Of all the things that have been dubbed a “national phenomenon” in Japan this year, Makoto Shinkai's Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name.) is probably the most appropriate for the title. As of now, Your Name. has already become Japan's highest grossing film of 2016 — even Anno Hideaki’s Shin Godzilla, Koe no Katachi movie, and Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso’s live action movie couldn’t hope to compare. Your Name. is now a part of Japan’s all-time box office top 10, sitting at the 6th ranking (15.4 billion yen) and becoming the first of Shinkai's films to beat a Ghibli film in all-time sales, namely "A Wind Rises". That's a pretty fantastic feat to be accomplished by a non-Ghibli Japanese animated movie. Not to mention, the movie has achieved critical acclaim and massive popularity on the side of creators, fans of Shinkai's works, mainstream anime fans, and the general public. The sales of the novel released before the movie also skyrocketed following the movie's rise to stardom.
One has to wonder: what makes Your Name. different than other animated movies? What allows the movie to soar to greater heights than the previous works Shinkai has crafted? When asked about what he thought regarding his movie becoming a 10-billion yen box-office hit, Shinkai admitted that the numbers are "quite frightening" as he doesn't think it deserves that much of a merit, although he humbly stated he has the confidence that people would find the movie enjoyable. So, is Your Name. really is worthy of its fame? Or is it just a lackluster box-office movie riding on the tide of popularity?
Production: The Perfect Staff and Cast for the Movie
Your Name. is helmed by Makoto Shinkai, the animation director widely known for his works which feature massively-detailed and beautiful sceneries along with the subtle presentation of humans' feelings as the recurring theme. His realistic take in weaving characters and using visuals to tell a narrative greatly distinguishes his works among others. Shinkai is often compared to Japanese directors of similar fame, particularly Hayao Miyazaki (and Mamoru Hosoda to a lesser extent), sometimes even called the "next Hayao Miyazaki". I personally believe Shinkai and Miyazaki both have distinct styles that are not to be compared, and that their greatest similarity is their ability to engage the audience through art as the medium for expressing their message, although that's a discussion for another day.
Shinkai's movies usually feature a core underlying message as its basis. Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below touches on the theme of "parting" and tells a story about a girl who embarks on a journey to say goodbye; this movie utilizes a fantasy setting which probably makes it one to be compared with some of Ghibli's movies. On the other hand, The Garden of Words is described by Shinkai as a story of "lonely sadness" which stems from the traditional meaning of love in Japan, and talks about how two complete strangers teach each other on "how to walk" in life using shoes as metaphor. Likewise, 5 Centimeters Per Second is a story about the growing distance between a couple.
These particular themes are the heart of his movies, and Shinkai always takes the utmost care to present them through fleeting moments. For example, Shinkai used a really slow-paced animation in depicting a scene of 5 Centimeters Per Second when the main character Takaki rides a train to meet Akari; the way the scene is animated allows the audience to feel Takaki's restlessness as the physical distance between him and Akari shrinks. Another example would be the scene when the Takao from The Garden of Words measures Yukino's foot; the scene was depicted in a very sensual manner as the boy's hand touched the foot of the girl he likes and pondered how he really knows nothing about her, allowing the audience to grasp Takao's complex feeling at that moment.
While Makoto Shinkai is certainly the main driving force of the movie, Your Name. probably wouldn't be as successful without the involvement of its producer, Genki Kawamura. Being the producer of Hosoda's The Boy and The Beast, Kawamura displayed his prowess in giving structural inputs for the story. Some of Shinkai's attributes that may have made his previous works less approachable by a wider audience would be his subtle way of depicting relationships and the lack of suspense or tension in a major part of the movie. These points are evidently compromised in Your Name., making the movie a lot easier for everyone to experience while not forsaking Shinkai's signature touch. Shinkai himself admitted that Kawamura had a big involvement in developing the scripts.
On the animation department, Masayoshi Tanaka handled the character design while Masashi Ando is the animation director. Tanaka is largely known as AnoHana and AnoNatsu's character designer, and he also worked on Shinkai's commercial "Crossroad". Meanwhile, Ando has been working with Miyazaki on Ghiblis' classics like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. The combination of Tanaka's distinctive style and Ando's experience certainly showed in the finished product. The animations are fluid throughout the movie, and small details of the characters' actions are all captured perfectly. The dance scene and what comes afterwards is one particular sight to behold.
