September 2019 Ancient Japanese Shinto, dismissed by most Japanese as irrelevant in a modern, scientific and industrialized world, has long been a script source for Japanese Anime films – for this story, multiverse ideas have been added to it. TWO similar mystical elements in one story! Shinto is part of Japan’s long cultural heritage, but should not be used for adult-themed film scripts – it merely transforms the entire story into fantasy!
Outside Japan, a parallel-existing ‘Spirit World’ where anything might happen simply seems strange and unbelievable. Can you imagine an adult-fiction character like Sherlock Holmes explaining, “The murderer was a gargoyle. During the day he was just stone, but at twilight he came alive with an evil force from the spirit world.” Ridiculous!
Your Name falls into this category... disappointing for an adult-themed story. In the film, the boy is a city-dweller, scornful of old-fashioned cultural beliefs, but the girl lives in a rural village, and performs gracefully-choreographed Shinto ceremonies. Her grandmother explains the religion basics, throwing a cloak of spiritualism and mysticism over the story events, lending them belief credibility.
The teen romance is mostly about multiverse mind-switches, which happen while they are both sleeping. They wake up thinking that they are each other, and episodes last until they go to sleep again, so are like waking dreams for a day at a time. Clumsily at first, later more naturally, as they both get used to the awkward body-switches, and know enough about the other’s life to avoid attracting undue attention. That multiverse aspect of the story is very nicely handled.
However... telling an adult story demands adult-level continuity and logic, often totally lacking in this film. Shinto and Multiverse together is complicated, and difficult to represent in visual terms. Most viewers will miss important visual story clues because the film’s Director – Makoto Shinkai – has been excessively ‘subtle’ with them. The complex plot is hard to follow except after multiple viewings. That’s not admirable artistic license – it’s just poor story-telling.
The boy is often clumsy as a girl, and the girl woosy as a boy (both excellent clues), but other visual clues to switch episodes are far too obtuse. One of them is feet. Whenever the girl’s toes point outward, that’s a clue that the boy is in control. Anatomically, that wouldn’t happen – girls being slightly pigeon-toed is because of their hip and knee joints, not their minds. When the boy has slightly inward-pointing toes, the girl MUST be in control (that wouldn’t happen, either!) ;
Both boy and girl are phone-savvy, so should have noticed that their phone’s date was wrong during switch episodes, and unraveled the multiverse 3-year gap mystery almost immediately, but they both remain unaware of that until near the end. Even when the girl travels to Tokyo to try meeting the boy physically, and finds that he doesn’t know her at all, she still doesn’t figure it out! For him, the switch episodes won’t start happening for another couple of years yet ;
The day after each switch, neither can remember what they did the previous day as themselves – only vaguely what they did as the other, which seems like a dream. Without realizing that switches were happening, friends and family should have commented more often on uncharacteristic behavior – with more I did what? reactions, more ‘What’s happening to me?’ questions... leaving it to the audience to figure this all out was a serious scripting failure ;
The time-lag factor of switches should have been handled better. Because the girl or boy look exactly the same whether being themselves or the other, the audience cannot tell if what they are seeing is happening ‘now’ or 3 years in the past or future – they are expected to spot subtle things like abnormal speech or movement. Example: Near the end of the film, the Tokyo visit episode in flash-back form from the girl’s perspective is followed by a scene of her running, with her thought-stream heard, but is nothing like what it seems. It’s actually the boy in the girl‘s body, and the thought-stream (in her voice, of course) is his, not hers. He is reasoning out the 3-year Multiverse time-gap, which the girl doesn’t know anything about yet. Far too hard to follow! ;
When the boy is knocked unconscious at the Shinto crater shrine, it should have been more obvious that he triggers the critical switch episode – weeks after other switches had stopped (perhaps we should have seen the girl semi-collapse, then recover, in the presence of her friends, so that the start of the first and only ‘waking’ switch period could be assumed,). Finally aware of the 3-year gap, he (as her) starts his rescue attempt, but she must finish it as herself, after she meets him at twilight when the barrier between material and spirit worlds is thin. Grandma had explained that exiting the Shinto spirit world always costs what is most important, so they lose their memory of each other ;
The boy not knowing where the girl lives is a really glaring plot flaw – of course he knows that! Two or three times each week, in day-long switch sessions, he has been waking up as her, then interacting fully with her family and friends, attending her school, effectively living her life. He knows the village of Itomori intimately. A better way to have him discover the 3-year time gap should have been used, to force him, as a city boy, to take desperate measures – appealing to old-fashioned Shinto spirits for help ;
All niggling little shortcomings that could have been fixed with a bit more thought and attention to detail. The film showed the two main characters struggling to understand what was happening, but failed to show THE AUDIENCE what was happening! Many Anime films suffer in this way – trying to show characters acting in a purely Japanese way, cultural limitations on public behavior prevent showing emotional issues, because that would make them seem impolite. So Your Name, artistically beautiful, came within a whisker of being brilliant – an animation masterpiece – but fell just agonizingly short. No matter how brilliant the images were, the story itself was told so poorly that the film was a total failure. Disappointing.
PS: The firm from whom I bought the DVD of this film asked me to write a review of it but, after reading this, decided not to use it. I wonder why?
October 2019 – Plot ideas for Your Name Remake:
I heard that a US live-action remake of the Japanese Anime film Your Name was planned to star a Native American girl living in some small place near Chicago, and an American boy living in the city. Yet another Hollywood ‘whitewash’ of a foreign story, I thought. But now... I think that the idea has merit. Just so long as they don’t end up duplicating the plot weaknesses of the original and lack of visual clues to enable viewers to follow the story without confusion. If you agree or disagree, why don’t you email me? Just click on the ‘Email me!’ button at top right of this page.
It would be possible to tell a story similar to Your Name, using the Multiverse theory, but without any Shinto mysticism or Spirit World. It would be best for the two lovers to be on opposite sides of the world (not essential if the Multiverse is explained to be some odd number of hours rather than whole days), so that day and night are opposite and one of the two must always be asleep during switch episodes. Also good reason why they can’t normally meet. If they wake, the other suddenly snaps out of their switch, finding themselves in unexplained circumstances. The reason for the switches to happen could be some very exact similarities like exact same age and some other natural ability, plus both in some exact place that is high in natural energy so that, even at a distance, their sleeping minds could be confused and short-circuited. A ‘Dream-Twin’ story.