The Intricacies of Makoto Shinkai’s Newly Coveted Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name)
This is an analysis as well as opinionated article on Makoto Shinkai’s latest film Kimi no Na Wa translated as Your Name (2016, 1hr 36 min). Since this holds much of my opinion, everything stated can be held accountable to discussion and hopefully enlighten you on certain aspects of the film you may have overlooked or not thought as in depth on.
Article contains spoilers for not only Kimi no Na Wa, but also Makoto Shinkai’s previous films Kotonoha no Niwa translated as The Garden of Words (2013, 46min) and 5 Centimeters per Second(2007, 1hr13min).
Before I really delve into a pretty through analysis of Kimi No Na Wa, I feel it is best to give some input on my perspectives on not only Japanese animation but just as another viewer in general, whether the shows you watch be nature documentaries, the newest episode of Arrow, or even Ellen per se. There’s one common consensus when it comes to viewership and that’s basicially we watch because it interests us. Though our interests may be for different reasonings like entertainment or insight, it doesn’t change the fact that our habits are one in the same. Japanese animation is different for use of a better term. Japanese animated film has been underrated and quite unknown to the general public. This idea that animation for the most part is directed towards children and should stay within the relative direction of children is flat out incorrect. If I had learn anything within my anthropology course that really spoke out to me, it is this idea of cultural relativism. Instead of staying in this sphere of influence of western ideals and a one way thinking of western globalization, it’s better to see the culture of animated film for what it is rather than how we normally perceive it. Instead of a children’s show, let’s look at it like any other film.Though I say, to view it as a whole like any other film, we still need to look at the intricacies of animated film versus regular film which make it overall unique. Why are children attracted to former for the most part versus the latter? There is also this trend of reminiscing on past childhood classics with our current generation of millennials. Looking back at the popular classics of Japanese animated film that I had watched back when I was a very active, rambunctious four foot little person, Studio Ghibli films were the notable bunch that comes to mind. It is because of how Hayao Miyazaki centralized his themes upon a common optimistic world view that really clicked in with children. I for one as a child much preferred very imaginative, fruitful works versus depressing, sob stories. I mean active and rambunctious doesn’t really fit in with depressive and antagonistic. The creativity to appeal to a younger audience yet really depict meaningful ideas and themes that the targeted audience can understand was by far no small feat. Bringing about complex ideas such as environmentalism, pacifism, and feminism and simplifying them so that the progressing adolescent mind could understand it is more than feat no less. However, I’m not here to talk about Miyazaki, let’s save that for another review. When it comes to Japanese animated films, we usually think of Miyazaki just because of the legend he was able to create. The other side of the spectrum of Japanese animated film would most likely go to Makoto Shinkai, especially with the release of his newest film Kimi No Na Wa.
For me, I had become a great fan of Miyazaki after watching 5 Centimeters Per Second (2007), which had showcased a much more different style than that of Miyazaki, yet still managed to grasp the same feeling of fanciful art, extraordinary plot, and themes. From there, I had looked forward to watching the new films from either of these titans of their industry. Shinkai’s release of The Garden of Words (2013), absolutely hooked me as a fan of his and had me wanting more of his style. News of his new film Kimi No Na Wa coming out late August had me biting my nails in preperation for it. When I had found out Anime Expo or AX would have an early exclusive premier, three of my best friends and I decided to jump on that opportunity and go to our first ever anime convention (which would also be the biggest anime convention so lucky us). I was so estatic, not just for the experience, but for the thrill of watching a new film in general and being one of the first hundred to be able to watch a movie really hits me deep. It just makes watching the film all the more memorable and entertaining.
In all honesty, I had never been much of a writer and a critique where I would type my thoughts for the world to see. If one of my friends asked me what I had thought about said anime or asked me for advice on what anime to watch this season or in general, I would gladly oblige. It had never occurred to me at all to write a review and an analysis.
The inspiration to come out of my usual introverted self and even attempt to write this is mainly due to reading an article on The Garden of Words which you can read here from a good friend of mine named Max Shen. His comparisons of The Garden of Words to Kimi no Na wa inspired me to do the same except this time write more towards the perspective of Kimi no Na wa instead.