Another important aspect of the production would be the main cast, voiced by Ryuunosuke Kamiki and Mone Kamishiraishi. Kamiki is both an experienced actor and voice actor, playing a part in several live action films (Bakuman., Kami-sama no Iu Toori) and animated films (Spirited Away, Summer Wars, Howl's Moving Castle). Being a fan of anime and Makoto Shinkai's works, Kamiki's passion is apparent from his splendid performance in the movie which captures both characters' expressions.
While Kamishiraishi debuted as a voice actor in Hosoda's Wolf Children and also played Kanade Ooe in Chihayafuru's live action movie, Mitsuha is probably her first major role. Through the movie, though, she proved that her acting skills are undoubtedly worthy of the role. Shinkai even remarked that she clearly showed how Mitsuha is supposed to be through her acting in an interview. Besides the main characters, Your Name. features a wide range of cast that is comprised of famous voice actors and actresses like Nobunaga Shimazaki, Aoi Yuuki, and Masami Nagasawa.
Music: RADWIMPS' Exquisite Soundtrack
Your Name. is pretty special compared to Shinkai's past works in terms of music. This time, Shinkai himself picked RADWIMPS, a popular rock band in Japan, to create not only the theme songs, but also the whole soundtrack of the movie. According to Shinkai, it took him 1.5 years to work on the music along with the movie, instead of adding music to an already finished movie. He admitted that "there were parts that changed along with the music, and parts that were made to match up the peak of RADWIMPS' music."
I personally think the fact that the music is developed together with the movie itself is something new that has never been touched upon before in Shinkai's previous works. The significance of RADWIMPS' music in the movie is really discernible; rather than having the music to fit a specific scene, it feels that the music and the scenes in Your Name. dynamically match each other. The overall tone of the music in Your Name. is considerably lively, fitting of the movie's focus on adolescence and the coming-of-age. The mix of orchestral music with the electro-pop and blues tracks brings up the contrasting elements of rural and urban life in the movie.
The four main songs used in this movie (Zen Zen Zense, Yumetourou, Sparkle, Nandemonaiya) did a really great job on capturing the feelings of the specific scenes they are played at. To be honest, I didn't really expect songs other than Zen Zen Zense to stand out, but I am glad to be proven wrong in the end. I had hoped that Yumetourou has a longer version available in the original soundtrack, but it sadly doesn't have one.
Story: Relevant Themes and Appealing Characters
In case you haven't been familiar with Your Name.'s premise, here is an excerpt of the movie's synopsis from MAL:
The story is set one month after a comet has fallen for the first time in a thousand years in Japan. Mitsuha, a high school girl living in the countryside, wants to live in the city because she is tired of life in the country. Then, there's Taki. He's a high school student living in Tokyo with his friends while working as a part-timer at an Italian restaurant. He also has a strong interest in fine arts involving architecture. One day, Mitsuha dreams of herself as a young man. On the other hand, Taki also has a dream where he is a female student attending high school in the countryside. What's the secret behind their dreams?
As you can see, Your Name. plays on the premise of body-swapping between two high-school teenagers who live in two different environments. This theme is partly inspired by Torikaebaya Monogatari, a classic Japanese tale from the 12th century about two siblings who are raised as the opposite sex because the boy acts like a girl and vice versa. Shinkai used the body-swapping premise as a way to answer the question: "how a boy and girl who have never met each other before could meet?"
While body-swapping is something you may have seen countless times in anime, it's a pleasant surprise that as the story goes on, the movie takes on a slightly different direction and tone without making the body-swapping itself trivial; in fact, it is heavily tied with the one of the recurring themes in the story. The movie touched on the concept of "musubi" which literally means "bind". This both refers to the bindings of fate between two people who are destined to meet each other, and also the nature of time which constantly entangle, sometimes unravel, and then converge again. Without spoiling anything, I can say that the movie stays consistently true to its theme up until the end.
Another theme that Shinkai wanted to convey from the movie is "natural disaster", especially in regards to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. The sentiment that "a natural disaster can strike at any moment without warning" and that "our everyday life that we took for granted may end in just a blink of an eye" is something that many people have, including himself. This theme is likely to resonate with the hearts of Japanese audience.
The pacing in Your Name. is a step-up from Shinkai's previous movies. Some of Shinkai's older works usually feel more like a "cinematic slideshow" that transpire between the characters rather than an organic flow of events that tie into a story, and it is up to the watchers to piece up all the subtleties. While it may be a part of Shinkai's style, the way things were in his old movies might have been a problem if Shinkai's aim was to make a movie that can be appreciated by anyone.
