What Gets Lost (Your Name Analysis)
In Gigguk’s recent video on Your Name, he expresses a viewpoint I’ve heard too often to continue sitting on my heels about it. To quote the video: “…even though Your Name has a natural disaster in it, I don’t feel like it’s a film about disasters.” He goes on to suggest the comet strike’s “real purpose” is to provide “spectacle” and explosive set pieces. I don’t mean to call Gigguk out here, as he explicitly states his video is just an explanation of why he enjoys the film, and his video style isn’t suited for the kind of discussion I want to have anyway. His video just works as a solid starting point, as it represents a disappointing lack of discussion on two large concerns of the film: the conservation of culture and the preservation of human connections.
The film consists of three natural disasters, two of which we do not witness directly, but all of which we see the effects of. The first of these is the first comet impact 1,200 years ago that shaped the landscape of Itomori. Both the great lake at the edge of town and possibly the crater surrounding the shrine god’s body (this might be a caldera, which could imply a fourth disaster) are results of the first comet impact and have a profound effect on the town’s development moving forward—more on this later. Although we can’t be sure if a large written/architectural/artistic history was destroyed by that impact, we can trace the cultural development of Itomori following the disaster.
This brings us to the second disaster, and the first confirmable instance of cultural loss or (more accurately) a gap in cultural memory. The Great Fire of Mayugoro destroys both Miyamizu Shrine and all the historical and cultural records stored nearby and within. Since Itomori would have been an extremely small village in the 1800’s, it is safe to assume everything that could distinguish Itomori from any other village would have been stored around the village’s religious center. Thus, a millennium’s worth of Itomori’s culture disappears from memory. As an example: the portraits of Miyamizu family members displayed in Mitsuha’s home only go back a few generations. Every family member who lived before the Fire is essentially forgotten.
As Mitsuha’s grandmother describes the Fire, she tells the thread-twining Yotsuha to “listen to the thread’s voice” so that emotions can flow between her and the thread. When Yotsuha protests that “threads don’t talk”, her grandmother explains that “1,000 years of Itomori’s history is etched into [the] braided cords” the Miyamizu family makes. Importantly, she states that “even if words are lost, tradition should be handed down.” So it is that the Miyamizu family attempts to revive the lost past by practicing their braiding and performing their Shrine rituals. What Yotsuha should attempt to hear in the thread is that millennium of lost culture and history preserved through the braided cord traditions—be it literally stored in the threads or figuratively. Notably, this history and culture is in reference to the first comet strike; these are festivals, rituals, names, etc. that were developed in response to Itomori’s first disaster.
Finally, there is the obvious disaster of the present-day comet strike. Although the moment of impact is grand and something of a marvel to see animated right before your eyes, this does not take away from the tragedy and consequence of the disaster. The fact we don’t see anyone die or suffer firsthand does not make this disaster superfluous. It is not a contrivance to motivate Taki and Mitsuha or to amplify the energy of the movie. We witness it because we have to witness it, and its grandeur is there to sell its destructive power.
We can begin to understand the effects of this disaster by first observing the timeline in which Mitsuha does not survive. On his date with Okudera, Taki visits a photo exhibit entitled “Nostalgia” which features many photos from the destroyed Itomori. Without overanalyzing the linguistics, “nostalgia” comes packed with a connotation of “impossible to recover”. We are nostalgic in reference to times, situations, and environments that we don’t believe we can reconstruct. As I mentioned in my First Thoughts, Itomori is a place that cannot be physically reached after the comet strike. Not only is it barricaded off, but its buildings and roads and even patches of grass simply do not exist anymore. Their physical actualization has been swept away, just like the records of Itomori’s cultural history were in Mayugoro’s fire.
That nostalgic scenery and architecture can only be communicated—can only be “heard”—through artistic replications in the form of photographs and Taki’s drawings. The moment Taki stands in front of the photo exhibit, hearing Itomori’s past, is the same moment Okudera realizes that she is not the girl in his heart. Okudera is able to pick up on the transfer of some emotional energy (Mitsuha’s energy) between Taki and the photos, and she ends the date shortly after by saying that she can tell he likes someone else. Later on, she expands upon this when she tells Tsukasa that she’s “sure [Taki] met someone and that someone changed him.” This abstract perception of change is akin to the way the artistic form of Itomori’s rituals survived despite their concrete purpose disappearing.
