Makoto Shinkai: “Your Name.” (2016) and “5 Centimetres per Second” (2007)

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Your Name. (2016)

Makoto Shinkai’s latest animation feature “Your Name” is rapidly gaining international recognition, and has already grossed over 10 billion yen ($98 million), becoming the first ever anime film not produced by Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki to gross this sum at the Japanese box. This critical acclaim is unsurprising. “Your Name” is as close to perfection as any anime can get. Showcasing Shinkai’s talent for presenting emotional connections, fully-fledged characters and breathtakingly beautiful, detailed animation, “Your Name” is a romantic story of an accidental body-swap between a country girl Mitsuha and a city boy Taki, who, in reality, have never met. Both are high-school students who experience the usual teenagers’ problems and daily ups and downs. However, one day they start to switch bodies back and forth between each other through dreams. Through this experience, Mitsuha and Taki learn many interesting things about themselves, the opposite sex and human, emotional connections.

In “Your Name”, Shinkai sticks to its trademark theme of a couple separated by distance and inexplicably yearning for each other. Every time Shinkai takes on this theme, there is always this character who tries to hang on to something significant in his life as time passes by, and finds him(her)self unable to do so after some time. In “Your Name”, it is the question of the strength of feelings/emotions/memory vs. the passage of time, as both Mitsuha and Taki try to recall each other’s name and personalities, but find their bond weakened as they start to move further away from each other on a time scale. It is a question of (right) timing or just time, which played such an important role in Shakespeare’s famous “Romeo & Juliet”, and what circumstance in life can feel more heart-breaking than that? As in Shinkai’s “5 Centimetres per Second” (2007), the topic of the impossibility of a relationship is also ever present here. The plot here is interesting: the first thirty minutes of the anime, Taki (the boy) and Mitsuha (the girl) realise how their body-swap works, laying down rules for each other so that the other could follow their lifestyles without much trouble. But then, their body swap stops suddenly, and Taki decides to visit Mitsuha and meet her face-to-face. The plot outlined above is only the beginning of the journey for the two characters, and there is also an interesting twist in the second half of the film. But, what really distinguishes this movie from Shinkai’s previous work in “The Garden of Words” (2013) or “5 Centimetres per Second”, is the fact that “Your Name” is more thought-out, and both strong in its beginning and in its ending.

There is also the talk that Shinkai is a new Hayao Miyazaki, but this comparison is unkind, because Shinkai is different from Miyazaki in many respects. Shinkai focuses primarily on teenagers’ problems, and uses this context to explore the themes of first love, loss, hope, alienation, emotional connections and long-distance romances, while Miyazaki (“My Neighbour Totoro” (1989), “The Wind Rises” (2013)) relies on many themes to create fantastical journeys made by his varied heroes. Both Miyazaki and Shinkai use weather in their anime to create significant, touching effect. However, while Miyazaki contends himself with clouds and wind, Shinkai deploys rain, snow, and meteor and star falls to fuel emotional intensity. In “Your Name”, Shinkai also makes it clear that Taki and Mitsuha’s connection is fateful, and has an almost cosmic significance (beyond a mere human understanding), and he does so by using pictures of a night-sky to present Taki and Mitsuha’s intimate relationship in the backdrop to some major cosmic event. 

Body-swap fantasy films are not new. From American “Prelude to a Kiss” (1992) and “Dating the Enemy” (1996) to Japanese “Tenkosei” (1982), there is a fair share number films out there dealing with the topic. In fact, Shinkai admitted that he borrowed the idea of a body-swap from a 12th century Japanese tale “Torikaebaya Monogatari” and “Tenkosei”. Then, how is the body-swap concept found in “Your Name” different from all the others? Well, it is substantially different.

Firstly, rather than go solely for a traditional comical effect of what happens when a boy and a girl swaps bodies, “Your Name” also emphasises the spiritual and emotional connections, as well as the soul-mate mentality, between the main characters, without making it overly sentimental. The comical scenes are present in “Your Name”, but they are intertwined with emotional upheavals and twin-souls-searching philosophy, and the balance between the two is just right. It all adds up to this anime being, on the one hand – fun to watch, but on the other hand – eerily emotional and touching to contemplate. For example, although it is interesting to watch how Taki, in Mitsuha’s body, wakes up one morning and her immediate family thinks she is “possessed”, both Taki and Mitsuha say such things as: “I feel like I am always searching for something, someone”; “Once in a while when I wake up I find myself crying” or “There is no way we could meet, but one thing is certain: when we [do] see each other, we will know that you were the one who was inside me, and I was the one who was inside you”. In that sense, Taki and Mitsuha’s personalities, feelings and personal, spiritual connections become so intertwined, that they really become those soul-mates who constantly feel each other’s presence, but who are unable to reach each other. The feminine and masculine qualities, or maybe some yin and yang, also merge in both the girl and the boy making them more complete, and spiritually, emotionally aware. The bodily transformation is never portrayed here as some total disaster, but as an experience to go through to gain knowledge of something totally different. For example, thanks to Mitsuha, Taki is able to go on his first date with a girl he likes, and thanks to Taki, Mitsuha explores the world of boys.

Secondly, “Your Name” is different from other similar films in that it emphasised the role of dreaming in connecting souls. Taki says at one point:  “The dream I must have had I can never recall,” and Mitsuha finishes: “But…the sensation that I’ve lost something lingers for a long time after I wake up.” This sensation will be familiar to all, as sometimes when you wake up it seems that you know exactly what had happened (at least you know your brain does), but at this point cannot recall anything, and sometimes you even wake with a different frame of mind, but you do not know why. Taki/Mitsuha’s body-swapping is like dreaming of someone else’s life, and there are many references to this idea in the animation. Besides, it is possible that deep down both Taki and Mitsuha dreamt of being each other in their next lives, and experiencing a completely different life, for example, in one scene Mitsuha proclaims: “Please, make me a handsome Tokyo boy in the next life!”

