the disaster that inscribed itself on the psyche of Japan. How much of its media has been influenced by this disaster is a topic for another day (check out Pause and Select’s four-part series on the subject for more), but we see the almost wish-fulfillment quality in Your Name that comes with working to save people from a disaster of this scale. The first crater, created almost 1,000 years ago, becomes a long-healed scar for the people of the town, but nevertheless a part of their history. The new comet could then be construed as a warning to not forget, a warning to the younger generation of Japanese to not forget what happened those fateful days at the end of World War II. Taki inevitably goes back into the past to warn the people of the town and try and save them from a disaster they never saw coming.
It’s these energy-packed moments that hold you until the end of the story, though it does falter a bit at the end where it seems like it struggles to find a good way to wrap everything up. Memories disappear, melodrama ensues, and time skips ahead five years as they both continually miss each other on the busy streets of Tokyo. The ending could have come sooner, honestly, either leaving us with an open ending or letting them keep most of their memories in order to find one another faster. I definitely think it’s the middle of this movie that really shines, giving us interesting characters and moments that sparked a theater full of laughter.
As the lights came up and the ending song started to play, the packed-in fans surrounding me erupted into applause. It is applause well deserved as no other anime movies since Miyazaki’s have managed to capture the imagination of a western audience so much. As I’ve said above, I definitely don’t think this movie is perfect, but it offers an interesting take on issues of gender, disaster, and fate that are bolstered by the supreme animation and direction. If you haven’t seen it in theaters yet, I highly suggest you do, as it just might add another level of enjoyment to a pretty great movie.