Yesterday night was the night that I finally got to watch Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name. I went with a small group of friends and we all, more or less, enjoyed the experience a lot. As customary with this kind of thing, we chatted for a bit about our impressions of the movie, the things we liked, the emotions we felt, and so on and so forth. It was pretty late by the time we exited the theatre and some of us had things they needed to do the next day so we decided to call it night. After we said our goodbyes, a close friend of mine drove my sister and I home. On the car ride back, I asked him how he felt about the movie. He’s the type of person that never really goes in depth in explaining his opinion, but he’s also the kind of person who knows a lot and thinks in depth about a lot of things. So when he gave his one sentence impression of the film, I was a little confused at first, but then I realized what he meant – and realized how much it echoed my feelings for the film exactly.
He said, “The movie was sad.”
Now, this came in direct opposition to some of the opinions of my other friends and to the actual events of the movie. By the end of the film, our two main characters finally reunited and likely lived happily ever after. Everyone that died in the meteor strike, ended up alive. The crisis was averted and everyone ended up happy, so why did he feel sad? Why did I feel sad by the end?
The answer to this relates to what cared about more in the movie. Now don’t get me wrong, the emotional narrative of Mitsuha and Taki was something that I enjoyed a lot. They were both interesting characters, their dynamic was cute and hilarious at times, and the ending to their story was nice to see. But for me, their emotional narrative wasn’t what I was invested in. The resolution at the end with them reuniting felt unnecessarily long and almost extraneous. Their story felt more like a vehicle for the thing that I ended up caring about more by the end: the thematic narrative. That is, the central idea behind the film and the story of how it was portrayed.
Anyone that paid a little bit of attention to the news back in 2011 would remember the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster that struck the east coast of Japan almost exactly six years ago. It was a tragedy that took over 15,000 lives with many more injured or missing. For most of us in the west, this event was an anomaly of the past; a tragedy that affected people in a faraway place. I don’t think that the person I was in 2011 would have even given the event a second thought. I was in high school and while I did empathize with the people, I couldn’t come close to imagining how it felt to be a person living in Japan during those times. And by now, six years later, it’s easy to forget that this disaster even happened.
Your Name is a movie about remembering. Remembering the feelings that you felt in the past while moving forward to the future. Your Name is also as much a movie about Tohoku. The feelings that the whole nation felt back then and the importance of remembering these feelings is what the film wanted to portray. For us movie-goers outside Japan, Shinkai wanted us to understand some of the feelings that those in Japan felt during this time of incredible crisis.
He was once quoted asking for people not to watch his movie and I think I understand why now. The movie does have its fair share of what I would call “anime things” – otaku pandering bits and common anime troupes, near its start. And it touches on a subject that is still very sensitive for the people of Japan. In the third volume of Reki Kawahara’s novel The Isolator, he recognizes the difficulty in writing anything related to the Tohoku disaster. He said, “I think that many novelists and manga artists have been hesitating over a common issue: When writing a story set in modern times, should we include the Tohoku earthquake and the resulting nuclear accidents in the timeline? Of course, I’m no exception to this, and I still haven’t come up with a clear answer. Within a year or two after the Tohoku earthquake, aside from works that focused on it as their subject matter, I don’t remember any books that touched upon earthquakes or nuclear accidents as plot devices.” Personally, I think that Shinkai did very well with his movie and his plea for disregard was unjustified. His movie allowed a wider audience to see and feel some of what Japan felt back then. And this is a pretty amazing feat.
So yes, I enjoyed Your Name – probably in a less conventional way, but what can you do. For me, the movie ended when Mitsuha arrived at her dad’s office and everything after that felt a little extra. I do wish that Shinkai got the two together a little faster at the end, but the audience reaction to their near misses were pretty hilarious. The sadness that my friend and I felt after the film was definitely something that Shinkai intended for us to feel and it’s something that I’ll remember about the film for a long while. It may not have lived up to all the hype for me, but I can firmly say that Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name was definitely quite the film.