OP: 「夢灯籠」 (Yume Tourou) by RADWIMPS
「君の名は。」 (Kimi no Na wa.)
Do I really need to say anything about Kimi no Na wa.? Even if you haven’t already watched it, you probably don’t need me to convince you to do so. It’s Shinkai Makoto. It’s extremely pretty. It’s definitely designed to be a summer blockbuster full of wide-reaching appeal, containing a good mix of comedy and drama, action and romance. And let’s not forget to mention the big musical set pieces that will blow you away. If you’re an anime fan, then this is some of best that anime can possibly offer, so there’s no question about watching it. I actually managed to convince some anime-ambivalent mates of mine to come watch Kimi no Na wa. with me at the cinema, and they all came out of the theatre quite moved by what, to them, was a foreign animated feature with subtitles. If the worth of a work is in the power of its reach, then Shinkai-sensei has wrought a masterpiece indeed. I could spend the next thousand words heaping accolades on him, but I’m sure plenty before me have done that already, and I don’t plan on disagreeing. Instead, let us take a Passerby tangent and instead talk about Shinkai Makoto’s other works, and how Kimi no Na wa. fits itself into his ouevre.
Around the time Miyazaki Hayao announced his retirement (then un-retired, then re-retired), there was some talk about who could possibly fill his giant, medium-defining shoes. And up floated the name of Shinkai Makoto. Understandable: Shinkai-sensei proved himself as an excellent director, his films were gorgeous, and he was the next big name in a world without Studio Ghibli. The line of succession seemed clear. And it does seem that Shinkai has, to some degree, taken up that mantle. There was, of course, his most blatant attempt in Hoshi o Ou Kodomo, but we can see the influences in Kimi no Na wa. as well. The sweeping vistas share Miyazaki’s own love of the Japanese countryside, and the overtones of Shinto mysticism are obvious, as they were in Miyazaki films like Spirited Away. I often mention that there is something intrinsically, culturally Japanese that makes anime anime, and evidently Shinkai is flying that flag, too.
In many other ways, though, Shinkai Makoto is very plainly not Miyazaki Hayao—not as a knock against either man, but just as an observation that they’re two different people. In visual style, Shinkai favours hyperrealism where Miyazaki would be more abstract (though I hate to generalise). Miyazaki’s composer partner, Hisaishi Joe, specialised in instrumental minimalism, whereas in Kimi no Na wa. we can tell that Shinkai most enjoys making music videos. And in terms of subject matter Miyazaki talked mostly about childhood, while Shinkai mostly about adolescence. Miyazaki is actually something of a grumpy old man at times, and he has a thing or two to say to those kids on his lawn. But he makes this a positive experience in his films, attempting to inspire the younger generation while speaking to the inner child of his older audience. Shinkai, on the other hand, rather than lecture or inspire, empathises. When talking about adolescence, he talks of a time filled with doubt, confusion and pain. He’s been there, he’s felt it, and he wants to express it as an artist. Many of his works—all of his works?—have bittersweet aftertastes, which is usually (usually) not a flavour Miyazaki uses. This is what makes Kimi no Na wa. so notable in Shinkai’s oeuvre.
Kimi no Na wa. has a happy ending.
Of course, it could just be that the happy ending focus-grouped better, as happy endings often do. Lets push our cynicism aside, though, and gaze in wonder at Shinkai Makoto being happy. His films have so notably been about separation and yearning (just take the defining 5cm Per Second, and later Garden of Words), that Kimi no Na wa. seems like a huge step. Make no mistake, I’m not saying that Kimi no Na wa. is not also about separation and yearning—we have more than enough wistful gazes to prove it. There are unrequited loves aplenty. There is pro forma heartbreak. And Shinkai talks at length about the ephemeral nature of adolescence, as if it were a fleeting dream. Imagine how easy and in-character for Shinkai it would have been for Kimi no Na wa. to have ended on the bridge, to pass each other by and go their separate ways, leaving their adventure behind as a youthful fancy. But it doesn’t. In 5/8 years, time had healed other wounds. But our protagonists held onto the dream, held onto the yearning, held onto the pain—and something comes out of it. It’s not even up in the air, like in Garden of Words. No, they are rewarded with fulfilment. They get their happy ending.
Journey back with me, if you will, to Shinkai Makoto’s earlier days, to back when he was still a one-man-show, to Voices of a Distant Star. For those of you who haven’t watched it (and like all things Shinkai, you should), it’s a sci-fi in which a female mecha pilot fights in space while keeping in touch with her boyfriend via text messages. Spoiler warning: it’s about separation and yearning. More than that, though, it’s about heartwrenching barriers of distance, in not just space but also time (sit down, physicists). Does it all sound vaguely familiar? It’s vintage Shinkai, but specifically shares the same soul as Kimi no Na wa.. It’s as if he has finally come full-circle. Voices of a Distant Star was ultimately a tragedy. Kimi no Na wa. could have been, but firmly sidesteps it. Perhaps the happy ending was just more of Shinkai emulating ‘the next Miyazaki’—which he is not but some expect him to be. I, though, see something else here. Shinkai-sensei was grappling with something deep and troubling within himself when he made Voices of a Distant Star. He grappled with it for a decade and a half. And now, perhaps, he has found his answer. Thus, Kimi no Na wa.
Full-length images: 209.
ED: 「なんでもないや」 (Nandemonaiya) by RADWIMPS