Kimi no Na wa, a visual dream that could use a splash more history

With how much I adore Hayao Miyazaki films (Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle being my picks), I’m shocked it took me this long to hear about and get around to Makoto Shinkai’s film Kimi no Na wa (aka “Your Name”). Special thanks to Kevin for introducing it to me and asking me to jot down these first impressions.

REVIEW] 'Your Name' (Kimi no Na wa) | Rotoscopers

The film is about a country girl Mitsuha and city boy Taki who swap bodies and live out the other’s life in their dreams. There is a subplot on time travel that culminates around a rare comet passing overhead, which itself is a rich, technicolor piece de resistance to a stunning visual experience. I won’t spoil the ending, but I’ll say the the film’s magic is best experienced firsthand. I wish I had had the chance to see this in theaters on a big screen.

Beyond the visual splendor of the film, the plot revolves around a young love story. It’s written as a romance exploring the idea of a “soulmate,” but I believe the protagonists’ development could have been equally fulfilling left as a coming-of-age self-discovery story. For example, from the onset of the film, we get flashes of Mitsuha’s listless and lonely life; she feels unseen. With a father who neglects her, a sister who is too young to be her listener, and friends who have blindly accepted their small town lives, Mitsuha feels trapped and bored in her countryside life. It’s no wonder she grows frustrated and one day yells into the void wishing she could be a “handsome Tokyo boy in her next life.” Careful what you wish for.

Mitsuha’s wish to experience life as a “handsome Tokyo boy” feels like a nod to two tensions: one of tradition versus modernity and the other of different freedom of the sexes. Japan is a country steeped in tradition, so it’s no surprise that Mitsuha holds the perception that she could only lead an interesting, free life as a boy in a big, bustling city. Her life kept pulling her to an olden world while Taki’s Tokyo life reflected the future.

I wish Shinkai had spent more time exploring this cultural tension, especially from Taki’s side too. There is a tremendous amount of backstory on Mitsuha, especially about her family (along with an explanation for why she might be having these body-swapping dreams), but there’s very little on Taki’s history. It’s unclear why he’s having the same body swapping dreams and if he had aspirations for a simpler, pastoral life. It would have, for me, made it more believable that he could fall in love with a random country girl far away.

Shinkai uses Japanese Shinto religion, belief in the supernatural, and spirituality as a way to explore the ideas of fate and time, but if only he had another half hour in the film to dig into them. There are several scenes between Mitsuha and her grandmother, where they touch on the spiritual significance of nature and rituals, that feel under-explored. I was left hanging when her grandmother seemed to notice that Mitsuha was not herself and implied how it’s something that runs in her family, but the film doesn’t have the time or desire to expand on the family history.

Despite my wish for more depth to the characters, my favorite part of the film is hands down Shinkai’s interpretation on memory. Memories are often ephemeral and flawed but they are permanent in their emotional resonance. Neither Mitsuha nor Taki can recall the details of what happened when they switch bodies, so they start to keep a diary on their phones as recap for when each wakes to his or her original body. However, they’re able to maintain their emotional connectedness, even as time and memory start to warp so much so that they can’t recall each others’ names (hence the film’s title). While they never get to be together, the two appreciate how the other makes them feel stronger, braver, and loved. It reminds me of the quintessential Maya Angelou quote, “People will forget what you said…[or] did, but [they’ll] never forget how you made them feel.”

Kimi no Na wa is the kind of special film I need to watch 3, 4, 5+ times to appreciate all of its components. I didn’t even touch on the music — a mix of mostly Japanese upbeat pop — in this review, but that’s what I’ll be paying attention to the next time I watch.