Kimi no na ha is the biggest movie in Japan right now. It’s one of the top five highest-grossing Japanese films of all time, and I believe is well on its way to becoming the highest-grossing anime film ever, though it hasn’t approached Spirited Away’s 30+ billion yen take just yet. Not that box office is really an accurate measure, given that ticket prices have increased, and also that the film is still being shown in theatres now, some six months after its release, giving it plenty of time to accumulate greater returns. Also, that box office gross (revenues) is a whole separate thing from the actual artistic or cinematographic quality of a film. But, in any case, the point is, everyone is talking about it. So, of course I had to see it.
SPOILER WARNING – not talking about specific plot spoilers yet, but if you want to be clear of even hearing my general impressions (good, great, amazing), so as to not have pre-figured expectations going into it, stop here.
Also, a notice that this post is written somewhat in a stream of thought fashion. It comes mostly from what I jotted down in my notebook right after seeing the movie, and I haven’t reworked it too overmuch. So, it’s a bit repetitive, and perhaps a bit scattered. This isn’t a review, or a critique, or an analysis – just a few thoughts, a few reactions.
I don’t watch anime very much anymore, and so when I do, I am almost always stunned by the beauty of the art. Anime can be so much cleaner, brighter, more vividly colorful than real life. So beautiful, with its perfectly blue skies and perfectly white clouds, perfectly clean complexions and clothes and building facades and everything… Not to mention the way they do lighting in many anime – looking at the trailer, the way the sun rays strike things, the way lights glow in the night… So, even if for that alone – and also based on the trailer – I went into this expecting something truly amazing. And yet, interestingly, weirdly, for most of the duration of the film, I wasn’t so taken. Which isn’t to say the art isn’t gorgeous, or that the story isn’t original and compelling, enough. Because they are. I just wasn’t wowed and amazed, for whatever reason.
And yet. And yet, I left the theatre shaking. I can’t even say what exactly I was thinking about at that moment. It wasn’t even about thought – what the movie made me consider, made me think about – so much as it was about emotion. I was moved. What is it about this movie that had such an impact on me? It’s like one of those times when you’re sad and you don’t even know why.
I do, generally, tend to get rather taken in by movies, by their mood, and their world. I don’t know if I am more sensitive in this respect than others, or if I’m just normal – an average person succumbing to the highly engineered emotional manipulations of the entertainment industry. Of course, I’d prefer to think the former, that I’m somehow more attuned to art, to the creative. After all, this is what drew me to History and Art History to begin with – as we walk through life, every day, art and design are there in everything we do, and they have an impact, immersing us in a world of aesthetics. Every day, the world we inhabit feels like this kind of place or that kind of place, and all the more so historical periods we read about, or the worlds we experience through books and movies. Each has a particular mood or aesthetic, a particular feel or atmosphere.
