SPOILER WARNING The following notes give away some of the plot.
Makoto Shinkai’s dreamily emotional anime romance, the highest grossing film of 2016 in Japan at ¥15bn and counting, has unsurprisingly set off a wave of speculation about whether Shinkai is ‘the new Miyazaki’. Both directors do indeed combine ravishing visuals with engrossing storytelling, and their work notably celebrates Japanese landscape and culture. But it’s a comparison that’s particularly unfair to Shinkai. His interest in finding visual romance in sci-fi or today’s Japan, and in the emotional bonds and ordeals of young people, means that he is largely (aside from the Miyazaki-inflected 2011 fantasy Children Who Chase Lost Voices/Journey to Agatha) ploughing a different furrow from Miyazaki’s heroic, fantastical adventures.
Your Name, a body-swap story in which Tokyo boy Taki and country girl Mitsuha find themselves switching lives when they fall asleep, is very much a teen romance. Though he admits the influence of Japanese body-swap classics such as the 12th-century tale ‘Torikaebaya Monogatari’ and the 1982 high-school comedy Tenkosei, Shinkai’s story uses the switching sensitively to examine teenage identity and isolation. Full of the gulps and emotional highs of teen interaction, the voice work by Ryunosuke Kamiki and Mone Kamishiraishi gives Taki and Mitsuha respectively the depth to mine these issues, even for those of us reliant on the subtitling.
Rather than Freaky Friday hilarity, the switching dramas are all on teen topics, charmingly executed: clumsy dating, high-school embarrassments, even a very Japanese gaffe about using wrongly gendered language. But as the film progresses, it starts to mix its genre ingredients intriguingly, adding a time-travelling supernatural element and the tense challenge of a natural disaster. The meteor strike that threatens Mitsuha’s sleepy lakeside town Itomori in the film’s second half is obviously a metaphor for the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. It’s incorporated skilfully into the supernatural side of the narrative, which itself grows from the film’s strong themes of Shinto spirituality (Mitsuha is a ‘miko’, a Shinto priestess).
It’s interesting to see how Your Name’s ambitious narrative and visuals advance the theme of yearning couples separated by time or distance, explored in Shinkai’s recent films 5 Centimetres Per Second (2007) and the swooningly lovely The Garden of Words (2013). He has retained the vibrant colour palette and fluid movement of the latter, creating ravishing landscapes of verdant countryside or Tokyo’s shimmering skyscrapers. Their juxtaposition with careful, photorealistic close-ups of a door swishing open or a phone screen scrolling give the characters a rich, grounded presence. As the film swings back and forth between mountain shrines and Shinjuku Station, it eloquently and elegantly expresses not only teen confusion but also the tensions between old and new Japan.
Kate Stables, Sight & Sound, December 2016
Makoto Shinkai on ‘Your Name’
Makoto Shinkai himself [like the character Mitsuha] grew up in Nagano prefecture, high in the Japanese Alps, before he moved to Tokyo, and agrees that he’s seen both sides of the coin. ‘Mitsuha is pretty much me,’ he says. ‘Itomori doesn’t exist, but definitely her character is based on my own upbringing. I loved Nagano but I really was dying to go to Tokyo. My parents used to run a construction company, so there was a pressure on me to take over the business eventually, but I wanted to do something different, and I left home at 18.’ When I suggest that the film dwells more on the details of contemporary young urban experience (for example, incorporating smartphone messages in its mise en scène more comfortably than just about any film I’ve seen), he pulls me up: ‘I’m not actually documenting the current Tokyo. The Tokyo you see in this movie is a stereotype, the image that Mitsuha dreams of and that I dreamt of when I was younger: that was Tokyo to me. And in reality it really isn’t. I mean, Taki is working in this really nice Italian restaurant, he’s going to this really posh, cool cafe: no, not really. Young students in Tokyo really don’t go to these places.’
But Shinkai does allow that the animation technique, which apparently incorporates degrees of photography and rotoscoping, lends the film a photorealistic documentary aspect. ‘Visually speaking, yes, it’s the other way round: in terms of animation Tokyo is more realistic, because I visited locations and we really wanted to be true to what you can actually see in Tokyo. There’s a line Taki speaks: that we’ll never know how long Tokyo as we know it might last. And I think that’s something most of us Japanese people are aware of, because we’re really natural-disaster prone, so it might just go. So yes, I actually wanted to record this Tokyo and honour its beauty.’
The big, generous skies that recur in his films, he agrees, are a legacy of his childhood. ‘I grew up high in these beautiful mountains, the sky was big, and you can look at the clouds all day; you just don’t get bored,’ he says, before hazarding an analogy between star-gazing and romantic yearning: ‘I still like looking at the sky, stars, clouds. I think for me as a boy, maybe girls were the same as Tokyo: fab, really beautiful, great, but unavailable. I admire the sky, I admire Tokyo; yeah, some girls are pretty, but I can’t get them. So I think that’s why the characters I create love looking at the skies, because they’re admiring something beyond their reach, and it’s definitely from my own experience as a boy.’
