Keit-Ai finds a way.
Keit-Ai A boy falls in love with a girl. Unable to confess, he is gifted with by a deus ex machina with the girl’s phone number. Never minding the strange area code, he immediately calls her, and is overjoyed to find out that she has a crush on him as well. But, the next day, when he recounts the previous day’s confessions to the girl, she only looks at him with a perplexed expression. After some investigation, he finds out that the girl he called is not the same girl he fell in love with. In fact, she doesn’t exist in this universe at all. She is the girl’s alternate universe counterpart, who has fallen in love with the MC’s own AU self, who too is blissfully unaware of her crush. Hijinks ensue as the two strike up a deal to give each other their darkest, most private secrets in order to equip the other with the weapons they need to conquer the heart of their other selves. While the two chase their respective loved ones, DRAMA ensues as they begin to fall in love with each other instead and question the NATURE of LOVE.
Kimi no Na wa.
I went to watch Kimi no Na wa earlier this evening. It’s probably the closest an anime film has come to being noticed by the general population in the West since Spirited Away, which is over a decade old now. Which is nice in one respect, but also caused a lot more inconvenience. Even whilst looking for tickets to book online, I couldn’t help but notice that it was in way greater demand than The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, the last anime film I went to see on the big screen. And that saddens me, because I absolutely loved Kaguya and still think of it as one of, if not the best Ghibli films. That said, I’ve long been aware that it ended up being relatively under-appreciated whereas Kimi no Na wa is the very definition of a blockbuster success within (and maybe even slightly outside given how much it has exceeded expectations) the limited context of anime films and I didn’t really need that spelled out for me by how I ended up watching the former in an almost-empty theatre, compared to a full house for the latter. Anyway. I just wanted to say some stuff while it’s still fresh in my memory. A quick health warning: just like what I did with Kaguya, this won’t really be a ‘review’ so much as it will be my thoughts on what I found interesting or wanted to comment on. Kind of like what I do normally with episodic posts for seasonal anime. Also, there may be spoilers. So you probably shouldn’t read ahead if you plan to see it soon.
Let’s get the Keit-Ai mention out of the way first. You know, it’s almost like meme magic is actually real. I went in almost blind, so I wasn’t expecting the plot to be so similar to Keit-Ai. Or at least, as similar as it can possibly get without directly plagiarising off Keit-Ai. It had a cell phone, hijinks, and lots of drama. Even a ‘strange area code’ if you count communication between a boy and a girl who have connected three years into the past and future respectively. But technically we’re not dealing with alternate universes but rather the same universe in different time periods, and they could have done more with fleshing out the NATURE of LOVE as Mitsuha and Taki seemed to fall for each other rather abruptly.
It was also very Shinkai-like. I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that. To start with, I’m not particularly surprised – you don’t go into a Shinkai film expecting it to be devoid of all the classic elements that have pervaded literally almost everything he’s produced. But I wonder whether being too familiar with his work ends up being detrimental towards the overall experience. To an extent, if you’ve watched one of them, you’ve watched them all. Contrast being in that position with that of my friend, who watched it about a week ago being fairly new to Chinese cartoons and certainly completely new to Shinkai. He thinks Kimi no Na wa is the best thing since sliced bread. A whole lot of other people do, too, and so I think I might have gone into it a little too overhyped. I was expecting something to completely blow my socks off, forgetting that these days I’ve been reduced to living off an IV drip of slice-of-life and CGDCT, and because I set the bar so high I ended up expecting too much of it.
