Your Name | Kimi no Na wa: Interpreting Progress in Gender and Rule-breaking

(All plugs are pulled. Full spoiling ahead.)

Your Name | Kimi no Na wa (I will be referring to the film via. the former title from now on) is essentially about progress through violation. The film is readily clear on that account, and certainly enough for any number of viewing audiences to immediately identify that about its cinematic delivery.

Even so, Your Name sets out to not only bet its entire entertainment stake on this familiar anime staple of storytelling with soul/body-swapping as the main focal point, but to also explore the nuanced questions about contemporary gender, and its increasingly complex connection with the evergreen topic of human relationships, framed against the backdrop of an impending supernatural disaster. Unexplainable magic, a star-crossed boy and girl, perhaps destined to forever yearn for a meeting that will never come. Establishing an emotional palette that is classic Makoto Shinkai, Your Name unnervingly aims for that one step further towards collective resonance, ultimately succeeding in more ways than it may have ever imagined, and IN ways that it may have never imagined (Unless of course, you submit yourself to the view of the ‘death of the author’. In this case, this essay will still serve as a hopefully comprehensive analysis that can unearth some interesting viewpoints for additional discussion).

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Immaturity & Beyond The Gender Border

The sacred emotional space assumed by the bedroom is obviously the first framework this essay will be exploring, since it is literally the first social construct that Your Name’s theatrics sought to violate. The concept of privacy in contemporary discourse are usually ideological battles between expressionist freedom and secure social integrity; which, by extension, inevitably leads the conversation towards the heavier subjects of governmental surveillance and the modern death of privacy via. social media, the cyber-self and the internet. However, the violation explored here is of the pre-mentioned anime staple of body-swapping. Mitsuha and Taki’s mirroring introductions to Your Name’s cinematic world are framed through the supposed safe and intimate space of each other’s bedrooms. The idea here is an inevitable juxtaposition of the the bedroom’s symbolic intimacy and the film’s gleeful insistence of utilising said space as an isolated disaster zone in depicting utter discomfort, awkwardness and…well…sexual unfamiliarity, alienation and violation in the most pure manner possible.

Scene positioning and non-linear cutting that irregularly streams along Mitsuha’s daily routines, as she (initially) unknowingly switches persona with Taki, complements the gender-centric differences that teenagers either take for granted, or has never paid much thought to before. Setting Mitsuha to catch up to the audience’s knowledge in this regard also allowed the world to organically explore this violation (same goes for Taki, but I’ll get to that later). The film’s introduction to Mitsuha is instead Taki’s consciousness, where he understandably dances between perverted fascination in his new physical form, and shameful embarrassment. And yet, the next scene transition throws off the rhythm immediately, as another day has already gone by, and Mitsuha’s back in her own body, having no idea what mess she (he) left behind yesterday.

Shinkai’s decision to include a prologue before this opening scene in conjunction to the opening titles, posed little meaning to first-time viewers, but the sombre balance between daily routines and the frantic beats of the opening song inhabited a fitting atmosphere for what’s about to happen later on. However, to this post-viewing individual, there’s a lot more to talk about when it comes to doors than the slightly lazy foreshadowing in the prologue.

Yotsuha’s “Breakfast! Hurry up!” line and the slamming of the bedroom door is a repeated motif that’s played mostly for subtle scene resetting and comedy, but in a film that uses such techniques in a multitude of cinematic elements, its deliberate nature requires additional…dissecting.

Possession | Fate of the Two & Visual Presence

First of all, the halving visual motif is Shinkai’s most obvious and also the easiest to overlook in Your Name. Low-angle camera perspectives on sliding doors opening and shutting, the throwaway halving of the tomato, lens flare from the sunset that halves the cinematic frame (a visual idea that’s blatant enough to be a major feature in the promotional poster). While this motif has a much more significant presence in the entirety of the film (which I will again, come back to a LOT more later), I think introducing this idea here makes a fitting reinforcement to my previous idea about the bedroom’s thematic value in the film: Yotsuha slamming the bedroom door repeatedly throughout the film reinforces an idea of the abrupt atmospheric change between the bedroom and the rest of the house, and of course the change of atmosphere when the door is open or closed.

The scene shared by Mitsuha, Yotsuha and their grandmother in the living room was also a jumble of foreshadowed emotional baggage, as well as reinforcing the idea of long-distance relationships (or the lack of): the strained relationship between grandma and the father is hinted at when the radio broadcast of the latter’s voice is disconnected when the former pulled the plug. The conversation shared between the family about Mitsuha’s odd behaviour yesterday forms an opening commentary on the nature of gender identity that the film will continue exploring: it’s external. The majority of the comedy and drama revolving around this story element are in the forms of external viewpoints that came as the result of the soul-swapping (Taki’s supposed feminine touch getting him a girlfriend, Mitsuha’s masculine confidence giving her unprecedented popularity with boys, etc). And man do we have a lot to talk about (and laugh about) here.

