I first heard about Makoto Shinkai’s hit film Your Name in whispers and gifsets on Tumblr. In fact, upon researching it a little further, I was surprised to find that, you know, it actually was a hit, given that I’d barely heard anything about it. The 2016 animated film has already been dubbed by Funimation and was shown off at Anime Expo back in July. Yet what got me to watch it wasn’t the beautiful animation I’d seen in the gifsets—it was one line I’d read in a brief summary: Mitsuha wishes to be a handsome boy in her next life. So, knowing nothing about this film or the story it was adapted from, I went into Your Name wondering if it was going to star a character going through the struggles of being trans in rural Japan. While this was not the case, Your Name is not necessarily devoid of queer moments. And while the movie was beautiful and entertaining (and I can understand the people who believe it got snubbed for an Oscars nod), I still don’t know if I actually enjoyed the experience.
Huge spoilers below!
Mitsuha, a high school girl growing up in the fictional town of Itomori, finds herself increasingly annoyed by her rural lifestyle. Outside of having none of the glamour and comforts of a city like Tokyo, Mitsuha is further stressed out because she is the heir to her family’s shrine (which includes performing ceremonies that no one remembers the cultural context for and getting made fun of by her peers for it) and because she has to deal with her strict father. Itomori’s mayor, her father, abandoned everything to do with the shrine including his family, but he still expects Mitsuha to reflect a perfection “worthy” of a politician’s daughter. With all of this on her shoulders, she makes the half-hearted plea that in her next life, she be born a handsome Tokyo boy. Fate decides not to wait that long, however, and next we see, Mitsuha wakes up in the body of a high school Tokyo boy named Taki. Taki, too, wakes up in Mitsuha’s body. Both of them are, understandably, freaked out.
Several days pass with the two of them switching bodies seemingly at random. While both of them started believing it was simply an incredibly realistic dream, before long they realize that it’s real and begin laying down rules for the other about what they can and can’t do when the other is in their body. As the two live both of their lives, they end up helping each other out—Mitsuha helps Taki get a date with the co-worker he has a crush on, and Taki helps Mitsuha fit in a bit better at her school—and, in turn, they grow closer to each other. As the date of Itomori’s town festival draws closer, Mitsuha excitedly tells Taki that the night of the festival is also the night that a comet is supposed to pass by the Earth close enough to see. Hoping to see it as well, Taki ventures out to catch a glimpse of the comet the night of the festival, but is disappointed to find that he can’t see anything.
From then on, Taki and Mitsuha never switch bodies again.
Confused by this turn of events, and feeling lonely not being able to speak with Mitsuha, Taki tries to go visit her. “Tries” being the operative word. Taki has no idea where Mitsuha actually lives, and only has the drawings he created based on his memories of Itomori to direct him. When all seems lost, a chef at a random ramen restaurant recognizes the drawing and takes him to Itomori. Or, rather, where Itomori was. The night of the festival, the comet was indeed visible. However, a piece of the comet split from the rest of it and hit Itomori, destroying the town and all the people in it. To make matters more confusing, these events happened three years before Taki even knew of Mitsuha. Now, determined to find a way to save Mitsuha and the whole of Itomori, Taki searches the town’s remains for any clues on how to turn back time and switch bodies with Mitsuha, if only for one last time.