When I watch anything, I watch it for entertainment. It had never occurred to me to really go in depth on critiquing something I watch. I would have my opinions for sure on certain episodes or even a series in general. I may like it or may not and everyone deserves to express their own opinions. So going into this, I had definitely needed to watch Kimi No Na Wa a few times to understand a lot of things (specifically I watched 7 times which is pretty suprising to myself). I can definitely say without a doubt that I understood a lot more of the plot and certain distinction that I didn’t catch the first time around. I had to research on some things in order to figure out what significance it has to the film. Even going so far to figure out more of who Makoto Shinkai as a director and a person is to understand his approach towards making this film.
In some way or form, Shinkai emphasizes on this idea of human connections and showcases such through radical means. For instance, with The Garden of Words, societal rules lead the characters to being labeled as social misfits and as a result end up forming a bond due to them secluding themselves within their own private space. 5 Centimeters per Second rides on the idea of bonds by depicting the dilution of it through the progression of life between the characters. Shinkai idealizes this theme of “distant love” by tackling it through many different angles within his films.
With 5 Centimeters per Second interpreting that first loves won’t last with distance and The Garden of Words shedding light on the ambuiguity of love, Kimi no Na wa takes an even more radical approach compared to Shinkai’s usual trend by showing an over-arching happy ending.
First thing that comes to my mind when I watch a Shinkai film is the idea of distance. 5 Centimeters per Second took distance literally whereas The Garden of Words used distance socially. Kimi no Na wa took it one step further and had distance transverse time. When you think of time travel, time machines, space ships, and magic. However, time travel is not as it seems. To understand this further, we need to take a look on what is the religion Shinto.
Straight off Wikipedia:
Shinto (神道 Shintō), also called kami-no-michi, is a Japanese religion. It focuses on ritual practices to be carried out diligently, to establish a connection between present-day Japan and its ancient past. Shinto today is a term that applies to the religion of public shrines devoted to the worship of a multitude of gods (kami), suited to various purposes such as war memorials and harvest festivals, and applies as well to various sectarian organizations. The word Shinto (“way of the gods”) was adopted, originally as Jindō or Shindō, from the written Chinese Shendao (神道, pinyin: shén dào), combining two kanji: “shin” (神), meaning “spirit” or kami; and “tō” (道), meaning a philosophical path or study (from the Chinese word dào). Kami are defined in English as “spirits”, “essences” or “gods”, referring to the energy generating the phenomena. Since Japanese language does not distinguish between singular and plural, kami refers to the divinity, or sacred essence, that manifests in multiple forms: rocks, trees, rivers, animals, places, and even people can be said to possess the nature of kami. Kami and people are not separate; they exist within the same world and share its interrelated complexity.
There’s an emphasis on differing cultures between the two protagonists Taki and Mistuha. Taki represents this idea of modernism and globalization living in Tokyo and all whereas Mistuha lives within a culture of traditional values (examples here) per se due to living in the countryside. Mitsuha was born into a family that serves a Shinto shrine and is pretty much compelled to abide by customs by doing her duty as a shrine maiden/preist.
Kuchikami no Sake or kuchikamizake is a ceremony where Mikos or shrine maidens chew rice and spit it as a means of fermenting it to make sake or alcohol as an offering to the gods. The mikos are said to be mediums between the humans and the kami (gods/spirits), thus having a strong connection with them.
Of course living in a modern era, she idolizes modernization, but also adheres the customs she’s lived under. If she had a choice, she would rather choose the former. So when she decides to yell her wish to make her a “handsome Tokyo boy” that was her call against the values forced upon her. Her role as a Miko and her connection to the kami are probably the reason why she was able to body swap in the first place. Though it is not explictly said at first, Mitsuha body swapped with the Taki three years into the future. From there they are in this funny, relatable predicament of “What would you do if you had switched bodies with another person,” which I will get back to in a bit. Fast forward to the point where Taki has a decent understanding of Mitsuha’s culture.
