__—— September 2019 The Anime Film: Ancient Japanese Shinto has long been a foundation for Japanese Anime producers – for this film, multiverse ideas have been added to it, and TWO fantasy or quasi-religious, spiritual or mystical elements in one story is probably the film’s major flaw. Several Anime production studios are capable of producing beautiful movies, so they should be able to make a film with adult themes, but they can’t seem to resist falling back on ‘Spirit World’ elements to solve plot or script problems... okay for children’s films, but not for adult films. Your Name falls into this Japanese ‘traditional Anime’ category.
Can you imagine an adult-fiction character like Sherlock Holmes explaining, “The murderer was a stone gargoyle from the spirit world. He fell into the material world during the twilight period when the barrier between the worlds is thin, then could not return and became angry at being described as ugly. During the day he was just stone, but he came alive at twilight.” Now, who could predict or argue with absurd logic like that? Who could believe it, either?
In the film, the boy is a city-dweller, scornful of old-fashioned religious 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-switch issues, and have gained enough knowledge of the other’s life to avoid attracting undue attention. That 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 a complicated mix, and difficult to represent in visual terms. Most viewers will miss important visual story clues because the film’s Director has chosen to be 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, but other visual clues to switch episodes are far too obtuse. The film often shows just their feet. So, when the girl is controlling the boy, he is slightly pigeon-toed. When the girl’s toes point inward she’s being her natural self – when they point outward, the boy is in control. Pfft! ;
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 didn’t. No doubt for dramatic effect, they both remain unaware of the time divide 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! ;
The day after each switch, neither can remember what they did the previous day as themselves – only what they did as the other, and then only vaguely, as 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 ;
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. 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. 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. So Your Name, artistically beautiful, came within a whisker of being brilliant, but fell just agonizingly short. 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.
Key concept: Old versus new. Shinto is still commonly followed in Japanese rural areas but regarded as old-fashioned and irrelevant in cities. Strong local belief in any form of spiritualism, often clouded by mysticism, leads to reliance on faith, which is really just belief despite lack of proof, or even despite contrary evidence. During the past century, science has revealed that, historically, people all over the world have been repeatedly hoodwinked into following completely false beliefs. Examples include witch-burning, Druids building Stonehenge, medical humors, etc. Belief can rule for thousands of years even when completely wrong. Numbers of people believing something creates social pressure to keep spiritual beliefs alive, irrespective of criticism. Most spiritualism or mysticism is regarded today with suspicion.
Some sort of Native American belief should take the place of Shinto – probably Medicine-Man practices. Historically, the local medicine-man (or woman) was usually the tribe’s most learned person as well as the most sensitive to spiritual issues. Often, herbal stimulants put him/her half-way into the ‘spirit world’, where strange things can happen, and inspiration is often found. Medicine-Women were sometimes used, so the girl could be the granddaughter and ‘apprentice’ of an older medicine-man.
She needs some sort of ceremonial duties, part of her grandfather’s spirit-world activities. Maybe hint that she often prepares traditional herbal cures for patients. Spiritual and herbal sides of medicine-man duties are usually kept separate, but the girl is proud that she will eventually be able to do both – she will be a modern medicine-woman. Spiritual ceremonies reinforce belief in the efficacy of herbal cures, a fact known for thousands of years all over the world. It was often the main reason for miraculous ‘cures’.
But there’s a problem: her small community is no longer just a core tribal group, and the elders have been pressuring her grandfather to blatantly commercialize ancient beliefs. Ceremonial events would make a good business for bus-loads of tourists. Sanitized with fancy embroidered robes, they would be nothing like traditional ceremonies, but many elders think that a young woman doesn’t present the right public image for this traditional role – tourists expect to see an older man. This would mean the end of genuine tribal traditions for their community and the end of four generations of loyal family service. Her grandfather uses his reputation to pull strings, and tentatively arranges for her to get a job in Chicago as a cultural adviser. That’s where she and the boy will meet again, years later.
Use natural phenomena: The girl, like her grandfather, can feel strong natural energy-fields. Show her fairly early in the story walking through a natural field with friends (a bus-stop near the high school, perhaps?), saying ‘Woo-hoo!’, then walking back through it a few times, while her friends make sarcastic comments – they know this about her. See a very small effect, like making small static sparks from the tips of her fingers. Her friends accept that strange things sometimes CAN happen, but can’t feel the effects themselves, so are scornful, doubtful. Where’s the scientific proof? They never suspect anything radical like a mind-switch.
