There are certain things that you can only pull off in anime. Imagine if you saw a live-action actor or actress attempt some cheesy romantic line or some impassioned speech exaggerated to epic proportions—the audience would have a hard time taking any of that seriously. Anime, on the other hand, is able to illustrate its characters to go along with (often) unrealistic dialogue through exaggerated facial expressions, gestures and other 2D effects. Anime evokes a kind of emotional credibility because it is not part of our reality.
"Kimi no Na wa" (English translation: "Your Name"), a Japanese animated film by director Makoto Shinkai, is a perfect example of this escapism-through-animation. The film is about two characters: a girl who lives in rural Japan and a boy who lives in Tokyo. The two characters swap bodies and end up living each other’s lives at unpredictable times. The story follows the two characters’ relationship with small supernatural elements and traditional Japanese mythology interwoven with the plot.
Although rooted in certain traditional elements from Japanese culture like Japanese shrine settings, the characters themselves are adolescents who use smartphones and have crushes and social anxieties like real people. They are incredibly relatable—the girl wants to leave her constricting rural town and the boy attends a stereotypical city school and works a part time job at a restaurant. The accuracy with which the smartphones resemble iPhones provides a connection with the modern world. And it is through smartphones that the boy and girl choose to record what happens while they are body swapping.
Unfortunately, the film falls short on expanding equally on both of the characters’ internal conflicts and back stories, instead opting to put most of its time on uncovering the overarching plot that draws the two characters together. As much as I would have liked to be more invested personally in the two protagonists (especially the boy, who notably lacks more attention from the director), I don’t find the lack of profound individual character depth to be a huge setback. The focus of "Kimi no Na Wa" is not the individual.
The draw of this film is the idea of fate. In one of Shinkai’s previous films, "5 Centimeters Per Second," Shinkai depicts a cold reality of romance in which two characters, who are clearly fated to be lovers, end up going their separate ways due to distance and time. In fact, one of the final scenes of "5 Centimeters Per Second" shows the male protagonist passing by the female protagonist, but instead of rekindling their relationship, he walks on. The ending is dissatisfying at best and hope-crushing at worst. "Kimi no Na wa," however, is the exact opposite. Our two star-crossed characters are so blatantly fated to be together that the audience internally cheers them on with all their heart. The audience is not just fighting for this romantic coupling, but rather, an ideal: if fate has preordained love, then this love can transcend time, death and distance.
These characters are meant to be together simply because they are meant to be together. All other events surrounding this relationship are complementary. The body swapping, the supernatural elements of the comet and the symbolic traditional Japanese elements such as musubi (a type of decorative knot) build up the momentum behind the characters’ relationship and our investment in seeing them meet each other. In a reality, where we are surrounded by existentialist, absurdist and pragmatic thinkers, the concept of love being able to transcend nearly anything is both reassuring and restorative of human faith.
"Kimi no Na wa" conceptualizes love so that its audience does not have to. It leaps over the logic-driven world of actions-have-consequences and hints at hope. The audience can forget that the earth won’t pause to mourn our individual losses or celebrate our achievements; the audience can fall into a fictional story where the universe itself is fighting on the same side that we are rather than remaining on the sideline of absolute apathy. The film allows its audience to participate in a leap of faith and discard logical inconsistencies and ambiguities. "Kimi no Na wa" realizes what most humans cling onto deep down: if something is meant to be, the world cares enough that it will make it happen.
The animation and art are otherworldly and the soundtrack feeds into the sense that the two protagonists are together in their own metaphorical world. The storyline is so dependent on fate pulling its strings that somehow, it all becomes plausible. And we spend that some one hour and 47 minutes escaping from reality into a beautiful dream.