Foreign films don’t have a huge place in American cinemas. This is due to a variety of factors, but it all comes down to the fact that if you live in the United States, the chances of a non-native-English-speaking film being available for view in theatres are relatively low. Like, super low.
So, when foreign films make it to your local movie theatre for more than a one or two day engagement, that says something about the film that’s being offered.
We saw this initially with the worldwide success of Spirited Away, but that was almost fifteen years ago, and since then we’ve seen several of Miyazaki’s films released into U.S. theatres.
But a non-Miyazaki animated feature making enough ways to see an extended engagement in the United States? Now, that’s a big deal.
Kimi no Na Wa
Your Name is a body-swapping drama released in Japan in 2016. It follows the story of Mitsuha, a country girl who is tired of the rural life and wishes to be a “handsome Tokyo boy” rather than continue in her boring life. Well, she gets her wish as she falls asleep only to wake up as Taki–a handsome Tokyo boy.
Mitsuha lives out a day in his life–full of busy city streets, high school, and a part-time job–and wakes up back in her body, assuming it all to be a very detailed dream. Upon her arrival at school, Mitsuha is shocked to learn that she didn’t just dream it, it was real, she really did spend a day as a handsome Tokyo boy. To her horror, she realizes that while she was in Taki’s body living out his life, he was in her body doing the same!
Mitsuha and Taki begin switching bodies on a regular basis, much to their chagrin. The film follows their body-swapping escapades and how they learn to deal with living one another’s lives while still trying to keep hold on their own lives. This includes angry notes written on faces and arms, left for the other to find once they switch back.
Eventually they grow past their anxieties and, as they continue to switch back and forth, they become close friends–even though they’ve never actually met.
Your Name is a unique look at the body-/gender-swapping trope, using the switch to build a series of contrasts within the film. Not only are we seeing the reflective differences between a girl and boy’s life, but these characters are experiencing the differences between rural and city, modern and traditional, as well as religion and science.
It is this myriad of contrasts making up the storyline which can make Your Name come off as a tad confusing, but it is also the grounding that makes this movie so fantastical and beautiful to watch. There is a lot going on, especially with how the plot eventually unfolds, but the protagonists are so well-rounded and their relationship with one another is so compelling that it overcomes any confusing aspects of the story. In the end, Your Name never loses sight of its strength: its characters.
The international success of Your Name is interesting because it is a film that does not translate culturally to western audiences. A lot of what’s in Your Name is niche to Japanese culture. Mitsuha is a Shinto shrine maiden, a cultural and religious practice not widely known outside of Asia. Heck, the time warp premise of entire film is built around Shinto beliefs. Considering time travel films can be confusing enough, the fact that this puppy found its way into an international audience with a time travel premise based in regional specific religion speaks to its attractiveness.
There’s also the difference in speech not only between rural and city, but the different gender pronouns used in the Japanese language (there are multiple ways to say “I” in Japanese, including masculine and feminine appropriate). This is something that, especially if you’re watching it dubbed, won’t translate to foreign audiences very well, if at all. So again, how did Your Name snag so much success beyond its borders?
Honestly, Your Name, even in its flaws, is remarkable. It’s not only flawlessly animated (like, seriously, you will die from the beauty), but it feels real in a not-so-real premise. Especially as you reach the twist towards the final part of the film, you realize that you genuinely like these characters. The movie is made up of moments that you will never forget because they are so well-rendered both visually as well as emotionally thanks to the strength of the protagonists.
If you’re unsure, just check out the trailer. It will give you chills.
Do you wish we could see more foreign films like this in theatres?