By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Plenty of praise and examinations have been given to Makoto Shinkai‘s Your Name since its debut last year. Although this film is essentially a romantic comedy, I was more enamoured with the mythic elements. This filmmaker took the best from other cultural traditions and wrote a Twilight Zone style story which I liked. This movie has an East clashing with the West attitude. It shows when Mitsuha Miyamizu (Mone Kamishiraishi), a young girl from a rural part of Japan, yearns for a life in modern Tokyo and makes the mistake of wishing upon a falling star.
She wanted to shirk cultural traditions and from there, I knew where this film was going. Since classical times, spotting such a fireball was often feared more than regarded as divine intervention. If a prayer is said upon seeing it, just what happens can go any which way. In this film’s case, both are considered!
Comet Tiamat is getting closer to the Earth and it is the raison d’être for how this tale comes together. She’s not always a creation goddess but is also representative of primordial chaos. This chunk of rock and ice could have been given any name, and some viewers may wonder why this Babylonian figure is used? My theory is that this name was chosen to make viewers of this anime aware that this film is a shōjo product through and through. Her essence is everywhere. From the Earth to the Heavens, in the offerings at the shrine and coming visible at twilight, a sense of omnipotence can be felt as she comes closer to Earth affecting the main character, Miyamizu-chan.
Had Shinkai delved into more historical revelation than character exposition, this movie would have been a different type of fantasy. His emphasis in how relationships should develop is heartwarming. Even though my interest was with how he will play with the Japanese belief in the red string of fate, thoughts about how destiny gets shaped feels like this writer did his research into how the Greek Moirai often interferes with mortal lives. I found his treatment about how destiny plays out far better than what the writers can do in season two’s theme of altering destiny in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (concerning Nate and Amaya). In this movie, to see her become aware of the future helped save many lives. At the same time, when concerning her own life, I could not help but be reminded of the movie, Cloud Atlas.
The “unfortunate” recipient of Mitsuha’s interest is Taki Tachibana (Kamiki Ryunosuke). Although he knows nothing of this girl when they first met, he gets to know her life through body swapping. That is, when the two go to sleep, their souls would live in the other’s body for a day. The humour is nothing new for those who watch enough of this sub-genre, and after all the awkwardness ends, they agree to live out the life of the other (and help each other out) while trying not to give themselves away too much to their friends and family.
When Mitsuha’s grandmother reveals about how the embroidery they make represent the ties that bind, I was reminded of the Norns from Viking lore. Three generations are represented in the anime, and together, they work together to keep life in their small town happy. While the mythical characters inspired the wonderful comedy, Ah My Goddess, thankfully for long time viewers of anime, some may see Taki just as awkward as Keiichi. The two are not as proficient when dealing with women, and even though Mitsuha tried to set him up with another lady, she starts to develop feelings for him too. Although Kōsuke Fujishima’s series ran for longer with many sitcom moments to interrupt their growing affection, Shinkai’s treatment feels grounded in reality than with the intangible.
Mitsuha is like Verðandi than Belldandy (from the anime) because the Nordic figure is representative of the now (present). She does not fully comprehend the past (her role in the township’s traditions) and is not quite forward thinking enough. To do neither forces some people to follow a path not entirely that of their own choosing. Even though she spent a moment with Taki (when she first went to Tokyo), and he did not know her then, their future was decided when she gave him her ribbon. Although he forgot about their first encounter, he kept it as a good lunch charm.
Amusingly, when she plays matchmaker when occupying Taki’s body, her life took on a direction of uncertainty. Sharing bodies forms a type of bond occultists understand. The emotional underpinnings suggest that you can’t pass off doing what’s good for a stranger unless you have an investment in the person yourself.
Mitsuha develops strength when she comes to understand her precarious situation. Her journey follows Joseph Campbell’s mono myth not only when she and her younger sister are making kuchikamezake sake to offer to an underground deity at their family shrine but also in going “underground” to confront her future. Her family bloodline is important to this township and her grandmother teaches her what she needs to know in classic wise old woman fashion. The father figure is useless. Although he is the mayor of Itomori and has to be ready to take charge when dangerous situations arise, he never does. In this anime film’s epilogue, we learn Mitsuha was ultimately responsible for altering what could have been a horrific catastrophe.
I suspect the matriarchal side has deeper connections with the land in Gifu prefecture than with the men in their lives. They have to be when considering the shrine is in the middle of another crater in the region and only this family is responsible for keeping up with this township’s traditions. Although this film does not go deep in its world building, guesswork is required to fill in the blanks. Appeasing the gods with sake made by vestal virgins is important to prevent the comet from totally breaking apart. This detail seems odd because, if we are led to believe the rock has been losing huge parts of itself every 1200 years since parts of it made the two craters, its mass should be shrinking to a point where it will stop being a threat. Unless Tiamat has been picking up many passengers when it travels through the Oort Cloud, the gravity to draw more debris to itself is only proportional to the mass and distance of one object to another. Usually, the object with more mass wins. Time and space are also affected because explosions often cause ripples in the continuum; this detail explains why the events in this film are separated by three years.
This anime does not answer the question if Mitsuha is even right in forgoing the past. She’s wanting a brighter future because she believes her life is dull in rural Japan. Although the film sees her life thrust forward because of her tiny town getting destroyed, I’m guessing not everything is meant to be rebuilt. I’m wondering if the town in Gifu Prefecture’s mountainous Hida region is within a national park. Life by a crater-shaped lake must be nice, if not a little cursed. The area is a magnet for astronomic delights and cosmic collisions. In space, where a lot of objects are named after divinities, these objects seem to have a general attitude to cause problems for the occupants of planet Earth. When this anime is interpreted differently, Shinkai’s science fiction story is fairly epic and I can only wonder if Mitsuha and Taki will lead a life of true happiness.