So I went to see “Your Name.”…

... and ended up talking to two of the employees out in the lobby for the first half of the movie instead.

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Mitsuha from Kimi no Na Wa (Your Name).

It’s becoming apparent to me that I don’t really care about Anime as something I felt I needed to watch. At least not with the same zeal as you’d expect from a conventional Anime viewer.

To repeat the purpose of the Anime Talk Block, the series of which these posts are a part, I write on Anime to find out if “Anime needed figuring out”. It just so happens “Kimi no Na Wa”, which is known as your name. in English, is another instance of Anime climbing out of the murkier corners of the internet to seize the Western stage in a bigger way than it has before. your name. seems to qualify to me!

Just what is your name., anyway? For starters, let’s peek at the synopsis:

The day the stars fell, two lives changed forever. High schoolers Mitsuha and Taki are complete strangers living separate lives. But one night, they suddenly switch places. Mitsuha wakes up in Taki’s body, and he in hers. This bizarre occurrence continues to happen randomly, and the two must adjust their lives around each other. Yet, somehow, it works. They build a connection and communicate by leaving notes, messages, and more importantly, an imprint.

When a dazzling comet lights up the night’s sky, it dawns on them. They want something more from this connection—a chance to meet, an opportunity to truly know each other. Tugging at the string of fate, they try to find a way to each other. But distance isn’t the only thing keeping them apart. Is their bond strong enough to face the cruel irony of time? Or is their meeting nothing more than a wish upon the stars?

I haven’t seen Freaky Friday, the only body-switching movie out of Hollywood I know of, but this premise certainly has a much more ambitious smell to it, doesn’t it? The synopsis doesn’t mention this, but there’s more here than the kinds of hijinks that result when a boy and girl character swap bodies. (Cue childish giggling from the audience when the movie does indeed go that far). In fact, there are hundreds of innocent lives at stake!

The big-name director behind what is currently being lauded as an “animated masterpiece” is Makoto Shinkai. His career is littered with movies oozing with vast and melancholic backdrops that set the stage for stories of love and heartbreak. I’ve heard Shinkai had a penchant for gutting happy endings for more emotionally crippling portraits of romance, though I wouldn’t be the one to ask. I was here to see your name. and get a handle on the hype.

Mission partially accomplished. Remember when I said I got caught up in chatting with the employees at the cinema screening your name.? In my mind, I reasoned that your name. had achieved the kind of status for a movie where I would certainly have other chances to see it. But to find that Michael and Jennifer, the two Lagoon Cinema employees willing to put up with my incessant gab, were both sufficiently able to talk about commercial storytelling in terms of measures of fiction? I was close to skipping the movie I paid for entirely. I only paid the matinee price, anyway, so I’m not too peeved.

A few things I learned from Michael and Jennifer: the elderly have been flocking to see your name., and that Jennifer is a student at MCAD and of Frenchy Lunning. Lunning is the founder and facilitator of Mechademia, an annual academic conference on Japanese media and culture held at the Minnesota College of Arts and Design (MCAD), which I’ve twice attended now. Michael shared his cautious optimism of seeing Anime fans coming to see this recent string of Anime-related theatrical releases. He pulled up the boxes of Pocky among the theater treats on display (“A snack that is from Thailand and isn’t even Japanese!”) to illustrate the rather predictable preferences and behaviors that Anime viewers have inadvertently come to mark themselves with.

Michael was happy to see that a movie like your name. was bringing Japanese families out to Lagoon. To him, it was cool to see that these families could see something from their country get the silver screen treatment in the U.S. I agreed. That is until I circled us back to our diagnosis of the Anime viewership.

“I’m imagining the Japanese mother with her kids, looking to her left and seeing these peculiar people, wearing crazy grins on their faces while watching your name., and thinking, ‘What has our country wrought unto this world??’,” I quipped.

