Nirvana – Your Name

Finding it difficult to put ‘Your Name’ into words, Adi Iskandar decides to just tap the keyboard and hope for the best.

This is a difficult film to review. Difficult, precisely because it is one that is not as easy to describe. It is not a slight intended against it, however, for as a narrative experience to be felt, there is much that can be discussed, one that involves a deeper analysis of the self itself.

My first reaction to ‘Your Name’, however, is one of apparent incredulity. This is largely to do with the title. Imagining it to be comic material, I mentally playacted a scene where a person would talk about this film enthusiastically (as many of its proponents have done thus far), which would lead to the other person asking what the film’s title is. “Your Name” may not have been the clearest answer, and is in fact one that led to some confusion for me; in hindsight, this confusion could be seen as a foreshadowing of the film’s experience itself, for the film certainly raised plenty of questions in an enlightening fashion.

It tells the story of Mitsuha (voiced by Mone Kamishiraishi) and Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki). Both are teenagers of the same age group, but they’ve never met. Instead, one day, they wake up and realise that they’ve switched bodies. Given that Mitsuha is a teenage girl from the more rural area of Japan, and Taki is an urbanite safely ensconced in the nation’s capital (or so he thought) it would lead to some interesting body-switching comedy that would usually ensue in such a film… or not. Their initial days of having switched bodies were different from what I expected. Perhaps if I was the director, there scenes would have been one of chaos, a form of bedlam characterised by a “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!” vibe.

We must thank God and goodness that that is not the case. Instead, both Mitsuha and Taki were relatively subdued, quiet confusion setting in instead of chaotic cacophony. What’s interesting is that both realised their curiosities are best dealt with by going with the flow, for to the sea the rivers run. In time, they discover that they can communicate with each other by way of leaving notes through their phones and in their notebook. Why? That’s because they can switch bodies back at certain moments, without really knowing when and how. This is, after all, a science fiction drama, where things like this just happen… or do they?

In the background, we constantly hear news of a comet, due to pass by Earth, but close enough to be viewed and admired by its populace. This provides the context to the proceedings, one in which a natural wonder is also potentially catastrophic for the people. Scouring around on the Internet, there are strong suggestions as to how this film is an artistic reconsideration of the 2011 earthquake in Japan. Given how the comet metamorphoses into a key plot point in the film later on, the nuclear meltdown suffered in real life (as well as the natural disaster[s]) may help to frame this film properly. I am not an expert in the films of the director, Makoto Shinkai, but given how a number of other films from Japan often deal with the result of nuclear fallouts either in a direct or indirect way, it could be a guide as to how sense could be made.

So it’s the comet’s fault then… or is it? Early in the film, Mitsuha (played by Taki here) is seen taking part in kuchikamikaze, a traditional Japanese ritual connected to a village guardian god who play a key role in ruling human experiences and connections. If it’s not clear enough that that sentence is paraphrased straight from Wikipedia, the captivating depiction of the tradition was more exquisite than I thought it would have been. There’s a lovely bit of pacing going on here, with just the right kind of slowness that is also seen in a lot of Japan’s other films. While I will talk about the pacing a little more later on, I am reminded of how a lot of other films (anime or otherwise) employs the same device in letting the diegetic world unspool before us. Even as a form of superficial dressing, the ritual is beautiful, even if it is not all that important to the conflict of the film… or is it? Much later on, Taki (now played by Taki) seeks out the very same shrine used in the ritual, in an attempt to repair the very same human connections he thought may have been damaged forever.

You jump, therefore, from one question to another, and from one scene to another, leaving behind a trail of philosophical and logical underpinnings not quite satisfied by the menu on offer. And yet… there remains much delight in seeing how they both explore different worlds outside of their respective comfort zones. Mitsuha (as Taki) helps the boy to connect with a long-time crush of his, while Taki (as Mitsuha) flowers her socially in school, becoming one of the more popular girls. There is also no small amount of sexuality being explored, with some expressions of this being literal in nature; many mornings, when Taki (as Mitsuha) would wake up, he would grope her breasts. It is presented in a comical enough fashion, but while there are trails of sublegality here (does that count as a form of molestation?), it does provide a fairly realistic touch to what is a fantastical story…

… or is it? As much as the plot points are connected with a form of magical incredulity, it is also very much grounded in reality. There is a strong fidelity of its pacing to the realities of the world. As hinted at earlier, the director really did take his time with many of his scenes, preferring to build up slowly the understanding of the different worlds. This slow pacing gives everything more room to breathe, infusing what could be considered as a form of classic 2D animation with the benefits of a third dimension, resulting in a vibrant dynamism that, at times, either takes your breath away or holds it in. It seems obvious to describe all these as being connected with one another, but one must identify one of them, the dimension of time, as being absolutely crucial in moving the plot further forward.

At the risk of spoiling the film, a key moment in the film came much later on as a revelation is given about the disparity between the two characters (and their camaraderie of friends and family members) we’ve come to care for (as a result of the pacing mentioned earlier). Not only is this something that would leave even Christopher Nolan, the godfather of the puzzle film genre, to stop the DVD and declare, as he ejects it, that he’s “been outNolanded”, it also plunges us deeper into the rabbit hole that is the film and its story. At some point, as I watched it with my friend, it transitioned from “WTF?” to what happens next, that storytelling nirvana every filmmaker wishes to achieve. There’s so much that doesn’t make sense, at least not for me on the first viewing… and yet because you care about these characters so much, that is secondary to wanting a happy ending for both of them (preferably together).

For me, that’s the greatest success of the greatest anime success of all time (in terms of box office receipts). I came into the film having next to no idea about what I was getting myself into, and if you were to ask me now what it was I did get into, I would still find it difficult to string together coherent sentences to truly encapsulate the curious experience. The above may help more than a little bit, but the fact remains that I don’t recall being as captivated by a film like this in a long time, keeping me on its tenterhooks all the way through to the very last of its frames.

Nirvana indeed.

Featured image credit: Wine Spectator

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