There are times when you wish you could escape from the humdrum of life. You wish you could take your backpack, fill it with nothing but your dreams and trudge miles to find that elusive end of the rainbow, or whatever it is that lies at the end of your wildest dreams. Life rarely obliges us with this opportunity. And so, sometimes all you need is just a really good movie.
‘Kimi no Nawa’ or ‘Your Name’ is Makoto Shinkai’s fifth anime feature movie, and is officially the highest grossing anime film of all time, grossing over $290 million in the international box office – the only non-Studio Ghibli film to do so (for non-anime lovers, Studio Ghibli is the creation of legendary director, Hayao Miyazaki, whose ‘Spirited Away’ was the only Japanese animation film to win an Oscar). Regardless of whether you have a palate for animated films, if escapist cinema is what you need at the moment, then Kimi no Nawa is the perfect pick. And here’s why.
Imagine waking up one morning realising the face you see in the mirror isn’t your own. Imagine waking up in a stranger’s body. Would you feel uncomfortable? Thrilled? Makoto Shinkai, lets us form our own conclusions here – in this wonderfully crafted tale about two teenagers who understand what it means to get an intimate view of a stranger’s life.
The movie introduces us to the lives of Taki – a seventeen-year-old architecture student living in Tokyo, and Mitsuha – a seventeen-year-old girl living in the countryside. Their lives are as different as chalk and cheese. Mitsuha is bored of life in her lovely, but tiny town. She rues the predictability of her life in the small town and longs to escape someday to Tokyo.
One day her wish is granted in the most unexpected way.
As the two protagonists realise the fix that they are in, their reactions as we expect, are widely different. Mitsuha’s discomfort at finding herself in a boy’s body soon fades as she steps out of Taki’s rented apartment. The look of wonder and happiness that slowly seeps into her face, as the majestic Tokyo skyline glinting in the morning sunlight is revealed, is priceless. It is hard not to feel some of her excitement, as she navigates the Tokyo crowds and wonders what every day is like for the stranger she is impersonating.
Mitsuha seeing the Tokyo skyline for the first time from Taki’s flat
Despite the protagonits‘ dismissal of the ‘switches’ as a ‘weird dream’, they continue to occur randomly, and with increasing frequency. The characters are forced to acknowledge them as a regular part of their lives, something almost as normal as brushing their teeth before going to sleep. What follows is a charming series of sequences where two people who have absolutely no idea about each other are forced to view the world through each other’s insecurities and to look out for each other. Unsettling initially, these ‘out of body experiences’ soon become something they cherish, even look forward to every day. Don’t we all secretly want to live someone else’s life? Despite their initial annoyance at each other for interfering with the old fabric of their lives, a grudging respect slowly begins to blossom.
Each scene drips with details so painstakingly beautiful, it only makes the illusion of escape much more real. The sunlight streaming through the window as the protagonists’ wake up, the city of Tokyo spread out in front of us, its buildings gleaming in the morning, mist-filled forests, a shimmering lake, this movie takes the art of animation to the next level.
When the switches stop suddenly, Taki is left with an urgent, unnamed desire to find out where Mitsuha lives, even if it means taking a day off from work and scouring the mountains armed with nothing but his drawings and his vivid memories of the town. With memories of Mitsuha fading fast, the difficulties in his path make him question his own motives. Was it real or just a dream?
His search for the truth in some ways reflects our own search for happiness in life. Should we sacrifice all for that ‘impractical’ dream? Life is often like that. It gives us only glimpses of what we’d love to be, leaving it up to us to pursue that dream despite all odds.
Will the two finally meet? What is the true significance of these ‘switches’? These questions are dangled in front of us tantalisingly in the second half, keeping us guessing until the very end. Several times the characters are within grasp of, but never quite close to the answer. There is a sense of urgency, of time running out, of something important being lost, that resonates throughout the second half. The background score, composed by the ‘Radwimps’ accentuates the haunting and heart-wrenching sense of loss (even though you can’t understand a single word, the songs being in Japanese) and stays with you long after the movie is over. When the end does come, we’re left a little breathless and hopeful, hopeful that somewhere in the corner of the world, magic is waiting for us too. If only we were anime characters.
What helped the movie soar to popularity in Japan apart from the story was its usage of real locations for the story. Fans of the movie have since thronged these locations, to relive the places ‘where it all happened’. The fact that ordinary locations were strung together to create a story of such depth make it seem all the more magical.
The underpass or intersection located in Nishi-Shinjuku, which appears in the first trailer
The steps near Suga Shrine in Tokyo
It’s almost as if Makoto Shinkai were saying, extraordinary stories can be found in the most ordinary places. It is almost as if he were giving us – the license to dream.
The end comes too soon, trust me. If only we could relive our favourite stories again and again.