Your name, having been recently dubbed the “Ghibli killer”, has been reaching audiences globally to both longtime anime fans and non-devotees alike. But underneath the surface of a touching, youth drama lies heavy social commentary and significant allegories towards societal issues that aren’t even necessarily specific to Japan.
The latest film by Makoto Shinkai, Your name follows two high school teenagers whose lives immediately change when they begin to literally swap bodies. The film trails their day to day experiences as they better understand the other’s life, learning to love the respective person they’re being and inching closer towards a journey set forth to finally meet who they have become in-person. As of today, Your name is one of the biggest anime box office hits of all time on a global scale, since Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Compared to Studio Ghibli fantastical epic, what made Shinkai’s Your name so sweeping, and even groundbreaking, for audiences today?
Spoiler warning! This article will go into heavy, specific description of events that occur in the whole film. Significant plot details below.
Shattering the Fantasy
Your name, at a glance, wallows and depends on cliches typical of televised anime more so than ever compared to Shinkai’s previous works. But like his previous works, Shinkai manages actually turns these tropes over on their heads as he has always done before.
The premise of body-swapping in fiction is not a unique concept at all, especially when it comes to body-swapping between a boy and girl for the the comical misunderstandings that follow later on. The narrative begins with as what any public promotional material for the film has made clear: Mitsuha, a girl who lives in the rural, mountainous town of Itomori, has been body-swapping with Taki, a boy who lives within the confines of concrete jungle Tokyo for an unclear period of time. To the surprise of no one, the two grow infatuated with the other.
However, the foreseen, developing romance between the teenagers becomes complicated when their swapping turns out to not be as straightforward as it seems. Throughout the film, a constantly referred to impending comet is hinted at being the source of the body-swapping. Building up to be this beautiful, momentous occasion, the climatic moment ends in disaster: a part of the comet splits, and the impact wipes Itomori off the map, thus killing all of its residents including Mitsuha. As Taki has yet to realize this, but realizes the body-swapping has stopped, he is pushed on a pursuit to investigate where Mitsuha lived. Soon finding out Mitsuha and the entirety of the town has died, he realizes in horror that not only were they separated by distance, but in time entirely: Mitsuha’s life that Taki has been living was occurring three years prior to his present life. With time now a factor, the chance of preventing Itomori’s demise becomes a sliver of hope in what otherwise turned into a series of cynical, dreary events.
This science fiction concept of lovers being separated by time and trying to challenge it is not so new - but it is so distinctly Shinkai and not so common within the works of his contemporaries. Likewise, some American viewers may recall this specific concept explored in the mainstream through the film, The Lake House, a 2006 romantic drama directed by Alejandro Agresti. As with most films, good marketing doesn’t tell all, wanting to get people seated in theaters based on what seems to be the best takes of a movie through its promotional material. Your name creates a twist of what was perceived to be a straightforward, happy, school daze romance into something ultimately more complicated - if not downright unsettling.
But don’t worry, viewers: Shinkai’s direction explicitly reminds you, the audience, that what you are seeing is not real. Prior to the film’s actual beginning, Your name opens up with an isolated, theme song sequence. This sequence is not one would typically be used to when watching a film; a particular technique having been adapted by most modern films onwards, the opening sequences of films are designed to immerse you in the film’s universe. A film’s opening sequence usually comprises of text or graphics overlayed on a series of shots establishing the setting or following a character, making it clear that the narrative of the film has already begun and you, the viewer has stumbled upon the scene.
Your name, at first, appears to walk back in time when opening sequences were treated more separate and solely for the purpose of credits, but instead, it specifically presented a song sequence familiar to every anime fan who views serialized anime religiously. Typical of anime TV opening sequences, the audience is subjected to a montage of every character that will be presented plot, and likewise summarizes everything that will happen: what you are about to see is not real and here is a culmination of everything you may see.
Your name makes it clear that it is a tribute to the anime viewer and the cliches it embraces. To the tune of a theme song composed by J-rock group RADWIMPS (whom also composed the rest of the film’s soundtrack), the film not only represents itself as an ode to the regular anime viewer, but this particular generation of anime viewers who have grown up with these tropes and cheesy concepts of their own time. Although Shinkai may seem like he is subverting these things as harsh critique, he is doing so with love and care by his own resonation when he himself has grown up with anime genres of this same flair. (Shinkai has said that Ghibli’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky is his favorite anime.)
