What’s in a name?: Shinkai’s animated masterpiece leads Japanese box office

Josh Leitzel, Contributing Writer

    The past year could appropriately be described as a revitalization period for Japan’s domestic box office, with unexpected hits like director Hideaki Anno (“Evangelion”) and Toho Studios’ Godzilla series reboot “Shin Godzilla” and its nearly $80-million gross.

     Acclaimed anime film director Makoto Shinkai had even more financial success with his record-breaking “Your Name.,” which contributed in no small part to a massive increase of 8.5% in box office gross from 2015, a record high for the country. The picture topped out at an impressive $328 million in U.S. dollars worldwide, making it the eighth highest-grossing traditionally-animated film of all time.

     Its financial domination is far from over. Many profitable territories remain in which the film has yet to see a release, and it will be reaching American shores beginning on April 7 (more than half a year after its initial run in Japan), courtesy of Funimation Films.

     Initially released in Japan on Aug. 26 of last year, “Your Name.” surprised many with its massive success. The film earned well past its projected goal of $60 million to become the fourth-highest-grossing film of all time in the country, as well as the second-highest Japanese film, behind only Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s acclaimed classic “Spirited Away.”

     The film has also been met with plenty of praise and accolades, receiving a nomination for “Animation of the Year” at the 40th Japan Academy Awards, as well as nabbing a win for “Screenplay of the Year.”

     The emotional body-swap tale focuses on Taki and Mitsuha, two ordinary Japanese teenagers bored with the state of their lives who one day find themselves inexplicably inhabiting the other’s body. The story follows the challenges they experience in adapting to their wildly different lives and even the physical and social differences between their genders (in Japan it is customary to address oneself in gendered honorifics, which results in some very comical scenes for the protagonists in the film, the humor of which may be lost in translation for some English viewers).

     Despite having never met in person, a budding romance slowly begins to develop between the two. Determined to contact one another and solve their fantastical dilemma, “Your Name.” strings together a surprisingly complex narrative from well-worn film tropes. Saying any more would risk spoiling the many unexpected and satisfying twists and turns the film drops on route to its stunning conclusion.

     While the themes of yearning, bonds and fate that permeate the film are universal, “Your Name.” has also been praised in its homeland of Japan for its subtle commentary on the tragedies that have affected the country in the past decade, most notably the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami (as well as the resulting nuclear meltdown in Fukushima).

     The quake was the most powerful of magnitude to ever hit the country, and resulted in over 15,000 deaths and thousands more injured or missing (an incident that the previously mentioned “Shin Godzilla” also heavily alluded to). Shinkai has stated that this wasn’t his overt intention, but was nonetheless a result of the memories of these events that remain in the consciousness of the country. The events are still fresh in the public’s memory and hit close to home, making the natural disaster aspects of the film much more emotionally powerful.

     Mr. Shinkai has lately been compared to the world-renowned animator and director Hayao Miyazaki due to the record-breaking success of his latest film and the expressive, traditionally-rendered animation that both directors champion in their film projects.

 

Protagonists Taki and Mitsuha begin to switch bodies and play major roles in each other’s lives in “Your Name.”
 

It’s hard to blame people for making such a comparison, as passionate animation fans have been fixated on who (if anyone) would take up the mantle of “traditional animation juggernaut” ever since Mr. Miyazaki’s public retirement back in 2013 (the man has since announced another comeback in the form of a new computer-animated film titled “Boro the Caterpillar,” but that’s a discussion for another time).

     However, Shinkai is not merely a simple imitator of what’s come before. He possesses a clear and unique vision not only of the medium of animation, but filmmaking as a whole. His works often feature themes of distance and adolescent love, standing in contrast to Miyazaki’s general focus on independence and environmentalist undertones.

     Speaking with The New York Times in a Dec. 2016 interview regarding comparisons to the Miyazaki, Shinkai stated, “I feel very honored, but I think it’s an overestimation. I don’t think anybody can replace Mr. Miyazaki.” He went on to discuss his obsessive attention to detail, an aspect both he and Miyazaki undoubtedly share, as well as the simple desire to create great animated films.

 

 

Makoto Shinkai has established himself as one of Japan’s foremost anime directors with the smashing success of his recent blockbuster.

     Now, after dominating the east for over half a year, “Your Name.” is finally ready to make its impact on American audiences. Funimation, a prominent distributor of anime in the US, is setting its sights on April 7 to give the film a theatrical release in a select number of theaters under its Funimation Films label, with screenings in both dubbed and subbed versions.

     The composer of the film’s original score, Japanese rock band RADWIMPS, has even created new English versions of their featured songs for the English dub release of the film.

     For more information on the film and to search for potential screenings near you (or close enough to justify a 90-minute drive; it’s worth it), visit Funimation’s official website at funimationfilms.com/yourname.