Your Name also develops another Shinkai motif, the use of twilight and magic-hour lighting effects, not only for their inherent allure but to conjure a sense of transitions, of time on the cusp and journeys at cross-paths. A key scene is set in this magical limbo when, ironically, Shinkai experimented with turning down the visual distinctions. ‘What’s important for me to create animation is the contrast: sky, earth, people; which is brighter? And because animation uses lots of small cuts, you really need contrast to create some kind of focal point,’ he explains. ‘But in this twilight scene, I made everything neutral: nothing is brighter than anything else. I don’t normally use this technique, so it was a bit of a challenge.’
Similarly, in his depictions of the city, Shinkai loves images of passing trains and sliding doors, emblems of glancing chances and evanescent connections. Each of his films is patterned around a separated pair; even when a couple moves into alignment, he introduces a more distant third figure for contrast. (Your Name notes the yearnings of characters around Mitsuha and Taki whenever the pair seem closer.) ‘When I was a teenager,’ he says, ‘one of the mysteries of the world was why human emotions were not equal: I’m in love with you, you’re in love with me, but it’s not always equal; one person loves probably more than the other person loves. I’m not only talking about romantic love; it’s the same in friendships. Nothing is entirely equal – how you care, any feelings. I don’t have an answer, but I’ve always wondered why that is, and that’s why I’m dealing with these contrasts in my movies, trying to find the answers to my questions and the mysteries of the world.’
Makoto Shinkai interviewed by Nick Bradshaw, Sight & Sound, December 2016
YOUR NAME (KIMI NO NA WA)
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Production Companies: Toho Co. Ltd., CoMix Wave Inc.
Executive Producers: Minami Ichikawa, Noritaka Kawaguchi
Produced by: Yoshihiro Furasawa
Written by: Makoto Shinkai
Photography: Masashi Ando
Editor: Makoto Shinkai
Character Designer: Masayoshi Tanaka
Sound Designer: Eiko Morikawa
Ryunosuke Kamiki (Taki Tachibana)
Mone Kamishiraishi (Mitsuha Miyamizu)
Ryô Narita (Katsuhiko Teshigawara ‘Tessie’)
Aoi Yuki (Sayaka Natori)
Nobunaga Shimazaki (Tsukasa Fujii)
Kaito Ishikawa (Shinta Takagi)
Kanon Tani (Yotsuha Miyamizu)
Masaki Terasoma (Toshiki Miyamizu)
Kazuhiko Inoue (Taki’s father)
Chafûrin (Teshigawara’s father)
Kana Hanazawa (teacher)
Etsuko Ichihara (Hitoha Miyamizu)
Masami Nagasawa (Miki Okudera)
CONTEMPORARY ANIME AUTEURS
Your Name (Kimi no Na wa)
Sun 1 May 12:30, 18:00 (BFI IMAX)
The Girl Who Leapt through Time (Toki o Kakeru Shôjo)
Sun 1 May 14:45; Sat 28 May 14:50
Weathering with You (Tenki no Ko)
Sun 1 May 15:15, 20:30 (BFI IMAX)
Tokyo Godfathers (Tôkyô Goddofâzâzu)
Sun 1 May 18:00; Sat 28 May 12:30
Perfect Blue (Pâfekuto Burû)
Mon 2 May 18:40; Sat 14 May 20:45
The Place Promised in our Early Days (Kumo no Mukô, Yakusoku no Basho)
Tue 3 May 18:00; Sun 22 May 15:00
5 Centimeters per Second (Byôsoku 5 Senchimêtoru) + The Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa)
Tue 3 May 20:45; Sat 21 May 17:50
Millennium Actress (Sennen Joyû)
Wed 4 May 20:55; Sat 7 May 11:50; Mon 23 May 18:15 (BFI IMAX)
Summer Wars (Samâ Uôzu)
Sat 7 May 20:45; Sat 28 May 18:00
Fri 13 May 20:40; Wed 18 May 20:45
Wolf Children (Ôkami kodomo no Ame to Yuki)
Sat 14 May 17:40; Sat 28 May 20:40
This season was co-programmed by writer and academic Hanako Miyata
Japan Nakama is an online community for Japanese culture enthusiasts and a marketplace for Japan-made and inspired products.
Welcome to the home of great film and TV, with three cinemas and a studio, a world-class library, regular exhibitions and a pioneering Mediatheque with 1000s of free titles for you to explore. Browse special-edition merchandise in the BFI Shop.We're also pleased to offer you a unique new space, the BFI Riverfront – with unrivalled riverside views of Waterloo Bridge and beyond, a delicious seasonal menu, plus a stylish balcony bar for cocktails or special events. Come and enjoy a pre-cinema dinner or a drink on the balcony as the sun goes down.
BECOME A BFI MEMBER
Enjoy a great package of film benefits including priority booking at BFI Southbank and BFI Festivals. Join today at bfi.org.uk/join
We are always open online on BFI Player where you can watch the best new, cult & classic cinema on demand. Showcasing hand-picked landmark British and independent titles, films are available to watch in three distinct ways: Subscription, Rentals & Free to view.
See something different today on player.bfi.org.uk
Join the BFI mailing list for regular programme updates. Not yet registered? Create a new account at www.bfi.org.uk/signup
Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
Questions/comments? Contact the Programme Notes team by email