Just as there are ceremonies, there are also shrines to the kami, in this case within the film, Miyamisu Shrine. Kuchikamizake is a offering to the kami. As the miko or Mitsuha in this case, ferments the rice into sake, she gives half of herself as an offering to the kami and places it in the “body of the god” or in this case the shrine, with the shrine being placed within what is known as kakuriyo or the underworld. Kuchikamizake is as stated: “In exchange for returning to this world, you must leave behind what is most important to you.” Along with the idea of kuchikamizake, Mitsuha’s culture and also the body swapping phenonmenom is most clearly defined by this idea of Musubi. Thread/braided cords is a distinct symbol within her culture and is representative of Musubi, the idea of a tying thread that connects people. It’s the flow of time and accumulation of all the gods’ powers. When you knot thread, that’s time. When a person consumes something and it joins their soul, that’s Musubi. Bluntly stated, Musubi is the connection of people across time and space. So by offering apart of herself, Mitsuha was able to create this connection with Taki, but it just so happened that this is his future self. Therefore, to Taki, the girl whom he’s had this strange relationship with is actually from the past. Kind of mindboggling if you think about it. Not something you would get right away, I for one definitely was quite confused at first. To iterate on some points, Shinto praises kami whom are gods and spirits. These gods and spirits are the entities of nature, hence why the shrine is embodied by nature instead of within the town. Time is a natural occurence hence why the kami can control it or in this case Musubi. Alright, Shinto is relative to time travel got it! But why is time travel even important in the film in the first place. Why couldn’t this just be about a regular body swap love story? What about thread/braided cords? The comet? To go deeper into this idea of time travel, we have to go deeper into the story.
The scene after Taki in Mitsuha’s body put the kuchikamisake within kakuriyo shows him, Mitsuha’s grandma, and sister walking off the mountain where the little sister shoutouts how its kataware doki or twilight. Twilight in this case is the afternoon. She then goes on to say that she could maybe see the comet.This is important as after watching the movie so many times, I came to the conclusion that this is the point where kakuriyo and the comet are foreshadowed to have a connection.
The comet shown at the beginning of the film had no significance up until this point because this is where the body swap and time travel actually make sense. Fast forward to where Taki in his original body is in a photo exhibition during a date that Mitsuha set up for him, he browses through some photos until he stops in the middle to see pictures that he recognizes.
These pictures end up being the scenery within Mitsuha’s town. Well one, the pictures are in black and white to insinuate that these are of the past. Two, when he enters the photo exhibition, the entrance states, “Photo Exhibition: Nostalgia.” Why would it say nostalgia? Why are the photos black and white? Sure they could just be old photos from the town. Let’s get back to that later. After his date, Mitsuha had stated that the comet would be visible in the sky that day in the phone logs. After that day, they had stopped body swapping. Well it all makes sense now! Not really. You have to keep watching the movie to the point where Taki after going through the realization that he’s in love with her finds out after searching franctically for clues as to where she lives (because for some reason he never actually knew where she lived) that she had died three years ago to that said comet. Wait what?! How can someone dead interact? Up until now we have been talking about Shinto and its relation to time travel. However, what about modern thinking aka science and logic? No point in having two differing cultures if we are only paying attention to one. Earlier within the film when the body swap first occurred, Mitsuha had said that she feels like she has been in a strange dream.
Her friend Tessie makes a note of the possibility of that her subconscious is linked to something called the Everett multiverse, which states how all possible alternate histories and futures represent their own actual universe. Mitsuha’s time travel makes sense as its a case of Schrodinger’s Cat. Coming back to Shinto, spirits are apart of nature so in a sense spirits are everywhere. Our souls can be seen as spirits and in the case of Mitsuha, her soul had been traveling across the boundary of the dead and the living.
So when Taki had went to kakuriyo to drink the kuchikamizake, he had essentially taken in half of Mitsuha. The part of Mitsuha that had died in the comet was her other half. By taking in half of Mitsuha, he managed to get all her memories and experiences, basically transcending time because her spirit still exists. So when they both meet at the top of the mountain, despite being in different timelines, they are able to meet at the point of twilight or kataware-doki because that’s when the boundary between the dead and the living are in one in the same. That explains how once twilight was over, they weren’t able to see each other. As to why they forget each other right after, kuchikamizake states that “in exchange for returning to this world, you must leave behind what is most important to you.” So by sacrificing their memories of one another, they were able to transverse time to be able to see one another again. What about the thread/braided cords though?
