It is official: Your Name (“Kimi no na wa” in Japanese) is the most successful anime of all time. And for good reason; this blockbuster from Makoto Shinkai looks gorgeous, has a smart plot, and has universal themes that speak to everyone.
Or does it? You see, while anyone can enjoy “Your Name”, it is a very Japanese movie. Much of the symbolism, subtext and social commentary of the movie is rich with Japanese culture – both native and modern – that someone who isn’t Japanese (or at least is well versed in the culture) will miss some of the extra layers that add even more depth to this great movie. For example:
The Red Thread
Mitsuha often ties her hair with a red string, and you may have noticed that this seemingly simple string gets a lot of emphasis in the movie. This is deliberate: the “Red String of Fate” is a common trope of Asian cultures, where it is believed that two people with a shared destiny are bound by a red string – sometimes invisible, sometimes literal. This also ties into the symbolism of Mitsuha’s family’s tradition of braiding cords, where the grandmother talks of strings unravelling and then coming back together.
Also, Mitsuha’s fictional lakeside town is called ‘Itomori’, which in Japanese means ‘thread guard’. Speaking of which…
Photo: Rajarshi MITRA on Flickr
Itomori town being struck by the meteor is meant to echo the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. The most visually impactful reminder is during Taki’s hallucination/dream in the cave, where we see a tear drop fall on a map of Japan, right on the point of impact, and waves ripple outwards from there. This visual strongly resembles that which is used in earthquake reports, where the strength of impact radiates out from the epicenter.
This is something that is by no means exclusive to Your Name. Many Japanese movies, both animated and live action, allude to natural disasters and large scale devastation. For a country that regularly deals with earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and typhoons, dealing with disaster is a long-established part of the national psyche.
The Miyamizu Family’s Names.
Hitoha, Futaba, Mitsuha, Yotsuha. These are the names of the four women of the Miyamizu family in order of age. In Japanese, their names put them in order too: they literally translate to one leaf, two leaf, three leaf and four leaf respectively.’ If we consider that one of the movies overarching themes is the bonds and links between people regardless of distance, this naming system is fitting.
In Japan, a woman cutting their hair to a visibly shorter length has come to represent when that woman has broken up with a lover. During the movie, Mitsuha cuts her hair. Although she hasn’t been dating anyone, the break-up is more symbolic than anything, but it does add an extra layer to understanding how Mitsuha feels at that point.
Photo: prelude2000 on Flickr
This one is perhaps the point most steeped in Japanese tradition, and is thus hardest to understand but offers the richest rewards for the viewer who grasps it.
To the casual viewer, we see Mitsuha early in the movie performing as a “miko” (a sort of steward of the Shinto Shrine) chewing up rice and spitting it into a container as part of the local custom. This is “Kuchikamizake” (口噛み酒, literally “mouth-chewed sake”), and Mitshua offers this up to the shrine inside the cave above Itomori. Fast forward three years later, and Taki finds the cave. The offering has now fermented to form “sake”, which he drinks to reforge the connection with Mitsuha.
Now, this may all seem like typically fantasy plotting, but this is in fact rich with Japanese culture and Shinto belief, the native religion of Japan.
If you were to research the basics of Shinto (神道, which literally means “way of the gods”), one of the main themes you’ll encounter is the upholding of ancient traditions in order to forge links between the past and the present. It’s easy to transpose this bedrock of Shinto religion into the relationship between Mitsuha and Taki: Taki literally lives in the future and that is represented by his metropolitan lifestyle, whereas Mitsuha represents the past where traditions abound.
(!WARNING SPOILERS!) The symbolism can be read in multiple ways, but it can be argued that due to Mitsuha upholding her family traditions as stewards of the local shrine and the Shinto tradition allow her to forge that link between past and present–except the twist is that she is the past, and her actions allow her to reach beyond time and space to Taki. Taki reforges that link by drinking the Kuchikamizake and thus reforging that link himself.
Your Name is an excellent, layered movie that can be enjoyed as is, but with some understanding of the culture that it comes from, the viewing experience becomes that much richer.