November sees the long-awaited release of Makoto Shinkai‘s blockbuster, Your Name (Kimi no Na wa) on DVD and Blu-ray in the US. On the heels of the recent announcements about a Hollywood adaptation of the successful film, many consider Shinkai the director who will take the baton from master animator and director, Hayao Miyazaki in setting the standard for the art form and industry. Given the film’s box office success, it’s likely the discs will sell well; but despite the intimacy of the film’s plot, it’s a shame that for many, their first experience of it will be on a small screen. Your Name is a full-fledged cinematic experience. It isn’t a flawless film, as its perfectionist director has lamented, but it is an excellent one containing several scenes only fully appreciated on the big screen. The next time the story appears in a theater though, it’ll likely be in the aforementioned live-action remake, which worries the film’s fans.
The plot revolves around two high school age characters; Mitsuha, a girl who lives in a small town in the mountains of Japan’s Hida region, and Taki, a boy living in Tokyo. Throughout the film, the two switch bodies back and forth and impact each other’s life directly through the actions they take while inhabiting their “guest” body. Though they do not meet, they get to know one another in profound ways because they are forced to literally “walk in another person’s shoes.” To divulge more of the plot would ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. Shinkai plays with tropes associated with this genre and spins a story with true emotional resonance, far beyond what the short description above implies. The characters are engaging and believable, three-dimensional and human, with all the fallibility and vulnerability necessary for the story to ring true. Their story arcs are interesting, capable of holding our attention even during the film’s weakest point, a transition towards the conclusion where the plot zips through many interesting (but complex) details at high-speed and becomes a bit muddled in the rush to the climax.
Despite that dip, the film is an achievement.
In addition to the compelling characters and story, the animation is lush, with a meticulous attention to detail in the movements and gestures of the characters, reminiscent of the work of Studio Ghibli. That attention to detail is also clear in the settings and background work; both Mitsuha’s town and Taki’s Tokyo cityscape vibrate with authentic life. The Tokyo skyline presented is the real one—and though the mountain town is a creation of Shinkai’s, it’s based on actual towns and real-life locations throughout Gifu Prefecture. Critical elements of the story center on particular customs, traditions and beliefs indigenous to that area of Japan. Though the story has connected with audiences around the world, it is fundamentally a Japanese story. And that’s what worries the film’s fans about the news of a Hollywood remake.
Recent Hollywood adaptations, Ghost in the Shell and Death Note, were critical and financial flops that alienated their core fan bases in part by white-washing their casts. The backlash over casting Scarlett Johansson as the lead in Ghost in the Shell was instant, with fans questioning whether the filmmakers had even considered an Asian actress when casting the part. There was no obvious reason for altering the role, other than the argument that Johansson was a more bankable star—the implication being that the original film’s core fanbase was insufficient to guarantee box office success. However, alienating those diehard fans ruined its chances of succeeding.
Although those recent adaptations came from sources that featured specific elements of Japanese culture, politics and society, which made their westernized adaptations jarring, Your Name is a quintessentially Japanese story. Unless the filmmakers drastically alter the plot and character backgrounds, there is no way to tell the story in a western setting. If they choose to do so, fans will undoubtedly ask what the point was; it will no longer be the same story, so why tell it?
J.J. Abrams will be producing the film, and Eric Heisserer (Arrival) has signed on to write the screenplay. The producers of the original film say they’ve been very pleased with the initial meetings they’ve had with their American counterparts, with Genki Kawamura quoted as saying “The meetings so far have been creatively stimulating with fantastic ideas that no doubt will make for a great movie.” Judging by the rumblings on the web, fans will need a bit of convincing. For now, I’d suggest buying the disc and watching it on the biggest, brightest, high-definition screen you have access to. Then we can all wait for Shinkai’s next feature to arrive in theaters.