Their whole culture is based off the idea of Musubi. Even the intricacies of Musubi state how “Tying thread is Musubi, connecting people is Musubi, the flow of time is Musubi, the threads are the god’s art and represent the flow of time itself. They converge and take shape. They twist, tangle, sometimes unravel, then connect again.” That “when a person consumes something and it joins their soul, that’s Musubi.” Back when Taki drank the sake and took half of Mitsuha within in gaining all her memories and experiences, he was tying the thread that had been broken together hence adhering to Musubi. When he drank it, he had gone through all her memories while holding this red thread around his finger. Kind of sounds familiar. Like the red string of fate maybe?
Straight off Wikipedia:
“The two people connected by the red thread are destined lovers, regardless of place, time or circumstances. This magical cord may stretch or tangle, but never break.”
This is literally Musubi. The tying of the thread connects people and even when they had forgotten each other, the feelings still lingered over time. When both of them at the beginning of the film had said that they were searching for something, they were searching for each other and at the end of the film when they had crossed eyes in the train station they had knew at that point that you’re the one I was searching for this entire time. Even ending it on the note of asking for what’s your name? The few times they had met with each other, the thread/braided cord was always present physically just to reiterate even more on this idea of Musubi.
There was a lot of emphasis on Shintoism within the story. The use of modernism kind of underused in a sense. The film takes place from 2013 (Mitsuha during the body swap) to 2016 (Taki during the body swap) to 2021 (Both of them meeting each other again). Don’t get me wrong, modernism wasn’t totally cut off as it was shown how Taki had aspired to become an architect in order prevent disaster from befalling Tokyo. Tokyo city life was depicted bluntly and was shown to be notably different as compared to the countryside. However, besides from that it was just there. No real backdrop on Taki and his city life as compared to that of Mitsuha. There was more significance to Mitsuha, Sayaka, and Tessie compared to Taki, Takagi, Tsukasa, and Miki. Both Tessie and Sayaka played a more memorable role whereas when we look at Taki and his friends, they were more of accompaniments whom were honestly just there. You can argue that Miki had played a much more sturdier role as she facilitated and conditioned Taki into his realization for love.
I feel as though Shinkai had learned from his past creations and incorporated the strengths of those films into Kimi No Na Wa. Even taking a different approach as to what he done in the past. He tackled on motifs of environmentalism, cultural relativism, cultural difference, gender roles, and the sides of love. Reiterating on his common theme of distance, he had taken a more radical approach this time by trandscending time. And to top it all off, instead of showing the sad spectrum of love, he had suprised me at the very least by deviating towards this over arching happy ending. He had taken the ending from 5 Centimeters Per Second and put it into Kimi No Na Wa except with a happy ending. He veered from the normal cliffhanger endings he had done in his previous two films where the relationship between the protagonists was unknown. Though he did leave a cliffhanger with both Taki and Mitsuha asking each other “What’s your name?” It’s indirectly implied with Musubi that they would basically be together.
The art from his films never ceases to amaze me and he does so even more so with a beautiful array of colors and animation. Shinkai films have been known to be where the majority of anime backgrounds come from just because of how close it seems to the real thing. Kimi no Na wa doesn’t disappoint especially with the vibrancy of colors in scenes such as the comet, overview of Tokyo and Itomori, and the top of the mountain of Miyamisu Shrine with kataware-doki.
Overall, I feel as though Kimi no Na wa covered a wide variety of genres and motifs, making it relatable yet not so relatable. Had I not watched a Shinkai film before, I would have assumed this was his usual style. Of course I would still be impressed, but I’m even impressed because he took a much more different approach from his usual style and succeeded. It’s definitely no fluke that this film had remained number one in the box office for nine consecutive weeks and twelve weeks in total, earning more than $100 million which is mind boggling that a non-western film was able to accomplish such a feat. Honestly I would suggest watching the film multiple times just to get a better understanding of certain nuances that Shinkai was able to depict of.