While my jury is still out on whether or not I liked the ending, what I do think Your Name explores beautifully is the conflict between tradition and modernization. I may not be able to fully understand the deeper cultural significance to what is going on in Mitsuha’s life, or Itomori’s history, but I do think there are aspects that cross cultural barriers. Mitsuha’s conflict between trying to fit in with her classmates, but also being one of the only practitioners of the town’s ancient traditions is a struggle with not only duty and desire, but with growing up as well. It’s not that Mitsuha hates all the traditions she’s been instructed on since she was a girl, it’s that she’s beginning to miss the point of them in favor of wanting to not be seen as the weird girl who spits rice into a box. Adding onto this, Mitsuha’s grandmother mentions that the recorded history of the town, including mythology and cultural practices, were burned in a fire long ago. Not even the people of Itomori remember the reasons why these cultural practices are so important or what they represent; some part of them just knows that they should be preserved and experienced. This importance still rings true when Taki is inhabiting Mitsuha’s body. He doesn’t have to perform any shrine rituals, and he sucks at making the braided cord that is the pride of Mitsuha’s family, but even without knowing the reasons for these practices, Taki knows they are important. This city boy doesn’t look down on these old practices, and instead forges his own relationship with them, separate from the people of Itomori. The fact that it’s these very same old practices that end up saving Mitsuha and the entire town in the end speaks to how cultures shouldn’t abandon their past in favor of modernization. Instead, they should seek to form their own relationships to the practices, even if these relationships are separate from what the practices were originally meant to invoke.
But I mentioned queer moments earlier, didn’t I? Don’t get too excited—there’s a reason why I didn’t call it “queer representation”. There are three specific moments in Your Name that lend itself to a not-entirely straight reading of some of the characters, but they don’t amount to anything in the end. On the other hand, that means they don’t lead to anything harmful either. The best example of this inoffensive nothing is the first time Mitsuha is in Taki’s body. After bumbling through a conversation with his friends at school, one of his male friends mentions that Taki was being awfully cute, and then blushes. It’s literally just a moment, but I still think it holds some importance. While a separate friend seems surprised, it’s not expressed in a way that makes me think he was disgusted at the idea of this guy maybe developing feelings for Taki. It seemed more like he thought Taki was kind of a mess, and was shocked that anything Taki did could be considered “cute”. It’s definitely not the kind of representation I would demand from a film, but, you know, it sure is there.
The other two moments deal with Mitsuha directly. While she’s in Taki’s body, she manages to set up a date between him and his crush, Miki (the co-worker I mentioned earlier). Though Mitsuha left Taki some tips on his phone on the off-chance that they would switch back before the date, after waking up in her own bed, in her own body, Mitsuha remarks that she really wanted to go on that date herself. There’s nothing in the scene to imply that she wanted to go on the date with Taki, just that she wanted to go. In the moments where Mitsuha is in Taki’s body, it’s shown that she and Miki grow much closer, Miki openly stating that she likes this “feminine side” of Taki. So it’s really not that much of a stretch to say that maybe Mitsuha developed some feelings for Miki while living Taki’s life. However, in the end the thing I most hope gets explored in fanworks is Mitsuha’s original plea: that she be born again as a handsome Tokyo boy.
While the societal pressures of being a girl always suck no matter which culture you’re in, I never got the impression that Mitsuha was particularly held to any higher standards because she was a girl. Her conflicts came from her responsibilities to the shrine and the stress to be perfect placed on her by her father, both of which would still exist no matter which gender she was (although the shrine work would be different, I suppose). Mitsuha longed to live in the city, a place where things “happened” as opposed to her less exciting country life, so why would she want to be a handsome city boy instead of a beautiful city girl? I honestly don’t know. There’s a case here for Mitsuha maybe being trans or genderfluid—her only issue with being Taki was her embarrassment dealing with a penis that wasn’t hers, and that was seemingly only at the beginning since it was never mentioned again—but in the end, Mitsuha’s relationship with her gender isn’t really explored outside of that.
Though I didn’t get the trans story I was expecting, Your Name is still a beautiful experience that I highly recommend. For those worrying if Mitsuha gets damseled in return for Taki’s quest for love, fear not. Both Mitsuha and Taki end up working together to save the day, and in general both the ladies and dudes of the film get equal opportunity to be cool and do shit. There are some frustrating things, mostly to do with the ending, but I don’t regret watching the film, even if I can’t say for sure if I liked it as a whole. But, for those looking for an anime about trans characters, I would recommend checking out Wandering Son instead!