And anime perhaps all the more so. In Kimi no Na ha and so many other anime, we get a fantasy version of modern-day Tokyo, and of elsewhere (in this case, Gifu). A world so much like our own, and yet aesthetically different. Cleaner, brighter, with more optimism, even if it is based in very mundane problems – even if the characters still have to go to class, and take exams, and deal with interpersonal tensions. Even with these problems, we feel as though there is something truly good, clean, bright, pure, to protect. That there is hope. That there is something wonderfully positive and good in the everyday lives, the everyday world that already exists. And thus, when the characters have to deal with far greater, non-mundane, life-threatening or even world-threatening problems, they encounter them within this space of being the protagonist, of there being real love, real friendship, real drama. Real goodness to protect, and real evil to defeat. Something I am finding it harder and harder to believe in, as I continue to get older, more world-weary, more cynical. And in these anime, it is because of that goodness, that brightness, that losses, deaths, destruction are felt all the more strongly, perhaps. Or, perhaps, then again, there is also an aspect of that even when things are lost or destroyed, it happens in a way that is somehow so much cleaner, more aesthetic, than if it were reality. And so the emotion, the sadness, though potentially powerful, is also purer, cleaner, in a way. …
This comes, too, from the fact that Kimi no Na ha, like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and like so many other anime series & films, centers on high school students as the main characters. It gives this impression of a very sunny, clean, bright, optimistic sort of life, and then as a viewer I feel this sort of dual reaction, a fine line between taking that directly as a very positive and happy thing, and being gladdened and uplifted by it, but then at the same time, feeling a sense of sadness, just a tinge of knowing of the deep pain of the potential loss of that youth, that innocence. Sadness at having lost my own youth; that if there ever were such happy days for me (I’m not sure there were – reality is always more dreary than nostalgia or idealism), they’re past. Whether this sadness at the inevitable loss of such beauty and happiness is precisely the mono no aware we’re always talking about when talking about Japanese art from a thousand years earlier, I don’t know. And whether that’s something inherent in the work – whether Makoto Shinkai or anyone else involved intentionally sculpted and included this aspect of mono no aware – or whether it’s something in me, something I’m bringing to it, because of my age and experiences and perspective on life, on youth, etc., I’m not sure. My sadness at knowing that my own life does not, or can not, live up to the brightness, the sunniness, the glorious wonderful experiences of what we see in the movies… Which isn’t to say that these characters don’t have their problems, because they very clearly do. Indeed, very serious, major, difficult, emotional, stressful problems beyond anything I have ever dealt with. But, still, somehow, even despite these incredible, stressful, difficulties and dangers, I cannot help but envy these characters something. Their youth; their optimism; their centrality in truly being the protagonists of the story, perhaps, even if they themselves don’t know it; their living in a world so beautiful and so full of hope and promise, where everything is so clean and bright and pretty, where even destruction and loss is aesthetic in a way it just isn’t (or isn’t always, not necessarily) here. I envy them something, and so maybe that’s part of why this film had me so fucked up that I was on the verge of crying into my fried rice, as I grabbed dinner in the mall before heading home for the night.
I was very much moved by this film, interestingly, oddly, even as I simultaneously on a more cerebral (rather than emotional) level was somehow not too impressed as I was watching it. Looking back on it, I’m still struggling to decide whether I feel the plot was brilliant or totally formulaic, whether the art itself was stunningly original, or just more of the same. Maybe I just don’t watch enough anime to know the difference.
But another thing I would like to touch upon is the way gender is represented in this film.
CAUTION: MORE SPOILERS AHEAD. REAL PLOT SPOILERS THIS TIME.
Others may feel differently, and I’d be curious to read how some of my friends more actively directly engaged in the feminist / gender studies blogosphere “read” this film. But, to my eye, it felt like the movie really didn’t harp on issues of gender(ed) difference nearly as much as it might have; not nearly as much as many Hollywood teen comedy “Freaky Friday” style films do. I don’t know whether to say this is explicitly definitively a “feminist” or “progressive” film in this respect, or Makoto Shinkai an explicitly feminist or progressive director/writer, but it was certainly refreshing for me.
No one gives Taki (the guy) shit for being too girlish when it’s really Mizuha (the girl) in his body, and Mizuha isn’t portrayed as being overly macho or crude or anything when it’s Taki in her body. Taki himself, as a character, regardless of whether he’s himself or when he’s in Mizuha’s body, doesn’t manspread, doesn’t boast and bluster, doesn’t do most of the things we might associate with an obnoxiously macho/masculine type. Or maybe that’s just my American perspective – maybe he’s not so radical, but is just closer towards typical for Japanese norms. But, still, the movie doesn’t spend any time at all on the awkwardness of either character in figuring out how to properly wear one another’s clothes, for example. Maybe it would have been too crude for a movie to even begin to have Mizuha (as Taki) trying to figure out what to do about a boner, or to have Taki (as Mizuha) trying to figure out how to handle a period, but even still, we don’t even see them struggling to figure out how to tie a necktie, how to wear a skirt or a bra. This shows a maturity and quality level, I think, of the film overall, a higher bar than the crude comedy, but it also suggests a sort of attitude of non-judgement of what men or women should be expected to know or not know, or to be able to do or not, that we as an audience should be cool with the idea that Taki (as Mizuha) knows how to do hair and makeup, and that no one should fun of Mizuha (as Taki) for knowing how to sew and patch up clothing. To a great extent, I think it might be argued, the film really focuses on these two as different people, and not as different genders – perhaps even on these two as rather similar people, as not only connected but perhaps as in some way the same person, the same soul – not quite that, but that gender doesn’t matter so much as simply being people.
