Your Name is a film about obsession which handles this topic in interesting and unexpected ways; it is about two peoples’ drive to, essentially, solve a mystery. To say more would necessitate discussing the film in much closer detail, and so should best be discussed below. Suffice to say, it is a film I highly recommend, and before reading this article would advise readers watch.
Note: This article discusses in close detail the plot of Your Name, and also discusses in more general terms details of the plot of Steins;Gate.
The mystery – the shared lives of Taki and Mitsuha – is never adequately explained. A simple scientific or supernatural explanation of the phenomenon that drive the film’s action is entirely superfluous to the film itself, and it is self-evidently not simply a film about the resolution of some unusual event. There is closure to the plotline, but it is a strength of the film that that is not the A-plot at all. The revelation that it is not – when Taki reaches the ruin of Itomori and learns of the time difference in the shared life experiences – absolutely shook me to the core. The shared lives are the thing that made Taki learn about Itomori and helped Mitsuha save the people. The story is about how an inexplicable event sparks an obsession in two people that lets them achieve some kind of greatness.
It is not an easy journey, and there were so many times I expected the film to simply roll credits on a tragic ending of obsession born from a supernatural encounter having destroyed two lives. When Taki’s first date is a failure because he has been, literally, a different person, when Mitsuha talks of wanting to be reincarnated as a boy like Taki, when Taki is driven to obsession to learn what Itomori is, the story depicts a mania that is naturally alienating, that shook me in the way Steins;Gate‘s grimmer endings of obsession to change the unchangeable (or in one instance try and find a stasis) did. And when Taki learns Mitsuha is dead, and when nobody listens to Mitsuha’s prophecies, the story builds to the horrible realisation that there really was no chance, that two childhoods had been permanently changed by an unexplained, unexplainable outside force. And then the comet hits Itomori, something foreshadowed from the start of the film with the visual language of children apparently wishing on a falling star for the chance to live a new life (the logical extrapolation of what is seen), and I was almost convinced the credits would roll. Taki had got his closure, Mitsuha’s place in the tragedy had been shown, and the past could not be changed. The film was a film about dreams, about trying to discern reality and understand another person’s life.
It would have been wholly thematic for that to be the end of it; someone had witnessed the last moments of the life of someone whose dream was to be reborn as that person. It would have been utterly heartbreaking, unfulfilling, angering, but then again 5cm/s rather shows that missed opportunity and unfulfilled lives are well within Shinkai’s wheelhouse. But it was not; life went on for Taki. It was obvious life would, because in the past – before he had pursued his obsession to learn who Mitsuha was, to remember the time they did meet – life had gone on even when they were not linked. That both parties forgot each other was in its own way sad, but in some way softened the terrible thought that hung over the audience’s head – that Taki would be living his with the memories of Mitsuha’s last days in his dreams. That would have been a horrific twist that would have been not out of place in Steins;Gate (and indeed the madness of being the only one to remember the death of someone and to relive their final moments eternally is a key part of that game’s horror).
Life went on for Taki, however, but the past had been changed. His obsession had born fruit, it had not been as destructive as it had seemed. Although it had not seemed like it, Mitsuha had been able to get the people to safety. It had, of course, seemed like dumb luck because of the inexplicable nature of her premonition – but people who had once died now lived. And the film ends, equally unexpectedly, with the couple meeting again, finally united. Is it a sign of some endemic cynicism that an ending of a story about two peoples’ obsession about learning each others’ identity and holding on to memories feels unexpected? In retrospect it does; the expectation they would fail comes from a preconception that the film’s visual and narrative language is setting up a tragedy.
Tragedy is the natural endpoint of stories about supernatural encounters, about trying to change history. Time-travel fiction has conditioned audiences to believe changing the past, saving the dead, is bad, impossible, against the natural order. Convoluted pseudoscientific theories are rolled out to explain how forking timelines creates instability, or terrible unexpected repercussions. We expect Mitsuha to die and Itomori to be annihilated because we as an audience are familiar with time-travel, be it through Dr Who, Steins;Gate, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time or The Time Machine. The past is a foreign country. But the past is also immutable, or if it is not, changing it causes all manner of problems. Your Name ignores all that because it is not a story about time-travel to any great extent, it is not particularly interested with providing the scientific explanation for how two children can live each others’ lives or how Taki can send messages back to Mitsuha. It expects you to be cynical and gives you, instead, a happy ending like a punch in the gut.
You find all the ways you can to normalise yourself to the idea that you have witnessed the death of a young girl and her whole town. You expect her to fail. You expect Taki’s life to have been destroyed by this if you are too literate in this genre of fiction. Or, at least, I did. I watched the film unknowing of its actual story but because of my literacy in the genre I was second-guessing what would happen. But it isn’t a story about that and that is the mark of quality of Your Name. It is a story about a young man given the purpose in life to help the one person who needs his help most, and a young girl who is able to do something great thanks to her supernatural experience. And in that frame, a happy ending is earned.
Your Name is a beautiful film.