What is also particularly impressive about Shinkai’s anime is how it uses contrasts: boy/girl; small, village/large city; dream/reality; modern technology/ancient family traditions and obscure rituals. More specifically, in “Your Name”, a small village in Japan is contrasted with a busy and capital-drivel Tokyo. Mitsuha is a typical country girl, earning to live in Tokyo, and who is fed up with the traditions of her family; and Taki is a typical city boy, who is used to juggling his studies with a busy part-time job in a posh Italian restaurant. Therefore, when Mitsuha is in Taki’s body she can fulfil her dream of finally going to posh cafés in Tokyo, enjoying the buzz of a large city. Similarly, when Taki is in Mitsuha’s body, he can finally open up as an artist, take in the amazing countryside views and grow spiritually by learning about the beauty of nature and the ancient traditions of Mitsuha’s family.

Other great things about this movie are its soundtrack, unusually provided by a band Radwimps, and, probably, the fact that it is so easy to associate with the main characters, Taki and Mitsuha. They are very likable, and we begin to know a great deal about them as we follow them in their daily lives. Shinkai’s detailed, beautiful animation is also a delight to behold, whether we are shown a stunning Tokyo skyline, a Japanese countryside or meteor storms.

As is the case with nearly all other Shinkai’s anime, it is impossible not to be moved emotionally while watching “Your Name”. It is a very moving, deep, philosophical picture, which also has many fun elements, and unmistakably Shinkai’s gorgeous animation. The best work of the director to date. 10/10

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5 Centimetres per Second (2007)

5 Centimetres per Second” is another animation by Makoto Shinkai, and tells a story of two best friends Takaki (the boy) and Akari (the girl) who get separated after their elementary school finishes and both move further away from each other. This anime portrays the long-distance relationship between Takaki and Akari as both try to maintain their friendship, but suffer serious drawbacks along the way.

This animation is admirably written, and is actually roughly divided into three main parts: (i) Takaki and Akari’s initial close friendship and their difficult last meeting at a train station; (ii) Takaki’s later life and relationships in high school; and (iii) later Takaki and Akari’s lives. While, the movie rolls through these three phases, it is filled with poetry-like significance, inexplicable sadness, and bitter-sweet emotional touches. Shinkai uses passing trains, stolen glances, bitter winter and beautiful starry skies to portray Akari and Takaki’s growing desperation and hopelessness in the face of the ever increasing physical distance between the two.

Emotionally intense, the first part of the film feels more complete and cohesive than the rest of the film. In the first part, the audience really feels for a young couple who long to see each after a year of separation, and the melancholically beautiful soundtrack helps to induce this feeling. In the film’s second half, Takaki is in high school and becomes the object of affection for a young girl Kanae who is obsessed with the boy. This second part is a bit disconnected from the first, but, because it portrays an unrequited love, it gives the whole movie a more melancholic, nostalgic feel. Besides, it is in this second half of the film where we move from the “cherry-tree-blossoming” and innocent love of Takaki for Akari to a more reflective, grown-up feelings of desperation which Takaki feels as he watches the futile attempts of Akari to seduce him, and glances at the sky to find a cosmic significance to his life and his feelings for Akari. The third part of the story is also weaker than the first. Here, we see the already grown-up Akari and Takaki, and they seem sad and resigned to their fates of living without each other. Here, again, the fading memories of the two and the pain of separation are transmitted masterfully by Shinkai, making the audience emotionally involved in the story.

Overall, “5 Centimertres per Second” may suffer from confusion and over-realism in its second half, but its beautiful animation would be appreciated by many, and this anime still arguably remains the most devastatingly heart-breaking animations to ever grace the screens. 8/10

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13 Responses to Makoto Shinkai: “Your Name.” (2016) and “5 Centimetres per Second” (2007)

  1. realthog says:

    I love this guy’s work. As you say, he isn’t a Miyazaki clone but at the same time I can see why the comparisons are made: the devoted attention to nature, the idea that anime can be used to tell real stories for grown-ups. I can’t wait until Your Name becomes available.

    • dbmoviesblog says:

      I think if you like Shinkai, you would absolutely love “Your Name”. I haven’t even begun telling the whole plot in this review because of spoilers, but there is a nice twist there, and this film is quite clever. After seeing Shinkai’s “The Garden of Words”, to be honest, I was quite disappointed, but it seems with this anime Shinkai really looked back at all his fab previous work, compiled it, made work on his errors and produced something far more superior.

  2. “Your Name” sounds really wonderful and original. I know the body swap concept is not new, but I like how you describe this film. I never would have heard of it if you hadn’t reviewed it. Thanks for the introduction. 🙂

  3. I am hoping to watch Your Name as soon as possible. Even Chris Stuckmann gave it an A+. It is so beautiful that Japanese have still upheld hand drawn animation over computer graphics. The beauty of the frames in hand-drawn can never be matched by computerized animation. Awesome review

  4. table9mutant says:

    Loved Your Name – I really need to watch 5 Centimetres Per Second now… : )

    • dbmoviesblog says:

      One can say that “Your Name” is better that “5 Centimetres”, like Shinkai has done his work on the errors, but in some way “5 Centimetres” stands on its own because, as I said, at least the first part of the film is deeply touching. I recommend watching it in Japanese with English subtitles – because it had greater impact on me that way.

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