I also quite like that the two don’t end up dating, or in love – or at least, that it’s left open and ambiguous and isn’t stated explicitly. Again, I’m not going to argue that this is explicitly a more feminist or more progressive way of doing things. I’m increasingly not a fan of the idea that there is any one single way to be “better”, the one single correct way to make a properly progressive or feminist work. But I do like that this film goes against the tried and tired trope of that when two people have a “destined” “connection,” that it is necessarily a romantic connection. Really, when you think about it, it’s kind of sad and horrible that it should feel so radical for two people to have such a strong connection and have it not be a romantic one. Not everything in life is about love and romance. Can’t we be destined to meet someone who just becomes a friend, a partner in adventures and travails, without it necessarily being romantic? So long as people are dreaming up imagined romantic relationships between any and all fictional characters – Sherlock and Watson, Xavier and Magneto, the giant squid in the lake and Hogwarts castle itself, whatever – here’s my “head canon”: Taki and Mizuha go on to continue to lead their own separate lives, meeting up maybe once a month, or maybe more or less frequent than that, call it friendship, or call it something more akin to a sibling relationship, call it some special kind of friendship, whatever you want to, but… just looking out for one another, interested in how one another are doing, protecting and helping one another, talking about that strange bond they seem to still share, and how each of them is strangely so much like the other in some ways, yet totally different in other ways… just talking in coffee shops, just meeting up from time to time. Talking about what they can remember of those past shared experiences, and of what happened in her hometown, and how people are recovering. Maybe taking Taki out to Gifu to show him around, and talking about what memories it stirs in him. I have a number of friends who I only see in person once every few years, but who I still feel I just “click” with so well, people I feel I have such a connection with; people I’m so excited to talk to and to spend time with, but who don’t need to be my partner in anything physical, nor my one and only above all others, nor my partner in everyday cohabitation. Just my friend, a friend with whom I have a particular history and connection, a friend whose adventures in art, career, and travel I’m particularly interested in following… or a friend with whom I love traveling but don’t catch up with or see otherwise all that much. Why should every relationship have to be a romantic one?
Returning just briefly to the matter of how the film shows Tokyo in a bright, optimistic, exciting sort of way, I think this is just what I needed at that moment, personally, emotionally. Because this makes me all the more excited to be moving to Tokyo in March, and in so doing creates an opportunity, a space, for me to have spent the following several weeks rediscovering what makes being in Okinawa right now so exciting (and I did indeed spend that time rediscovering that, and enjoying time in Okinawa). It would have sucked to have the movie get me all excited about Tokyo, and then not have anything much doing here, to just be quiet, and to sit and sulk, or something. But, instead, timing worked out quite wonderfully that just as I was getting all excited about Tokyo (as a result of watching this film), my girlfriend came to visit from the States, and we spent an incredible two weeks together, exploring Naha and also driving up to Nago for a couple of days… Okinawa really is fun, and complex, and digging deeper into this with her was wonderful. Of course, the flip side is also true – I’m glad the movie got me excited about Tokyo, because it would have sucked to be too comfortable and happy here, and to not have that excitement for the next step. Anyway, that’s on a more personal note, relating to my own particular current situation.
Still thinking about maybe trying to go see this a second time. Then again, I still haven’t seen Rogue One.