Your name’s treatment as if a televised, syndicated, anime series is completely purposeful. For Shinkai to consider a theme song sequence may be jarring and obtrusive to some film viewers, but removing you from the film by calling it fictional upfront isn’t necessarily a bad thing. From the breathtaking, photorealistic visuals of Taki’s Tokyo and Mitsuha’s lush, rural town, and through the raw emotions shared between the two and across all of the other characters, perhaps its intent on knowing the film’s own fictionality as an animation means that its role in the medium should be better embraced.
Shinkai turned classic tropes upside down through his own established cliche: star-crossed lovers separated by time, space, age, or even the dimension they occupy, longing for each other and clinging to the connection they once shared. Like in all of his works prior - 5 Centimeters Per Second, Voices of a Distant Star, and etc - the realities and challenges of a long-distance relationship were used as a vehicle to segway into other topics that even go past juggling metafiction - as will be further discussed.
The Dynamism of Identity
As previously mentioned, the concept of body-swapping is not a new trope and has been used throughout years of fiction for justifying comical, and even exploitative, scenarios. From start to finish, Your name treats the act tastefully, treating the dramatic, technically horrifying transformation to be something sensitive and tender, if not idyllic and somehow, normal.
The film opens up to suggest that the body-swapping between Mitsuha and Taki has been going on for a indefinite amount of time before the audience has entered the picture. Just as Mitsuha wakes up from her slumber and begins to question the state of her whole being, we too, in that moment, become Mitsuha: for a brief period, the camera puts us in her perspective, stealing glances of her bedroom as it always has been. Later moments in the film would subject the audience to Taki’s own gaze later on. The normalisation of two’s body-swapping in addition to our occasional glimpses through the main characters’ eyes themselves suggests our own fluidity with identity and when it comes to our own familiarity with basic, human routine.
The gentle treatment of Mitsuha and Taki’s dilemma is not introduced as outright strange or weird. As one would wake up any day, we have all been within a daze, confused at the bodies we own as we look in the mirror. Never truly knowing if we are who we think we are, humanity is perhaps most unified within our ability to take a step back and distance ourselves from our own identities. While Mitsuha and Taki’s woes seem to stem from adolescence and classic teenage angst, their fears of humiliation and seeking validation is something we can all relate to. Being in another person’s body is surely not normal, but the embarrassment and insecurities when forced into an awkward situation surely are.
A more explicit exploration of identity in Your name is within its handling and critique of gender. As with any boy meets girl tale - or in this case, boy switches with girl - the confused misunderstandings of one to another poke fun at the limitation and stereotypes within established gender roles.
As we, the audience, first follow Mitsuha’s nth time being in Taki’s body, her body language and the subtleties of her acting indirectly suggests everything about her discomfort. When confronting Taki’s friends at lunch, she mistakenly uses feminine pronouns when referring to herself before finally correcting them to their masculine forms in a quick, comical exchange. Mitsuha has always identified herself as a“she”, but is forced to accommodate when she is now visibly perceived as a “he.” These often enforced, but normalized conventions hinted at is not limited to Japan, but rather reminds us of our own daily experiences when confronting gendered expectations.
Eventually, the two get used to each others’ bodies and daily habits, but small, visual hints at their true personality remain to maintain the visual cues to the audience that contrasts them from their counterpart. At some point, Mitsuha catches on that Taki and the rest of the men at his part-time job are infatuated with his senior at work, Ms. Okudera. She becomes close with Okudera, eventually creating circumstances that set Taki up with a date. Taki soon better understands the dynamics of Mitsuha’s family, eventually confronting the hardened, politician of her father for the stubborness and heartbreak that distanced him from his own daughter. Despite everything, Mitsuha and Taki could easily swap roles in their film as both simply being hardstrung, eager teenagers driven by each others’ love. Just as we follow Mitsuha and Taki’s natural discomfort in each others’ bodies, we are reminded of our discomfort when society sometimes creates assumptions based on how we appear.