Cultural nostalgia via art continues to play a major role throughout the film. Remember that it is Taki’s drawing of Itomori that convinces the old ramen chef to drive him back to Itomori and pack him a bento. Again, there is an emotional or spiritual spark in someone because of nostalgic renditions of a cultural past. Here, it is vital not to forget that this is a film that takes place largely in the relative past—the present of the film is explicitly stated to be 2016, while the events in Itomori are set in 2013. Thus, the film itself accesses this nostalgic power. I don’t intend to discuss whether/to what extent Shinkai is grappling with the real Fukushima disaster or any other real disaster, but it goes without saying that Japan is a nation that is unfortunately familiar with disaster, but also values its cultural heritage.
The importance of this nostalgia and of passing down traditions even after the “words” behind them have disappeared is shown through the old chef. Having some artistic or abstract memory of your culture or heritage is a means to cope with what you’ve lost. It is a means to cope with that inaccessible component of nostalgia. It is a reassurance that our transient physical forms and productions will not be gone forever once they are destroyed. Cultures and human connections survive via traditions, ideas, replications, and repetitions. Mitsuha and Taki personify this system of survival.
The film makes sure we understand that Taki and Mitsuha’s memories of each other’s lives are imperfect and fading. While Mitsuha forgetting Taki is of less importance in this discussion, Taki forgetting Mitsuha is the crux of the argument. First, we need to understand that, to a great degree, the Miyamizu family represents Itomori. The name Miyamizu itself means “water temple”, a reference to the Miyamizu shrine that overlooks the great lake, as well as the shrine god’s body that is encircled by water. Obviously, the Miyamizu Shrine encompasses Itomori’s entire culture (particularly so before Mayugoro’s fire, as mentioned). Although not a Miyamizu by blood, Mitsuha’s father was once a Shinto priest and is now Itomori’s mayor, further solidifying the Miyamizu family as a stand-in for the town itself.
So, when Mitsuha’s “presence” in Taki’s life begins to vanish—he forgets her name (a word, keep in mind), her diary entries disappear (words), he can’t reach her by phone call (communication via words), etc.—it is representative of Itomori fading from his memory. And sure enough, he struggles to recall Itomori’s name just as he will later struggle to recall Mitsuha’s. Itomori’s culture, including Taki’s emotional connection with Mitsuha and the town itself, is only preserved through his visions of her life. He can remember the landscapes and architecture of the town, but not the name. In a sense, Taki is a historian and an artist, building up memories in the braided cord he wears on his wrist so that eventually he can possess such a strong vision of the past that he can save it from physical annihilation in one timeline and cultural annihilation in another.
After all, Taki doesn’t just go on high school hijinks when he lives Mitsuha’s life. He works Mitsuha’s job braiding cords, he experiences the same teasing she does for being a Miyamizu, he visits the shrine god’s body, and he even builds a “café” for Mitsuha and her friends. He is living in such a way that puts him in contact with all of Itomori’s culture, past and present. He has to hear the name Mayugoro and hold the kuchikamizake before he can save Mitsuha (and her memory), but he also has to experience what it’s like to live in a small town and navigate being the mayor’s daughter and shrine’s maiden. I want to stress how integral these cultural experiences are to the story because although Your Name is a story about love, it doesn’t end within those boundaries.
The film’s title references the (supposed) driving conflict of Mitsuha and Taki remembering each other’s names, but those names are words that become lost even though the love and nostalgia of their connection survives. The concrete, physical convergence of the two characters is repeatedly stifled as they pass each other over and over without recognizing each other, but the abstract nostalgia persists. They both feel as though they are “always searching for something.” In the final montage that leads up to their reunion, Mitsuha and Taki both wake up and look down at their hands where words used to exist, but now only a feeling and a vague connection remain.
This conflict between concrete, physical actualizations of love and human connection vs. the abstract nostalgia that seems to be all that characters are able to obtain is quintessential Shinkai. 5cm/s, Garden of Words, Voices of a Distant Star, and really all the rest of his movies and shorts take this conflict and apply it almost exclusively to romance. They contain lovers that can never physically become one for some reason or another, despite their intense emotional connections. Your Name universalizes this struggle to an extent, and portrays it as a cultural conflict. The film questions and explores how difficult it is for culture to persist in the face of physical separation and destruction. What is lost culturally in a disaster? How can culture survive after a disaster? What persists through art vs. memory, and what effect does that have on individuals? These are the questions Your Name asks.
