EM: First Thoughts on Your Name

First Thoughts on Your Name

I recently saw Your Name for the third time, and plan on a fourth if I can scrounge up the money for another ticket. I’ve only ever seen two movies multiple times before this: La La Land and The Dark Knight, and for good reason. Movie theaters have become the Russian roulette of the entertainment industry. After emptying my wallet for a ticket, I have to smuggle in life-sustaining water like a convict bringing drugs into the pound. If I manage to avoid being scolded by an usher for not buying the meal-priced water they sell, then I’m still only looking at a 50-50 chance for a pleasant viewing experience. It’s up to fate whether or not you sit next to a fatally rude movie-goer.

I kind of sound like a grumpy old man, but it’s just to make my point: a movie has to be exceptional for me to make a second or third trip back. And Your Name was exceptional. I don’t usually write these early reaction, emotional response kinds of posts, but I’ll try give a sense of my pure reactions to the movie before I start talking about specific aspects that impressed me.

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The setting, namely Itomori, is probably the most emotionally moving part of the film for me. Beyond the beautiful background work and lighting that fills every frame, Itomori’s culture and history (and the way they’re presented and developed) absolutely floored me. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a rural town where you knew everyone you saw, and kids got singled out for being part of this or that family, and each season was filled with traditions that (while usually not religious in nature) no one could remember how each started in the first place. There were more bars than gas stations and you had to drive at least half an hour to get to any place of interest. There was even a large lake at the edge of town! Like Mitsuha, all my classmates wanted to escape to the city as soon as they graduated. It was a desire I shared for a while, too.

This portrayal of small town life was more earnest and powerful than most cases. In my experience, most movies try to appeal to rural nostalgia with shallow details like kids riding their bikes and farm animals roaming about. While these details can be accurate, they always feel like an outsider’s perspective or the memories of someone with a fondness for their childhood itself and not necessarily the setting of their childhood. The Sandlot strikes me as the best example of this: the nostalgia of pickup baseball games and carnivals and preteen freedom the film plays on is really only colored by its setting, rather than built out of that setting. I guess the cliché thing to say is that the town isn’t a character itself? I think of Clannad (the visual novel more than the anime) as a story with a more earnest depiction of a small town, though it falls short of Your Name as well.

This becomes quite important as the film progresses, as the true victim of the comet falling (the true victim of nature at large, to be honest) is Itomori and its history. The memory of Itomori. This is where things get incredibly complex and poignant. I’ll try to keep my thoughts clear, but I’m working off of my own memory here! Itomori is literally wiped off the face of the planet, and this causes huge issues for cultural conservatism and, honestly, suffering for those who want to remember the past. There is a beautifully underplayed moment when the old chef who drives Taki to Itomori lets him out with a bento, telling him his drawing of Itomori was good (or something to that effect). This man has lost his hometown, not to mention the people in it, and Taki’s ability to resurrect images of that ruined past hits the man deeply. Itomori is a place that can no longer be reached, and thus there is no way to stave off the decay of his memories of it. Any image that can recollect that scenery and, as Taki says, give people memories that stay with them is a powerful image indeed. I suppose that’s what I’m praising Shinkai for in his own portrayal of Itomori—this film returns my memories of my own town.

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We see this paralleled in Taki and Mitsuha’s difficulty remembering each other’s names. At different points, they are unable to reach each other either because Mitsuha has died or because Taki isn’t aware of her existence in the first place. Their recollection is frustrated by the fact they can’t meet each other in the kind of physical state necessary to share memories. I can’t remember the details well enough to paint a pretty tableau of the situation, but essentially it is only because of their connection—their musubi—that they are able to preserve each other and thus the memory of each other, eventually reconvening like the threads of a braided cord. Likewise, Taki is only able to recreate images of Itomori because of that musubi with Mitsuha and her hometown.

Yet, we know the falling comet isn’t the only instance of Itomori’s history/culture being erased from human memory. The fire that destroyed the spiritual records and town history roughly 200 years before the story takes place also takes the Itomori residents’ memories with it. Even Mitsuha’s grandmother, who is the oldest character we meet in town, does not know why exactly the Kuchikamizake ritual or the braided cords are so important to Itomori, she just knows that they are. Taki is the one who converges with the past once again, discovering the image of the comet within the shrine god’s body. Interestingly, Taki is the character most in tune with and concerned about preserving the past. He learns of the significance of the comet’s first strike, he draws images of a destroyed and partially forgotten town, he wants to be an architect for the sake of creating memories in people.

The idea of musubi—of connections created and broken, threads converging and separating only to converge once more—makes up the fiber of the film’s form itself. There are endless mirror shots of Taki and Mitsuha (most obviously when they look up at the comet or when they run along at mountaintop at twilight), as well as dozens of identical door opening/closing shots. Even the editing forces the chronology of the film to break apart and converge and twist back onto itself. At the start of the movie, we meet Taki in Mitsuha’s body, only to jump cut to the “next day” when Mitsuha is herself and dealing with the aftermath of Taki’s actions. Later on, similar editing is used when Mitsuha or Taki flip backwards through the dates on their phones to learn about what happened in the “past”. The images and editing are literally part of the musubi we experience with the film, and that’s rather ingenius.

