Director Shinkai Makoto’s Your Name (2016) is an animated feature length film about two teenagers who begin to mysteriously swap bodies. The girl, Mitsuha, lives in the fictional rural town of Itomori and the boy, Taki, lives in Tokyo. At first, they are completely flummoxed when they wake up in another person’s body, but they eventually figure out what is going on and devise ways to keep in touch and keep tabs on what the other person is doing during a body swap. Bored in the countryside, Mitsuha is thrilled to explore Taki’s metropolitan Tokyo life. When he is in Mitsuhas body, Taki learns about local traditions from Mitsuha’s grandmother, the caretaker of a Shinto temple where both Mitsuha and her younger sister perform ritual duties. Eventually, Taki decides to call Mitsuha on the phone and establish a real connection between them. The call does not go through, and suddenly, the diary entries that Mitsuha had recorded in Taki’s phone when she was living his life begin to disappear. The body swaps end suddenly. Taki is disappointed and eventually travels to the rural area where Itomori is located, but he has trouble finding the exact town. He is devastated to find out that three years prior, in 2013, Itomori was destroyed by a falling asteroid. The body swaps, it turns out, had also been time travel. In the present, 2016, Mitsuha and her entire town have been dead for three years. Remembering that a ritual sake (Japanese rice wine) made by Mitsuha during a Shinto ceremony is imbued with cosmic meaning, Taki finds the shrine it was stored and drinks it in hopes of swapping with Mitsuha one last time to save her. The switch works, Taki wakes up as Mitsuha and organizes her friends to warn the town. In a dramatic scene, the two characters finally meet and switch back. Mitsuha is able to save the town from annihilation. The two characters, however, forget each other, each one vaguely aware that something is missing from their life but unsure what or who that missing piece is. The film ends several years in the future, when the young adult versions of the two protagonists meet by chance in Tokyo, where Mitsuha now lives, and realize that they are somehow familiar to each other. A romantic conclusion is implied.
Your Name was Japan’s top grossing film in 2016; it was also very popular in South Korea and China. While ostensibly a supernatural story about cosmic coincidence, the film is a response to Japan’s 3/11 Triple Disaster, the Tōhoku earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Together with Suzume (2023), Shinkai’s most recent film, it is part of a large body of cultural products that deal with the traumatic aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster that struck Japan on March 11th, 2011. Your Name retells the story of unforeseeable catastrophe, but crucially, it allows characters to intervene and save the lives of unsuspecting villagers, connecting the rural and urban in a redemptive relationship. It also offers commentary on the strained relationship between Japan’s declining rural areas and its thriving urban centers. It was after all, the peripheries of Japan’s great metropolises that suffered most in the Tōhoku disaster, a calamity that underscored their decade-long decline.
This module will explore the film as in engages with the 3/11 disaster as a national trauma, providing a redemptive narrative of heroic salvation. It will also consider Japan’s urban/rural divide against the background of the triple disaster. Section 2 provides a brief history of Japan that explains the growth of modern cities, Japan’s nuclear experiences and anxieties, the nation’s robust protest culture, and finally, the 3/11 disaster. Sections 3 and 4 are dedicated to the film itself, offering examples of analysis and class activities that can help students engage productively with the film. A final section includes sources used in the production of this module and a list of online resources that may be useful in teaching.
Accessibility: Your Name is streaming on several sites, linked below. It is also available on Blu-ray and DVD. The Columbus Metro Library has several copies. The price differences reflect the cost of standard and high-definition versions on the film, respectively.
- Amazon (rent for $3.19/3.99, purchase for $5.59/4.99)
- YouTube (rent for $3.99, purchase for $12.99/14.99)
- Google Play (HD only, rent for $3.99, purchase for $12.99)
- Apple TV (HD only, rent for $3.99, purchase for $14.99)
- Vudu (rent for $2.99/3.99, purchase for $4.99)
- Miyamizu Mitsuha (voiced by Kamishiraishi Mone), the girl from Itomori
- Tachibana Taki (voiced by Kamiki Ryunosuke), the boy from Tokyo
- Tessie (voiced by Narita Ryo), Mitsuha’s male friend in Itomori
- Sayaka (voiced by Yūki Aoi), Mitsuha’s female friend in Itomori
Note on Japanese names and romanization: in Japanese, as in other East Asian languages, family names are written and said before given names. For example, Mitsuha, the film’s female protagonist, is Miyamizu Mitsuha. Compared to Chinese and Korean, Japanese is relatively easier for English speakers with no language background to pronounce. Diacritical marks denote long vowels, for example, Tokyo is technically Tōkyō, with both os lengthened (since Tokyo is well known in that spelling, I will use it throughout the module). A YouTube video that briefly introduces Japanese pronunciation can be found here.
Note on dubbing: like many animated Japanese films, the DVD of Your Name has both an English and Japanese language track. In the context of learning about Japan, the film should be watched in Japanese with English subtitles.