Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name features a gender-swapping storyline that rekindles themes of classic Japanese literature
Themes of body swapping, the search for love and a frantic quest to save a town from imminent destruction have combined to propel a Japanese animated film to box office gold, and prompted talk that the country has found its successor to the globally acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki.
Your Name, Makoto Shinkai’s fantasy about two teenagers drawn together by gender-swapping dreams, has been seen by more than 8 million people since its release in August, beating the hugely popular Godzilla Resurgence to become the highest-grossing film in Japan this year, and the ninth highest of all time.
It has earned more than 10bn yen (£77m) in box office receipts, an anime milestone previously achieved only by Miyazaki’s films.
The film has made the 43-year-old Shinkai an obvious candidate to continue the anime legacy left by Miyazaki, the 75-year-old creator of global hits such as Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle. Miyazaki announced in 2013 he would stop making feature films at his Studio Ghibli.
Reviewers have attributed Your Name’s popularity to Shinkai’s success in combining exquisite animation with a storyline centred on two deeply sympathetic characters: Mitsuha Miyamizu, a teenage girl living in a picturesque but unexciting village, and Taki Tachibana, a Tokyo schoolboy.
The fateful events that bring the pair together begin when they appear in each other’s dreams, even though they have never met. Much of the film’s charm derives from their attempts to make sense of their situation and, ultimately, to find each other.
Your Name is Shinkai’s homage to the body-swapping themes of Japanese literature, centuries before they became a Hollywood staple. The director cited Torikaebaya Monogatari, a 12th-century tale about a brother and sister whose mannerisms are those of the opposite sex, as his main inspiration.
“I was on the verge of tears at the end,” said one 45-year-old woman, who identified herself only as Ai, after an early-morning screening in Tokyo this week. “I have to admit I had never heard of Makoto Shinkai until this film came out, and I always thought of anime as something for children, but this was really impressive. And the scenes of Tokyo were breathtaking.”
Shinkai’s painstaking recreations of everyday Tokyo scenes have prompted hordes of fans to descend on locations from the film, forcing production staff to plead with them not to disturb local residents following complaints about their behaviour.
Shinkai, who based the film on his million-selling novel of the same name, has described Your Name as his attempt to understand, and perhaps relieve, teenage angst. “Quite a lot of them feel distressed because their lives revolve around school and home,” Kyodo News quoted him a saying. “That’s why they turn to manga, novels and video games. I wanted to create something for the generation of young people who crave stories like this.”
The film is laced with gently comic moments induced by the awkwardness of adolescence. Some, though, risk being lost in translation when the film is released outside Japan, such as Taki’s use of the Japanese feminine word for “I” when chatting to male classmates. More universally appreciated will be his confused affections for an older woman at the coffee shop where he works after school.
Your Name’s dark backdrop feeds into a familiar Japanese anxiety. The threat of natural, and nuclear, disasters has also informed Japanese filmmaking, from Godzilla’s radioactive awakening to the self-explanatory Tidal Wave, a 1973 movie based on Sakyo Komatsu’s novel Nihon Chinbotsu, in which a series of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions sink the entire Japanese archipelago.
Your Name’s climax is provided by the arrival of a comet targeting Mitsuha’s hometown of Itomori, a place inspired by Shinkai’s upbringing in Nagano prefecture. The comet’s descent is described as a once-in-a-thousand-year event, the same catastrophic status afforded the magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed much of Japan’s north-east coast in March 2011.
The film is set for release in the UK in November and is expected to appear in the US and more than 80 other countries in the coming months, the sort of exposure previously reserved for Miyazaki’s anime.
The veteran Japan-based film reviewer Mark Schilling believes Shinkai is entitled to emerge from Miyazaki’s shadow to be recognised as a supremely talented director in his own right. “Miyazaki would not have made this film, but Makoto Shinkai did,” he wrote in the Japan Times. “Hopefully, just maybe, he will lose the ‘new Miyazaki’ tag forever.”
Shinkai has said he wants to make two more films for the Your Name distributor Toho before he turns 50. “I can never stand unrivalled like Miyazaki, but if I have been given the privilege of making films … I am confident of delivering something others can’t make.”
See our original post on Makoto Shinkai here.