Her bedroom is strong in natural energy. The boy’s neighbors occasionally grumble about living in a modern city – cell-phone towers everywhere. The boy’s father had even called in an expert to assess whether his apartment is in any danger of unhealthy radiation. What is this doing to our bodies? So he also sleeps in a place that is completely artificial but strong. For the equivalent of the Japanese crater shrine location, this needs another ‘strong energy-field’, a place like a traditional graveyard known to be a bit odd, where animals will never go, and switch gestures need to be more obvious here. It’s a more powerful location, strong enough to take the place of the ‘twilight blurring of dimensions’ – where strange things have often happened, and also to bridge across a slightly longer time, so the final switch can reach back to before the girl was killed (give her time to complete the rescue mission started by the boy).
Use smart-phone knowledge: Both boy and girl use their cell-phones extensively, so DO try to call each other once they get comfortable with the awkward body-switch experiences and start thinking of them as character-switches or dream episodes, and find that calls or text messages never connect and that their phones always have a wrong date during switch episodes. Why? They are both phone-savvy so figure out the 3-year gap issue quite quickly (best if that is a little variable each time, just within a day or two of 3 years), just don’t know how to get around such a strange thing, and don’t think it very important at first. All they can really do is leave text or voice notes for the other on each other’s phones during switch episodes, to be seen/heard the following day. The girl goes early in the story to the boy’s home in Chicago but finds that he doesn’t know her at all – so it would be the same if he came to see her, she figures. She wouldn’t recognize him. They decide that they are both living in separate time-streams, where they don’t know of each other – they’re both wrong, but don’t know that. They believe that there can be no physical crossing of a time barrier, which is why their memories are so dream-like, and the switches are the only times that a bridge between them is created. For the girl, familiar with spiritual issues, this is an acceptable possibility (old-fashioned thinking), but for the boy it is not to be trusted (modern thinking). The only actions they can remember are those where their minds were in control, and then only vaguely, as a dream. Where their bodies were being controlled by the other, they don’t remember anything.
After 3 years have elapsed, perhaps they will THEN be able to meet each other. Of course, she gets killed before that happens. For film clarity, both boy and girl should have a distinctive gesture that they always make when bridging between multiverse dimensions (either going in or coming out). For the girl, perhaps hand to throat, open mouth, surprise. For the boy, perhaps hand to forehead, screwed-up eyes, grimace. Gesture can be slightly different each time but essentially similar. No doubt for the audience that this is the start or end of a ‘dream’ sequence, and that it’s always a two-way switch.
Use adult-style logic: Describe switches as cross-dimensional short-circuits during deep sleep, triggered by freak genetic similarities (maybe both have the ability to sense variations in Earth’s magnetic field to feel strong locations) and location on a strong natural energy-source. If either of them slept more than a few meters away from that it would probably not have happened. Each of them, in their own time-streams, have NO knowledge of each other. Also, AVOID flashbacks from the perspective of one character during a switch episode when that same character is inhabiting the other character’s body in a different time-stream, and without any visual clue that the sequence IS a flashback! Far too confusing, because flashbacks are also flash-forwards from the POV of one switch participant, and are NOT to the person being shown in the flashback.
Examples: Sayaka told Mitsuha at school that she had been a bit strange yesterday. Then we saw Mitsuha in a Still Life Art class, kicking over a desk – that was a flashback from Sayaka’s POV... that was OK, but it was followed immediately by Mitsuha today (looking exactly the same) claiming no memory about doing that. The flashback wasn’t even to her – Taki, from 3 years in her future, had kicked over the desk. Later, during the final switch, Mitsuha went to Tokyo to try meeting Taki physically. Her trip is shown from her own perspective (as herself, pigeon-toed, but on the day before the present switch). Taki is racing to the crater rim, so he (she) couldn’t possibly know of that. Once again, there is no visual clue that this is a flashback (an intro/outro with picture-on-picture would have fixed this, showing bicycle wheels and running feet in the background). Mitsuha thinks as she is running, ‘3 years ago, before I even knew you, you came to see me.’ Of course the viewer thinks that this is Mitsuha’s thought-stream, figuring out the 3-year gap, but it’s not. The flashback has now ended, so it’s Taki thinking the following day – while ‘being’ Mitsuha, but with knowledge from his own time-stream – so HE understands about the 3-year gap, but she still doesn’t. Then, (as Taki, after he regains consciousness at the crater shrine) she sees from Taki’s perspective that Itomori is gone, and THEN guesses that she must have died when the village was destroyed, and she STILL has no clue that this happened 3 years ago (to correct this, she should have reacted with surprise when Taki said that he kept her ribbon for 3 years because, from her POV, she gave it to him just yesterday). This is very muddled scripting. The ideas are truly excellent but presented in such a confusing, haphazard way that nearly EVERY viewer will get it wrong.
