Your Name (Kimi no Naha 君の名は), was released in Singapore theatres yesterday. I had heard a lot about this Japanese anime film — first from my Japanese friends, and then later it was even reported by BBC News and the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ hailed the film’s director, Makoto Shinkai, as a “changing of the guard”, someone with the quality to take over the reins of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.
Warning: Spoilers follow for Your Name. I will also reveal some light spoilers for Steins;Gate, so please stop reading if you don’t want to be spoiled.
Your Name has a very simple theme and premise: What happens if you fall in love with a random stranger you have never physically met? The two protagonists, Taki and Mitsuha, discover one day that they are able to switch bodies with each other multiple times a week. Their initial disdain at the thought of an unknown stranger potentially messing up how they live their lives, eventually develops into fondness and something bigger.
There is one clever twist revealed midway through the film, though. Mitsuha is supposed to be dead three years ago. Somehow, through their body swapping, Taki is able to time leap into the past, while Mitsuha is time leaping forward into the future.
When this revelation was shown, I was thinking to myself in the theatre: “Oh my gosh, this is basically Steins;Gate all over again“. The protagonist of Steins;Gate is able to time leap into his past self, as he embarks on an arduous quest to avert a huge disaster. But it comes at a huge cost — in overwriting the past, his loved ones will lose their memories.
The scene at the Itomori crater, where the body-swapped Taki and Mitsuha were looking for each other, I already knew that it was impossible for them to meet. If you were paying attention, both of them were still in different timelines. It was not possible for Taki’s body and Mitsuha’s body, to both be at that particular spot at the exact same time. And yet, they were still able to communicate with each other because of the “twilight” McGuffin. It might feel like a heavy-handed plot device to some viewers, but I thought that it was handled and presented credibly. This was the best moment of the entire film in my opinion. Everything was building up to this encounter, and the way that it ended abruptly was bittersweet and tragic.
Just like Steins;Gate, Your Name is trying to convey the same thematic motif: Love can transcend time and space, even if we have lost our memories, and even if we are not physically with each other. Again, it sounds like a very cliche stereotype, but the reason why it works for Your Name is because of its unconventional storytelling: The film’s sequence of events is intentionally shown out of chronological order. This forces the viewer to think back to what has happened, and it keeps them engaged. I am seriously considering going back to the cinema for a second viewing, just to see if all the time skipping and chronological threads hold up.
It’s amazing that the best stories in Japanese media, be it videogames or anime, all seem to have one common plot device: Time. Be it time travel, time manipulation, or the unchronological order of events, Your Name shows us that the simplest of love stories can be made greater with this concept.