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But I used all those quotes there because chronology isn’t quite so simple in the movie. Honestly, I find ALL CAPS THEORIES about time travel or multiverse movies to be the second most pedantic analysis to read (beaten out only by people nitpicking the details of time travel; sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but time travel plots will never make sense once you look long enough), but I do want to give some quick thoughts on how I think chronology fits thematically into Your Name.

I found it most productive to assume there were three timelines: 1) Mitsuha possibly dreaming Taki’s life, but ultimately dying to the comet, 2) Taki living Mitsuha’s life, and ultimately formulating the plan to save the townspeople, and 3) convergence. Mitsuha and Taki, and thus the first two timelines, meet at twilight (a place devoid of strict time, as it is neither night nor day) and twist around each other like a braided cord. Then they break apart as twilight ends and we’re given a glimpse of timeline #1 where Taki struggles to remember Mitsuha after she and Itomori have disappeared. Right after that is another glimpse of timeline #2 where Mitsuha works to save the town. Then we ought to forget timelines #1 and #2. After the comet strikes, there is a time leap to eight years later where it’s best to assume we’re on a third timeline that acts like the full braiding of the first two timelines, with Mitsuha and Taki having finally truly converged. Thus, they finally meet each other in full reality.

I really hope I didn’t make that too confusing after flaming people who ramble about their theories…I could go into more specific details to “make my case” or whatever, but I’m mostly positing that this way of viewing the timelines makes the most sense thematically. It best fits into the themes of braids and musubi that have already been established. Like I said, talking about the minor consistencies and inconsistencies bores me to tears. I just want beauty.

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I said I was going to talk about kneejerk reactions but wound up diving into full-blown analysis. On the subject of pure reaction, the melodrama of the movie hit spectacularly. Much to my surprise, actually. Even some of my more cynical friends managed to take moments like the power plant explosion seriously, which was an unexpected validation for my favorite narrative mode. I’ve been comparing Your Name to The Breakfast Club in my head a lot—not because they share much in terms of themes or plot, but because I (cautiously) consider them tied for my favorite melodramas at this point. I keep considering the expressions of teenage passion in The Breakfast Club (the loud musical cues, certain scenes with glass-shattering yells, etc.) as like safer versions of Your Name’s explosions and falling bikes and so on. The safer expressions have less chance to fail as time goes by, but I can’t help but prefer the riskier option.

I’ll have to see if certain scenes in Your Name stir the same straight response out of me in ten years as they do now. After ten years of seeing it, The Breakfast Club has retained its impact and I’ve remained capable of taking it straight, which is a large reason why it’s such a favorite of mine. Will I feel the same way about Your Name in the future? I’m inclined to say yes because of how well the film is executed, but who knows. It doesn’t really matter right now, after all!

But while I’m comparing the two movies, let’s talk about insert songs. Quentin Tarantino said in an interview that a car chase or montage set to good music is the height of fun at the theater, and I couldn’t agree more. Yet well-placed insert songs have been all but absent from Hollywood the past couple of decades. As if spitting in our faces, Suicide Squad forked over an ungodly amount of money for a killer soundtrack and used it as background music. They played “Black Skinhead” under the sounds of practice gunshots; they played “Seven Nation Army” during conversations! The reason the Rocky montages or Reservoir Dogs’s torture scene are so iconic is because the music gets to be, well, music. The music becomes the director for a couple of minutes, dictating what the audience gets to see and experience. Your Name does this perfectly with the “Zen Zen Zense” montage, as well as a couple of the other inserts. Perhaps those scenes won’t feel as classic as The Breakfast Club’s dance scene, but boy was it fun to see music taking center stage on the big screen again.

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After a fat paragraph ranting about music, I’m starting to realize these “first thoughts” are becoming a bit more than that. I could go on about lots of little details that tie up the movie into a cute, cohesive package (the bells from the Kuchikamizake ritual echoing when Mitsuha and Taki pass each other because of the braided cords they wear, Mitsuha’s bullies being shown during the montage that leads to the far future, the kanji readings of the names, etc.), but a lot of those details are summarized quite nicely in this super long thread on Quora. Be aware that I’m not sure how reliable some of this information is, although everything I researched matched up with what was said in the thread. At any rate, it’s a fun read that will make you want to see the movie again.

It’s likely that I’ll want to write some serious and focused essays on this movie in the future, probably sometime after there is a high quality copy without Chinese subtitles readily available to me. I couldn’t possibly do the movie justice in my hazy ramblings here. I just had to write something about it now. On top of everything I talked about above, there some esoteric quality to the movie that makes me love it in the same unexplainable way I love Hibike! Euphonium and La La Land—some unrecognizable quality. Maybe it’s something as minute as every shot being cut exactly when I would’ve cut it. I theorize in my Euphonium essays that it might simply be that the story expresses itself exactly like I would express myself. Whatever the case, I can’t get these stories out of my mind. Considering there are far worse things to be thinking about all day, I’m truly grateful I could find something so beautiful to fill my head.

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