That is not the case with Your Name. It feels a lot easier to get drawn into the story and be immersed in it, and it's not just because of the scenery. I mean, don't get me wrong — Shinkai's sceneries are still amazing as per usual here; his attention to details such as the lighting, direction of shadows, and the contrast between day and night are all present. However, Your Name. has a clearer sense of direction, which works in its favor to better grasp the engagement of the audience. The movie is comparatively lengthier than some of his feature films (106-minute runtime), and yet it doesn't feel like the pace is dragged on; every single moment feels necessary. The balance between the humor and serious parts of the movie feels very natural and fresh.
Shinkai used real-life locations as references for Your Name. just like his previous movies, particularly Tokyo, Gifu, and Nagano (Makoto Shinkai's birthplace). Mitsuha's hometown, Itomori, is a fictional town located in Hida region of the Gifu prefecture based on the real Miyagawa town. Her family shrine, Miyamizu shrine, is based on Hie shrine and other locations. For example, the location where Mitsuha danced in the movie is probably based on Shinkai Sandhya shrine in Saku, Nagano. Likewise, the lake of Itomori is modeled after Lake Suwa in Nagano. Several places like the Hida Furukawa Station, Hida City Library, and even the staircase near Suga Shrine have been attracting pilgrims who have watched the movie.
In regards to the characters, Your Name. has a rooster of elegant characters that are easy to distinguish. Even the side characters are shown to be humane and fairly relatable, making it easy to empathize with their personal feelings and actions. With the way the movie is proceeding though, it kinda feels like the personalities of the main characters are not explored too much, and most of what goes on between them that builds up to the emotional peak are heavily reliant on the audience's perception. That's not to say that the characters are badly written; the movie did a pretty splendid job in playing out the character development enough to engage the audience throughout the experience. I also think one of the reasons why a lot of Your Name.'s watchers are able to get into the character are because the voice acting was able to bring out the emotion of the characters.
The supernatural aspect of the movie is one of its selling points, but it can also be one of its downfalls. The necessity to maintain the audience's suspension of disbelief is something every fantasy needs to do well enough to succeed; and to be honest, there are moments in the movie where my suspension of disbelief was "disturbed". Shinkai himself pointed out in an interview that several things that happened in the movie are left without explanations to preserve the sense of mysticism, but not everyone has the same level of tolerance. Several points of the story made me question the causality between events and its consistency. Regardless, the emotional atmosphere of the climax still got me in the end. Shinkai has started to favor including scenes where two characters emotionally connect through verbal means in the climax ever since The Garden of Words, and it's exceptionally executed here.
Some of Shinkai's most well-known works are known for their romantically inconclusive endings, but Your Name. seems to bring a proper closure to its tale. It's a movie brimming with hope, both inside and outside the story. On the inside, Your Name. shines a light on the reality of our fragile everyday life that could end anytime soon, through a "miracle". On the outside, it highlights the possibility in the animation industry to overcome borders, to show that animation is a genuine form of art; one that can sincerely be enjoyed by the world, and one that can make it a better place.
The Bottom Line
As someone who has watched the movie, I think I could see what Shinkai meant: Your Name. is a genuinely fun movie to watch. It offers what people usually expect to see in a Makoto Shinkai movie, and transcends that expectation further with something that an even wider audience than his usual works can appreciate. The movie also has a high replay value, allowing people to come back and rewatch the movie to experience something new.
The weight of "numbers" that Shinkai mentioned earlier, however, is also understandable; to be honest, the power of marketing played a big part in making this movie the success that it is. Makoto Shinkai's rising fame as the "next Hayao Miyazaki", the popular band RADWIMPS being in charge of the music, and the massive amount of promotion done by TOHO Cinemas all over Japan — all of them contributed to Your Name.'s massive sales and popularity. I can't help but think that Your Name. is the right movie released at the right time. The movie's honest depiction of a newer generation (or as Ando put it, "Shinkai generation") and the current gap in Japanese animation after Miyazaki's retirement presented the best stage possible for Your Name. to flourish.
Nevertheless, Your Name. is still a really entertaining movie that is humble in its endeavor to convey the underlying message, and I think it succeeds. I'd honestly recommend this for anyone who enjoys animated films or movies in general, especially those who may have never heard of Makoto Shinkai's movies before. If you are the kind of person who has a short attention span or is highly skeptical of fantasy though, you might not enjoy the movie too much.
Your Name. will be distributed to 85 countries and regions. Funimation has also licensed the movie and will be releasing it in theaters.