For me, there’s also a real lingering discomfort from my having watched it dubbed. In the context of a full-length TV series, to watch English dubbed anime is nothing short of heretical by my personal standards. So of course, this wasn’t my choice. I wasn’t all that surprised to find out that, being in the UK, the chances were that I would only be offered a dubbed showing (at least, as far as the closest cinema to me was concerned). And I wasn’t that stubborn to not go and see a Shinkai film when it was right on my doorstep (for the record though, I did watch Kaguya subbed). It wasn’t a bad dub, all things considered, but it was certainly more flat a portrayal than what I gathered from the Japanese PV, and I would be lying if I said that that didn’t dampen the experience. Internally cringing every time ‘Mitsuha’ or ‘Yotsuha’ were over-pronounced was one thing, but honestly it really hurt when post-film research revealed that Yuuki Aoi played Saya. If I lived somewhere just slightly different I could have heard Yuuki Aoi’s voice in the cinema. I also had no idea that Mitsuha’s teacher was Yukino-sensei from The Garden of Words. Apparently she moved to Itomori after the events of that film, and if I’d heard her voice with the original Hanazawa Kana, I might have recognised her whilst I was there. At any rate, I definitely want to re-watch it once a raw or subbed version appears online. At the moment I’m genuinely wondering whether one of the reasons I didn’t cry (although my heart did seize up at many points, not least of all when Mitsuha disappeared from the top of the mountain and that marker pen fell onto the floor) was because it was a dubbed showing. Another reason being that I was in public. If you’re interested, the last time I remember crying was to Rem pouring her heart out in Re:Zero. The time before that was, I think, the ending to Plastic Memories. In terms of Shinkai films, I may possibly have cried to The Garden of Words, although it may not have been much. My strongest memories of that are how beautiful the rain, the leaves and Yukino-sensei’s feet were. I know I cried to 5 Centimetres Per Second. I was a fucking mess.
Don’t get me wrong, I still thought Kimi no Na wa was very good. The unofficial litmus test I use is whether I enter a state of self-reflection, soberness and depression after a film of this sort, anime-related or not, and that definitely happened here. I’m not going to forget the mountain scene any time soon. As I said above, all the standard Shinkai elements are there – the unrequited love that turns tragic or sadly fails to bear any fruit, the scenery porn and that painful undercurrent of mono no aware as you watch these characters grow up and become working adults amidst the relentless passage of time, leaving you at a loss as to what to even do with your life as you realise that nothing will stay the same forever before you eventually resolve to become a better person and make full use of the time you do have now. All those elements are there. And with Kimi no Na wa, Shinkai polishes them until they gleam. It features animation just as good as, and even more refined in some places than, The Garden of Words. It’s a sustained return to form after ever so slightly having missed the bullseye with Children Who Chase Lost Voices. Even though that fetish for moving trains is still there, it avoids the maddeningly rage-inducing ending a la 5 Centimetres Per Second that it could easily have replicated here. And most importantly of all, as I have no doubt you will agree, Mitsuha is cute! She’s seriously cute. Taki has such refined taste. I, too, would pick Mitsuha over Okudera-senpai any day. I’m also sure there was intentional lewdness in that entire sake fermenting ritual where Mitsuha slowly ferments it in her mouth before drooling it out. That was really awkward to watch with someone else in public.
It’s definitely possible to pick holes in the plot, not least of all by questioning how exactly Taki made it through repeated body swaps without realising exactly what year it was from anyone in Itomori. As well as that he shouldn’t have been ‘made’ to forget Mitsuha’s name when they initially met on the train three years in Taki’s past, although I guess he could have forgotten naturally. But I don’t think it was ever meant to be a completely watertight plot, nor was it meant to be criticised as such. Above all, it tried to be a rollercoaster of emotions, and on the whole it did achieve that. I definitely didn’t expect some of the plot twists – I instantly understood, to my horror, that Taki and Mitsuha were living in different time periods when the grandma told Taki (as ‘Mitsuha’) that he was dreaming, but I initially guessed that they were something tragic like 50 years apart and would never ever meet whilst being the same age, Mitsuha having long moved on by the time Taki finds her in his present day. And then Mitsuha got killed by the comet. It’s really funny, I’ve seen that comet breaking apart lots of times in the PV by now, and for some reason it’s never at all occurred to me that the comet would be a problem. I just thought the red chunks entering the atmosphere looked pretty. I even thought the comet might be triggering the body swap. I had no idea it would be something like a reoccurring disaster once every millennium or so. And of course the idea is that we were all meant to think that Mitsuha didn’t manage to save Itomori in the end and that everyone died anyway. Again, very Shinkai-like.
I think that’s about all that comes to mind at this point. I’ve just realised that I’ve basically used this post as a way to work out my own feelings on this film by articulating them in writing. Sorry about that. If there’s anything I’ve figured out, it’s that I really need to watch the raw. I feel like I’ve gotten an incomplete picture so far, although make no mistake it’s quite an experience whatever the language. I don’t know whether completing that picture will improve it for me such that it displaces 5 Centimetres Per Second as my favourite Shinkai film, but it’s worth a try.