The film is a love story for sure, but that includes a love between people and the environments and communities that shaped them. Your Name cannot be boiled down to an expression of romantic nostalgia or adolescent nostalgia. There is too much packed into the film that shows how the loss of cultural history, physical environments, and general human connections can affect people. There is too much reflection on the persistence of traditions to claim the story doesn’t step outside the boundaries of a love story or coming of age story.
When Taki returns to the shrine god’s body in his own timeline, he discovers the painting of the first comet strike after drinking Mitsuha’s kuchikamizake (a culturally-dense product of the past). To get to this point, he crosses into the “underworld,” which can be interpreted as the cultural past and the deceased cultural heritage of Itomori. Here, he physically engages in musubi with Mitsuha for the first time by consuming “half of [her]”. As Mitsuha’s grandmother explains, even drinking and eating are forms of musubi. Taki sees a vision of Mitsuha’s past, and is continuously connected to this history by the braided cord on his wrist. He wonders aloud if time can really be “turned back.”
Of particular interest here is Mistuha’s father’s reaction to the death of his wife. So long as Mitsuha’s mother was alive, her father felt connected to the Miyamizu family, the priesthood, and the cultural history of Itomori. Yet, as soon as her mother dies—her father’s physical connection to the Miyamizu family and Itomori—things change. That connection is severed. “I couldn’t save her,” he cries. He says he “loved [his] wife…not Miyamizu Shrine.” Because the physical actualization of his connection vanished, he loses his emotional connection to the Miyamizu family as well.
Mitsuha’s father demonstrates the kind of tragic ruptures humanity can experience when the abstract and emotional fails to survive after the removal of the concrete and physical. He does not simply lose the love of his life and struggle to live on—he loses all connection to a cultural heritage that defined him for years leading up to that tragedy. This severance is portrayed as wholly upsetting. It causes Mitsuha to grieve and cry, it enrages Mitsuha’s grandmother, and it creates a rift between Mitsuha’s father and the rest of the Miyamizu family that threatens to keep them emotionally distant for life. Almost none of these consequences are matters of romance—they’re deeply rooted communal and familial tragedies.
Taki sums it all up in his job interviews at the end of the film. He wants to become an architect because he wants “to build landscapes that leave heartwarming memories.” He thinks about what would be left behind emotionally and culturally if Tokyo was to disappear one day. To him, the images implanted in people’s minds, the emotions he can fill them with, are how he feels both his work and the culture of a community will survive the test of time and disaster. He wants to fight against the tragedies that besieged the Miyamizu family and threatened Itomori’s culture, and insure that the emotional connections he creates can survive any disaster.
Okudera and Taki even reflect on their experiences involving Itomori in the final timeline. A giant sign memorializing the eighth anniversary of the Itomori disaster hangs in Tokyo, and the two characters discuss the past. Okudera struggles to remember the number of years since they visited Itomori, saying it “seems like [she’s] forgotten a lot.” Again, this is a concrete detail she’s forgotten. Taki, too, can’t remember many details, but knows he was “inexplicably drawn” to Itomori. He can’t remember why he obsessed over news articles and records of the town, but he knows there was some meaning in it for him. This mirrors how the many rituals and festivals of Miyamizu Shrine have a forgotten purpose, but a preserved importance.
Your Name is ultimately about remembering. The human struggle to remember the past is personified and dramatized through the romance of Mitsuha and Taki, but not condensed into that romance. Taki and Mitsuha chase after each other the same way humans chase after the meanings behind traditions. If anything, the film’s core meaning and emotional impact would be more likely to remain after the removal of a romantic plotline than a disaster plotline. When Mitsuha and Taki ask each other what their names are, they are like survivors of a cultural heritage trying to decide for themselves what the traditions, memories, and emotional connections etched into their hearts mean to them in the present day. That question is the core of the film.
After all this, there is still endless formal elements to discuss and all sorts of alternative angles to take for analysis, but that is all for another time. I only wanted to explore the idea of disaster in Your Name here. The staff behind this film packed a lot of love and effort into it, so there will always be more to discuss and alternatives to consider. For now, I’m content to try and find the words behind my own powerful connection.
If you’re interested in hearing Shinkai’s take on the topic, check out this decent article by VICE.