Granted, the Japanese society’s expressive articulation and cultural nuances rather limits my scope of the film’s attempts at subverting the usual gender borders, but it is rather telling when you consider the parallels of Taki and Mitsuha’s out-of-body experiences, especially after they discover the phenomenon for themselves: not only do they make rules for each other (microcosmic reference to societal gender decency), they both promptly break them to the annoyance of each other. And yet, progress is made.

The resulting montage’s overtly comedic and lighthearted tone deals with a multitude of situations where opposite genders’ perspectives and/or mannerisms were engaged under the guise of taking advantage of the other’s identity. The feminine/masculine alienation in the form of a male teenager sowing and engaging in food pornography with stereotypically feminine desserts, and a dignified young lady kicking over desks and kicking ass at sports, all contribute to the overall motif of violation.

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In Nerdwriter’s video essay on Harry Potter: The Prisoner of Azkaban, specific points were made about the film’s subtle reinforcements of the ever-present idea of Harry’s disconnection with the rest of the world; being the fated Chosen One. Directing angles, specific cuts and framing choices in scenes; many with no direct purpose in advancing the plot, were sprinkled all over the film to drive home this idea of Harry being alone. This internal consistency can also be observed in Your Name, not only with its main characters’ constant rule breaking and adventuring with each other’s identities, but also with other subtle enforcement details. Motific reinforcement can be seen in Taki’s friend and former crush hijacking his trip in search of Mitsuha, the unconsented ‘indirect kiss’ when the former drinks the sake that was fermented by Mitsuha chewing on the rice and spitting it out, the final act’s hacking of the town’s broadcast systems, firebombing the power plant (?!), and the meteor itself.

On a even more symbolic level, with the established discourse; that the film is centred around the theme of progress through violation, it is entirely possible to view the meteor’s thematic presence as being in correlation with that as well.

Let’s explore the most obvious ideas first: as dictated by the film’s second act, the meteor is a direct force of destruction against planet Earth; a force that wiped out a third of a town, forever changing the landscape of Japan, both on a geographic level and attitudinal level. As for the parallel theme of progress? Taki and Mitsuha’s efforts; spurred on by the impending destruction; did eventually manage to save most of the town’s residents, enabling them to find a new sense of progress in life. It is perhaps obvious enough, since Mitsuha and her friends share the sentiment that the town’s backwards disposition was wholly disconnected with the rest of the world. If one’s willing to twist the rhetoric aggressively enough: the meteor fragment that decimated a town, was ultimately a force of progress.

(Post-publication edit): I see the meteor as a more clear representation of a ‘new state of normal’, rather than being purely a force of progress. I hope I made that clear throughout the post. If not…this edit should rectify that.

Dailiness | The Disruption Felt When Schedules Fall Apart

Building upon the previous idea with the meteor’s larger implications in Your Name’s cinematic world, one of the central media academia discourses that focuses on contemporary media and a mediated world is the concept of dailiness: the pre-contracted timelines societies fall under due to the timetabled disposition of their daily lives. Movie trailers are scheduled across an entire year before the movie’s eventual debut in cinemas, before a 4 month wait till its home video release. Movie studios announces their franchise sequels with pretty set-in-stone release dates; giant modern experiments such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe clamping down film release dates as far ahead as 2020. The cyclic nature of sporting events; 4 year cycles for the Olympics, The World Cup, the yearly ordeals of national holidays, the monthly issues of magazines, the weekly runs of TV programs and the daily news. The timetabled way of life is the ultimate contemporary example of societal complacency. The media rituals of a typical household also plays into the daily lifestyles each family partake in: radio at the breakfast table, checking Twitter and Facebook on the bus to work/school. The 5pm news that Dad tunes in while Mum catches up on Netflix dramas on her laptop.

In Matoko Shinkai’s Your Name, this sense of dailiness is disrupted by the meteor fragment that spells disaster. The level of complacency that modern society has yielded in their mediated sense of ‘expected’ events is even showcased, by how the meteor’s pass across Earth’s skies were calculated by scientists and live-broadcasted by the media; supposedly taking its place within the planned schedules of the world. The falling fragment that forms an unexpected marvel; interestingly described by the characters as being cathartic and beautiful, is a direct violation of the scheduled lives of society. A fitting allegory of history-shaping events that disrupts the status quo, and changes the world as society sees it.

Note: This is a concept that I have read a lot about in peer-reviewed articles from my university server, but I can’t seem to find online copies that can be linked here. But I’ll leave a note here to let you know that they exist, in case you are interested in reading them.

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Fate of the two: the complacent and the history-altering.

String-Shaped Time & The World Inside A Frame

Having covered the more broad strokes of Your Name, this final section aims to do some housekeeping with additional thematic elements that were also played around with.

Let’s talk about every author’s favourite plaything: time.

With the motif of halves that Shinkai has continued to utilise beyond slicing tomatoes and framing the inside and outside of sliding doors, it is perhaps interesting to consider the film’s treatment of time in conjunction with fate. Also bringing back the idea of subtle thematic consistency from Nerdwriter, the visual motif was repeated in scenes that may not immediately advance the plot: no less than 5 times, did the camera position itself at the foot of the door, perfectly halving the frame as the slider doors opened and closed in the first act. Shinkai seems to use this visual element as an idea to illustrate the nature of fate and progress; the decision (or predestined action) made to cross a threshold into a different dimension, be it Mitsuha stepping out of the train door in the act 3, or the climactic encounter above the crater between the two protagonists.