It is is important to point out however, Your name also has its own case for supporting the wholeness and the power of womanhood through its female characters. In Mitsuha’s case, her family’s traditions have been strengthened through a long, matriarchal line. The absence of her mother - who is revealed to have passed away when she was a child - proves to be no disadvantage when solving problems on her own terms. Although, her grandmother serves as an important voice in guidance and elaborating on the mysticism that drives the plot- as to be discussed in the final parts of this piece - Mitsuha is neither helpless or dependent. Despite her mother’s death being the stake behind her father’s own coldness, Mitsuha appears to not have let that negatively affect her own empathy towards others. Although Taki’s family is merely suggested and bear none of its members play a significant role in the film itself, Ms. Okudera fills that space. Romantically distancing herself after their (failed) date, she provides a mature, second perspective on his journey to finding Mitsuha and after the fact. Her previous role as a potential romantic interest does not overshadow her later transition in becoming a key character to Taki’s growth.
Your name demonstrates that Mitsuha and Taki are quite equals and that neither character depend on the other, but complement each other. Their yearning for one another is not solely a yearning driven by lust or desire but is simply a dilemma of two halves seeking to recreate their whole as mythological concepts of a “soulmate” once told. Through living each others’ lives, they realized their unity as one is much deeper than they initially thought.
Losing Our Memories
Your name’s messages seem undoubtedly clear. Makoto Shinkai created a film that wanted to both represent and pay homage to a familiar genre contemporary viewers would embrace. Meanwhile, his direction dug deeper and deconstructed these familiar themes akin to what his previous films have done to create an interesting twist.
Compared to the brutal, cold reality of life that was conveyed in 5 Centimeters Per Second, Your name ends in what we can say is surely optimistic. After Mitsuha and Taki, finally, but briefly, meet for the first time, they create an elaborate intervention plan that successfully evacuates all of Itomori during the comet’s fall, avoiding what would have been the impending disaster that would kill everyone in the initial timeline. Unfortunately, the two slowly lose their memories of each other within this time frame by some unseen force, distancing them again for several years before fate would have them reunite and reintroduce themselves in Tokyo. Although one can say Your name has an assumed, happy ending, the implications likewise are saddening, stressing a true reality that is beyond the grasp of film’s own bubble.
Ultimately, the cause of Mitsuha and Taki’s body-swapping is never explicitly explained. Again, the biggest suggestion is that the source seems to be coming through an unknown power via the comet. When Mitsuha’s grandmother finally admits to Taki (within Mitsuha’s body) that she has caught on much earlier that the two teenagers have been swapping, she reveals to him that this has happened with every woman in the family in their youth. (Which again, seems to support Your name’s power within matriarchy/womanhood, a concept interestingly similar to contemporary Mamoru Hosoda’s The Girl Who Leap Through Time, in regards to being female and inheriting powers similar.) In addition, seers in Mitsuha’s family across centuries have foreseen and predicted of a comet that would have eventually brought their doom. All of this supports not only the comet’s direct connection to Mitsuha’s ancestry, but specifically to Mitsuha and Taki’s current lives.
The comet’s trail and path to Earth is a literal representation of Mitsuha and Taki’s own relationship, starting from Mitsuha’s own conception to the comet’s final impact as they begin to lose memories of one another.
Like a ticking timer to a bomb, the comet’s trail is a literal nose-diving line: a timeline. When the comet splits in both timelines - killing Mitsuha in one, and sparing Mitsuha in the other - both scenarios convey a division: the comet splitting represents the couple parting the ways, whether it be through Itomori’s destruction or the couple’s separation during the timeskip prior to their reunion in Tokyo. Realizing and reeling in Mitsuha’s death in the first timeline, Taki was close to forgetting about Mitsuha just as he would be when she was spared in the second. The comet is a metaphorical manifestation of the two’s lives intertwined: literally a tailing trail in which its ending can either mean life or death, conception or destruction.