Michael and I shared a laugh, tinged with a knowing itch of disapproval. I’ll admit, I wasn’t being entirely fair to either the Japanese mother nor the Anime viewer in my verbal tableau of them. As I said at the start of this article, my investment in Anime is propelled mostly by my personal anxieties about an industry that can negatively affect perceptions of Asians, especially the American kind like me. My experience and hand-wringing over Anime are not the concern of either the Western Anime fan nor the Japanese parent simply trying to spend some time with their kids.

It’s a bitter pill that I swallow whenever I come across a chance to use Anime as a springboard into talking about my conflicts with it. Because I cannot fully explain my dilemma to others, I feel even more isolated from both sides of the Anime-viewing aisle. More specifically, I am talking about Asian Americans and Western Anime viewers. I feel like a foreigner to other Asian-Americans who view Anime more as a pastime that can be a minimal part of your Asian identity but not to the point of interfering with the academic bottom line of what most agree is core to the Asian identity.

Western, non-Asian Anime viewers cause me other kinds of grief. There is the intelligent kind who are quite content keeping Anime at a viewing distance, only speaking of it in in-jokes and internet-ese. There is the immature kind who think Anime is the edgier version of played-out American cartoons. Somehow, this group persists in being in perpetual supply, ready to make you regret participating in Anime in any active way.

The elitist is the third major pillar of this oft exasperating Anime viewership. With few worthwhile exceptions, this group thrusts their fat backlog of watched and unsparing scores of shows into everyone’s face like it’s going out of style. What they can’t register is that having your nose stuck in the air at all times was never in style. Not that they don’t sometimes impart perceptive and informative assessments of a show or other Anime-related things. It’s their awareness of this ability that mutates into an unwarranted and superlative conceit that’s the problem.

Did I lose track of the topic of this article in my harangue of the Anime viewership? That depends. Will your name., or some other title that gets a crossover release like it, somehow cause these groups I drew out to encounter each other in an unprecedented way? Which is to say, will the Asian group, who treat Anime as an optional marker of belonging to the broad Asian tribe, soon be in talks with the much more varied strains of non-Asian Anime viewership?

The implications of such a collision of worldviews can be found somewhere around the following questions: Do Asians really know the things they are using as markers of shared Asian identity? Are these markers, such as Anime, inherently Asian things, rather than being only proximally Asian because they happen to come from Japan?

Japan, both as an Asian country and as global phenomena, has been weighing heavily on my mind lately. What did the activity of this country mean to other Asian countries? What did their culture and activities mean to Western countries? When your name. was released in Asian countries outside of Japan, what did they have to say about the film as opposed to when it was released in North America this past week as of this writing?

I’m almost certain that the narratives that began to run on either side of the globe for each continent’s release is evolving in vastly separate ways. I wouldn’t mind being proven otherwise, though. What matters most is finding out whether there is a meaningful difference in how this movie is being received across geographical lines.

Oh, do you want to know what I think of the movie? Or rather, the half that I got to see? It’s a great date movie. If you and your main squeeze are open to being swept up by a mix of philosophical magic, gorgeous and painterly vistas, and the race-against-time plot pulling our lead characters together, you both are in for a ride.

I was told that missing the first half was a mistake, as that was where the audiences were given time to grow to care for the leads before they get thrown into thwarting a lasting catastrophe. If that is the case, I will have to watch the whole movie soon enough. This is because I was disappointed with how little I cared about the characters’ relationships as the climax nosedived into sight. Not to mention the plot gap as big as the craters that devastated Mitsuha’s town in the end. Yes, a whole town was squashed out of existence, yet the way the writer solved the problem behind this made me question how severe this event really was.

Feel free to email me at tmvo@stthomas.edu if you want to lob fiery arrows at my unfair and uninformed take.

Again, I am more than likely going to find myself watching this movie front to back soon. Unless I find someone willing to dig into Anime as a transnational version Pandora’s box with me again and then get distracted once again. Maybe I’ll end up never finishing this movie. I’ll probably find a way to turn that kind of chronic evasion of your name. into a talking point, anyway. No hurries, then.

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