How crazy is it that somebody can come up with an idea for a story, write it down, and within the space of a few years turn it into a tangible thing that can emotionally affect others to the point that they spontaneously want to write about the experience? Not only that, but they inspire others to create music, animate the story they’ve written, and even have people read and act out the scenarios that they came up with. Words are powerful, and so is fiction.
I’m not going to even entertain the idea that i’m capable of such things, especially on the evidence of the written pieces that you can avail yourself of on this website, but it occurred to me while listening to the soundtrack for 2016’s superb “Your Name” that I’ve experienced, and will experience again in the future, a range of emotions that aren’t based on real life happenings, but the fantasies of one man and his extremely talented collaborators.
To be honest i don’t know how much this is going to make sense. Will it hang together as a coherent article that’s well thought through? I doubt it. I’m fairly sure i’ve committed several grammatical crimes in the first two paragraphs alone, but please bare with me if you will. Writing is a cathartic exercise, as much as somebody can make you feel with their words, those same words can also help the author straighten out their own messy web of thoughts and feelings on a range of matters.
We’re lucky today that i only really want to talk about this movie, that we recently reviewed on the Generation Animation podcast (available from itunes and at generationanimation.com)
Makoto Shinkai has, at the age of 44, directed 5 movies, including the one i want to talk to you about today. He’s well respected in the industry and is known for his high standards. He’s the only Anime director, other than Hayao Miyazaki, to have a movie gross more than $100 million in Japan, which is an astonishing achievement in its own right. Even more astonishing is the fact that Your Name grossed over twice as much as Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the Japanese box office, while Star Wars is in no way as big a hitter in Asia as it is in the west, it still shows how well thought of Shinkai’s work is, when a totally original story (more on that later) can beat out an established “Tent Pole” movie by a factor of 2:1.
Your Name started life as a proposal sent to Toho in mid September of 2014, originally called “If i knew it was a dream”, a title that was inspired by a line from a Japanese poem. The dream motif was a strong one, and would remain important to the movie even as the title changed to various others before finally settling on “Your Name”.
Inspiration for the story came from various sources, but the general idea for the film remained a truly original one, even if the general concept seems familiar to anyone that’s seen one of the dozen or so body swapping comedies that Hollywood studios have brought to our screens over the last 30 years and more. While the idea that the main characters would intermittently swap bodies was far from new, Shinkai introduces a few wrinkles to the concept that sets it apart. They don’t remain in each other’s places for more than a day at a time, there’s no regularity to the events, the only obvious trigger is that they switch when they are asleep, and the nature of the swap is such that they doubt if it is real or all just a dream. See, the idea of dreams really is central to this story.
I won’t give a blow for blow account of what takes place in the film, it deserves to be seen with a clear and open mind, but trust me when i say that this is a truly affecting movie experience. The voice acting in the English dub is very good, so those of you that don’t like reading your movies are well covered, the animation is absolutely tremendous. In places it’s so silky smooth that i swear i felt like i was watching a rotoscoped performance, but this movie, much like Shinkai’s back catalogue, is all animated traditionally. The shrine maiden scene is one of my favourite pieces of animation for some time, in fact it’s only beaten by a scene that takes place later on which employs a different animation technique entirely. Once more this plays on the idea of dreams and visions, the different medium is extremely effective at this and delivers a beautiful scene.
So now i return to my original train of thought. Shinkai has, in the space of two years, brought a completely fictional story to fruition. He has invented an entire world, full of life, captured some of the most realistic depictions of Tokyo that i’ve seen, created an entirely fictional rural setting, complete with 500 residents, and he’s made me care about every single one of those people. His story has inspired a soundtrack full of heartfelt music. Music that i’m listening to right now as i cobble together this random piece of rambling rubbish.
I’m emotionally invested in this world, these people, that don’t exist. I knew that it didn’t make any difference to me as a person whether they found happiness at the end of the 102 minutes that i spent with them, but i found myself talking at the TV, telling them not to be idiots. I, a real person, was telling two made up people not to be idiots…
you know what the weirdest thing about this film is though? If you listen to the director, it’s not even as good as he wanted it to be. “There are things we could not do,Masashi Ando wanted to keep working but had to stop us for lack of money … For me it’s incomplete, unbalanced. The plot is fine but the film is not at all perfect. Two years was not enough.”
I guess when you think about it, it’s pretty crazy, but it’s pretty great as well.