The vision of a trailing tail, or rather, any ribbon-like structure, just as foreseen by Mitsuha’s ancestors foreshadowing their destruction, has been scattered throughout the film. Mitsuha’s red ribbon in particular is a piece of the film’s iconography that has been extensively shown across promotional material. The process of tying of her hair is a scene repeated throughout the film. It is an obvious reference to the “red string of fate”, referring to the invisible cord tied between two people destined to meet each other, typically associated with soulmates. Taki himself has been wearing a similar ribbon on his wrist throughout the film, in which he finally realizes was given to him by Mitsuha herself, validating that she exists within a period that has been occurring three years ago. Taki crossed paths with Mitsuha on a train before he started body-swapping with her, justifyingly confused as to why a stranger has tried to give him her ribbon. At this point, Mitsuha has already been body-swapping with him, thus making sense of how their timelines sync in relation to Taki’s present. Despite their amnesiac states, the two keep their respective ribbons and reunite in a similar matter as their trains cross in the film’s ending, bringing the ribbons’ symbolization to full circle.
At some point, in pursuit of seeking a solution to prevent Itomori’s destruction, Taki is transferred into a spiritual, out-of-body experience where his “soul” flows through time and witnesses Mitsuha’s life up to present-day. He visits a shrine he has familiarized himself with when he was in Mitsuha’s body - the shrine also called the “god’s body” as referred by Mitsuha’s grandmother - drinks the offering that has been left there and produced by Mitsuha years prior, and collapses. Before his collapse, Taki noticed imagery of the comet decorating the enclave, referring again to Mitsuha’s grandmother revealed to him how their family had visions of its destined arrival - the comet perhaps being manifestation of a god, toying with the lovers’ lives.
The audience is then subjected to an animated sequence stylized much differently than the rest of film that is suggestive of more traditional animation. All of Shinkai’s works thus far have been clearly digitally produced, but as Taki submerges within the flow of time, glimpses into Mitsuha’s past is sketched with what looks like pencil and watercolor. Imagery of the comet hitting Earth - death - matches up to that of Mitsuha’s own conception - birth. The stream goes back and forth between these opposing themes, following the birth of Mitsuha’s younger sister, to the death of their mother. The cycle rebounds back to one last scene of death as Taki witnesses the moment the comet hits Itomori before he awakens in Mitsuha’s body one last time. For Taki, Mitsuha’s red ribbon was the rope that carried him across this journey through time. Just as Taki grabbed on to and kept the ribbon of the mysterious girl he met three years ago, Mitsuha led the way by holding onto the other end.
The idea of a ribbon, or a cord, is a vehicle for multiple concepts in Your name: a timeline, the umbilical cord life, and the red string of fate being among them. Part of a long, inherited tradition, Mitsuha’s family takes part in the custom of tying and braiding cords for revered rituals and other events. Presumably, this is how Mitsuha’s own ribbon was produced. Mitsuha’s grandmother outright mentions that they do not know why they tie cords and that the origins of the tradition have been lost in history, but that they nonetheless still do it so that it will never be lost. The themes of “losing history” resounds across the film just as the cords and the comet do: although standing in for different things, they are all part of the same, single trajectory. In this case, the main characters’ failure to remember each other later on once again supports the comet’s direct relation to their lives when it makes its final impact. Although this is a literal representation of memory loss, Your name is sprinkled with a bigger allegory for memory loss that references the preservation of history itself, just as what Mitsuha’s grandmother had suggested.
Mitsuha is first introduced as dissastified with life in her rural town, wanting to and switch places with a “handsome boy in Tokyo”. (Perhaps these were early hints that she has already been body-swapping with Taki multiple times at this point.) Mitsuha has a very public reputation within a small town where nothing can be kept secret, further discouraged through the embarrassment she has by having to inherit her family’s religious customs. No less, her father has conformed to politics and bureaucracy to publicly alienate himself away from his family. His controversial political career included a revitalization project aimed to industrialize the town.
Ultimately, Itomori’s lives may have been saved, but the true, sad ending of Your name was that the town of Itomori itself wasn’t. Itomori’s residents live on, but such lives have been displaced. Just as Taki finds Mitsuha in Tokyo, brief glimpses into the lives of their former friends in the film’s ending find them within the city, too, regardless of whether they sought to be there or not (one of Mitsuha’s friends earlier in the film comments about being content in Itomori and working in construction when asked about his future.) Mitsuha and her father both wanted to separate from their traditional upbringings in their own ways and that seems to have to come to fruition.