In the Japanese film, the girl’s braided hair-cord was claimed to represent the flow of time, with its threads twisting, turning, etc. This was the multiverse link ‘across’ time, and she went to Tokyo to give it to the boy unaware of the 3-year time gap. It would be more American to use highways as the cross-dimensional link, with the boy riding a old dirt-bike (so he can ride between remote locations and occasionally pass through energy-fields that ‘warp’ reality) and riding a bike can seem a spiritual experience as well as offer exciting vision. The US version could substitute deep sleep in a location rich in natural energy, plus some sort of genetic similarity like the ability to sense energy surges. The time-link is place-oriented (linked by roads similar to Mitsuha’s ribbon), not artifact-oriented. For both girl and boy, that would usually be their strong bedrooms.
Use topical subjects: Instead of a comet as the impending disaster to be avoided, use something more American – a mass High-School shooting, where 13 students are killed, including the girl and one of her friends. During the switch episodes, meet the student who is going to be the shooter, moody and not receptive to friendly offers, with violent home life – the girl, as an apprentice medicine-woman, had tried hard to be friendly and generous to him. Rationale: mass shootings are now so common that the boy in Chicago had no reason to take much notice of it when it happened 3 years ago, and the media reported it as the official name of the school, not the name of the settlement where the girl lives. It’s not until he sees the girl’s name on the victim list that he takes an interest, starts to research the event. He then understands that she’s already dead (because they had both discussed the 3-year gap issue), so there’s no point in going there in his own time-stream anyway. Switches are still happening, so he immediately sees that this is the only way he can prevent her death. There is a slight chance that he can help her stop the shooting by communicating across time. THIS becomes the frantic quest, and THEN he might be able to meet her. He starts to understand that his feelings for her are deeper than first thought, far more than just a fascinating experience of being someone else.
Use scientific references: Instead of ‘hinting’ that the comet also caused the freak conditions leading to the Multiverse switches, stage the events during a known sun-spot activity period, with scientists studying the effects on Earth’s outer atmospheric layers and magnetic field. Warnings to stay out of the sun as much as possible for the next couple of months, and claim that some people are actually sensitive to magnetic fields and might be able to feel the slight change as it happens... both boy and girl are primne candidates for this.
My personal preference for the critical final switch (when they actually meet for the first time) would be for that to be a more complete dimensional link than normal switches, but still not total. One of them (probably the boy) should be always translucent and they can’t physically touch each other – frustrating for them, since they both instinctively want to touch, embrace. The strong place should be spooky, so they can see each other but all they can do is talk. Grossly unfair, they both think – why can’t switches make more sense? They use this to decide on the rescue plan, although we should not hear any details.
When the switches stop, the memory-loss thing HAS to happen. AFTER the rescue attempt has been made, they both need to forget each other completely, AND anything that they learned while in the other’s body. Not before – this is the price they must pay to make the attempt (neither of them expect this, and we should never see if it is successful). So the boy knew about medicine-man rituals (impressed his friends with detailed facts) and the girl knew about transport and places in Chicago, but we see that this all disappears, to the puzzlement of friends. Messages between them have never been anything except phone diary text entries or recorded voice notes (good possibilities for repeating important notes here, eagerly listening to phone the following day) and they all instantly vanish. The essential cross-dimensional link is lost and all knowledge gained that way quickly fades, leaving only an uncomfortable feeling of loss.
A character similar to the café owner who drove the boy’s friends to Itomori, then the boy to the crater shrine in the Japanese film, would be a good additional character. Probably an older person, he/she could shrug a lot and suggest that the old medicine-man should be consulted, since modern scientific method is all very well, but nobody really knows what drives many strange events involving natural forces. The old ways should not be completely ignored, and local beliefs matter, so we get the impression that if local belief had been stronger, or if the shooter’s family life had been more spiritual, the attack would not have happened. Make the point that our world is becoming more material, less spiritual, and that most people feel a need for some form of spirituality, even if it can sometimes be misleading.
One other plot flaw that wasn’t addressed very well in the Japanese film was that, the day after each switch episode, neither of them could remember what they had done AS THEMSELVES, so both would have missed a day of schooling and would have to catch up – grumble, grumble. Need to tie this to the idea of the multiverse link: while ‘being’ the other they were effectively in a different time-stream and, when returning to their normal time-stream had no memory of what their friends had observed them doing the previous day. More descriptions of uncharacteristic actions and their surprised reactions would have been good, and help to tell the story. More I did what? conversations, more realizations that their dream-like memories are the result of remembering across a time divide that can’t be physically crossed.
This also means that, after the memory-loss event, during the period when both are trying to adjust to life without each other, new careers, etc., the cross-circuited memories WOULD return to each of them, so they WOULD remember what they had done as themselves... but that’s no help. They are each just slightly puzzled as to WHY they had done those things at the time. Not what they would naturally have expected of themselves, but not wildly different (they were both trying hard to live the other’s normal life). Must have been mood swings, or a slight virus, or perhaps external influences not noticed at the time. They don’t suspect anything extreme like being somebody else. Everybody sometimes wonders why they did something...