The red string of fate (i.e. Mitsuha’s hair band) alludes quite early on, to the concept of premeditated events of emotional connection between the star-crossed Taki and Mitsuha, who were already separated by their differing timelines. The phenomenon that finally unites them was during the twilight: the moment in time between day and night. Again, the halving motif.

Time is an impersonal entity, and Your Name is also convinced of its spliced nature, as it continuously plays around with the idea of the multi-faceted paths of progress. The halving visual motif reached its most striking moment, as the two protagonists are separated by time; symbolised by the cinematic frame halved by a single sun-ray.

Now THIS is something meaty to chew on.

Endgame

In the end, Your Name’s entire plot revolves around the progress of relationships; as frustrating as it is to watch, with Shinkai; armed with the public expectation of disappointment in almost every film he has outed, with similar ideas and visual cues stretching as far as the relationship-destroying trains of 5 Centimetres Per Second, to the birds-eye view of parasols and main characters who unknowingly walk past each other, not realising that they; thematically (or…dictated by the audience) speaking, belong to each other.

Your Name inhabits a world where the concept of online relationships is slowly becoming normalised. Throw in the contemporary societal issues of gender, the film’s interesting explorations of progress through violation, gendered understanding and the idea of relational connections established years before actual physical contact, makes it incredibly relevant in more ways than just a romantic comedy with body-swapping antics. Your Name is a visually magnificent experience, tonally dual-faced but pleasantly so and is very much a worthy admission for the big screen, along with a heck tonne of ideas that will remain interesting for additional viewings.

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First entry into my Funomenal Month of Christmas column for 2016.

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6 thoughts on “Your Name | Kimi no Na wa: Interpreting Progress in Gender and Rule-breaking

  1. The meteor being a force of progress argument stands on shaky ground if we take into account the discourse around disaster, which Japan has in recent years produced plenty of. The fragment didn’t force progress, directly or indirectly. We know this because two epilogues exist to the disaster. The one the story settles on in the end you’ve outlined already, but the epilogue preceding Taki’s intervention is one in which there is only loss. Even worse, the disaster is swept under the national rug. An event that likely made international news three years ago, yet Taki completely forgets about it.

    How the nation handled this event in the preceding outcome is fully characteristic of Japanese attitudes toward disaster, which was well researched and contextualized by critics such as Azuma Hiroki in the years following 3/11. Taking this into account, I’m inclined to stop you at gender swapping and violations/explorations of private space. It’s where Mitsuha found her own internal progress, which she translated to external progress. It was not enough she changes, others had to recognise it as well. That was her coming-of.

    As an aside, love the fact I’m not the only one noticing the firebombing being out of place. I also think that particular bit, aside from being rebelious, has a far deeper, political message appended to it, which I think is just great.

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    • Mmmhmm, like I mentioned in the essay about my lack of knowledge scope in Japan’s politics and society, I was prepared to face potential backlash for making assumptions with the meteor’s larger meaning that are entirely based on my own internal responses and logic. Regarding the government downplaying of the alternate history, had Taki not intervened, unfortunately that plot point may have left my memory not long after leaving the cinemas; this entire essay is a study based on memory of a screening that happened a week ago, so I apologize for that.

      Other than that, my exploration of violation and the bedroom indeed play around with external recognition. Again this sentiment is one I’m more emotionally invested in, rather than being logically inclined to by critics (a line of discourse that I don’t really engage with much outside my university degree).

      Thank you for the response. This essay is less so drawing a line in the sand about my definitive stance on the film’s larger meanings, but more so a collection of idea sketches to engage in more discussions about, whether you can support the ideas with your own, or debunk them with alternatives.

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  2. > Regarding the government downplaying of the alternate history, had Taki not intervened,

    About that, it’s nothing explicit, just small details like why Taki forgot about such a big historic event. I mean, it’s not every day that a meteor crashes down and wipes off entire villages, right? Also things like Taki’s prolonged search for Itomori until somebody notices his drawings.

    If you’re interested in reading about disaster attitudes, this would be a nice, short introduction (skip to paragraph 4).

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  3. Yeah, there is some elements that are hard to reproduce, like the the schedule side, the bodychanging side and all. But overall, its a daring move to make such a movie and I love it.

    *Feels proud because watched the movie before everyone else outside Japan* Hmph

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  4. I haven’t watched this film yet, so I can comment much but wow. Another impressive analysis from you. Thank you very much for submitting this to my blog carnival. Keep up the great work. Since a few other otaku bloggers and I just created a group that promotes the acceptance of all regardless of racial background, gender, sexual orientation, etc, this post really resonates to me. Shows that messes up with expected gender expectations almost always get my admiration and respect. Anyway, excellent post. Keep up the great work. Cheers!

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