These themes explicitly reference the minimization of the rural towns in Japan, their abandonment across other once-dominantly agrarian regions in Asia, and essentially this epidemic occurring worldwide. As more and more regions of the world industrialize, the cost of potentially losing rural lifestyles is forgotten and left behind. Just as Itomori was a non-existent subject to Taki and his fellow urbanites, its destined destruction seemed to have no impact on Tokyo itself. The Tokyo and other surrounding city citizens seeing the comet on their screens during its fall stare in awestruck and wonder, safely within the confines of their homes, and unknowingly celebrating the death of peoples they do not know - which neither really affects them regardless of the outcome. Nonetheless, it is not a stretch either to say that Itomori’s destruction recalls the fallout and remnants of mourning still left behind by the Touhoku earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011.
Itomori was insignificant enough that Taki wouldn’t have remembered the incident three years ago when it was destroyed in the first timeline before he made his connection with Mitsuha. On his journey to Mitsuha’s town, including the support of one of his friends and Ms. Okudera, Taki fails to make any leads in getting anyone to recognize Itomori until he gets to one man in a restaurant. This further emphasizes the the town’s reputation was non-existent, even since the incident. The man is humbled by Taki’s objective, appreciating the acknowledgment of his childhood home when others have forgotten. Taki laters channels his energy into deeper research by hitting the books after finding out Itomori has been destroyed. Okudera oogles at an archive and the rich history of the town as if did not exist just three years ago but aeons, like a civilization so ancient and long dead compared to the current, modern Japan.
Memory loss in Your name does not only exist in the literal sense of Mitsuha and Taki own memories of each other, but in our own tendencies of wanting to forget and separate from our traditions and pasts. Shinkai himself later states that the film is about “collective memory.” We have chosen to abandon things that we can’t seem to brush off, yet keep forgetting things we don’t know why we yearn. Like the division between the city and the rural inhabitants during the comet’s fall, we have all been living and seeing its tail in different ways.
After his out-of-body experience flowing through Mitsuha’s life, Taki wakes up crying in her body for the final time. As previously discussed regarding our natural delirium by waking up in even our own bodies, Taki cries because he has learned to know this body: he has just experienced Mitsuha’s life from her birth to her death. He has grown to fully known her and at last, becomes her. He accepts that Mitsuha is neither a dream or false memory but that she - as with her friends and the villagers has grown to love - are indeed, very real. Your name’s story began with Mitsuha, ends with Taki, and finally coming full circle when the two eventually meet.
Like the struggles Mitsuha and Taki faced, waking up in a different body and unsure if they have been dreaming, who is to say there are many more dreams and memories we have lost ourselves? We ourselves are sometimes unable to discern reality from lucid sleep and déjà vu from to concrete memory. Your name simulates the sensations we face when encountering something so familiar but are held back by its ambiguity. No less, we are reminded from the start that Your name in itself is not real. How can a film projecting something about reality when it does not treat itself as real? Sometimes we wake up crying from our slumber over a dream we have already forgotten. Sometimes we have a longing for something, or someone, that we cannot name. Your name resonates with audiences with not only its incorporation of familiar themes so frequent in fiction and anime, but through its relatable take on humanity and conveying the personal battles we face within recognizing ourselves, fact from fiction.
Every artist has their similarities, but certainly it is wrong to weigh them as one and the same. Since Studio Ghibli’s more recent inactivity, it has become trendy to be on the hunt on who is the “next Miyazaki” and Makoto Shinkai certainly has been under that cut. Like Ghibli, Shinkai’s Your name can represent and convey many messages, but the film can otherwise be treated as the sweet tale that it is and be appreciated alone for its surface. However it would be a mistake to push this auteur within the shadows of another. Ghibli has been a giant within the anime feature industry for decades, screening expansively overseas, yet there is still room for individuals like Shinkai to make something just as epic and succeed on that level.
Perhaps what make Your name truly significant within the realm of anime today - beyond its themes and beyond its box office numbers - is by proving anime should not be treated as a monolith. Animation can convey reality and sensitivities sometimes even live-action cannot convey and the diversity of stories can exceed even beyond the Ghibli genre. Through a love story between two teenagers that somehow shook the film world, Shinkai makes it clear that artistry should not be defined within expectations that can easily be shattered - and that there’s hopefully more to come.
Wherever we go, Your name reminds us to never forget who or what, whatever their name may be.