Your Name. and the Beauty of Vulnerability

“Every now and then, when I wake up, I find myself crying. I can never recall the dream I just had, but the sensation that I’ve lost something lingers for a long time. I’m always searching for something…for someone.”

I vividly remember seeing Your Name. for the first time when it was released in U.S. theaters in 2017. The hype surrounding the film was palpable. It had broken box office records and many were quick to brand writer/director Makoto Shinkai as “the next Hayao Miyazaki.”

Outside of bold headlines, however, I had very little idea what to expect walking into my local indie theater that spring day. I didn’t really know what the film was about. I had no exposure to Shinkai’s other works. As a casual fan of anime at the time, I was sold simply by the hyperbolic reactions that were plastered across social media.

My anxious excitement was instantly calmed as the black screen burst into a vivid array of color; animation like I had never seen before. I was hooked by the film’s opening seconds, stunned by the hues of blue, pink, and orange that flashed before me.

What began as infatuation quickly grew into love as Shinkai’s layered and touching script took me on a winding journey that surprised me at each turn and had me in tears in its closing moments. Needless to say, Your Name. effectively stuck the landing, and I had hopped aboard the hype train.

And the film certainly didn’t leave my consciousness in the years since that viewing. I recommended it to anyone I could with every chance I got. It made my ’50 favorite movies of the 2010’s’ list. Your Name. left its mark on me in a way similar to Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away, a film that I called my favorite in the genre until recently.

That said, three years had passed and I hadn’t seen the movie since that illustrious theatrical experience. So, about a year ago, I finally popped in that blu-ray and sat down for my first rewatch.

It would be easy for me to sit here and say “my love for the film deepened in a magical way” or “it shot toward the top of my favorite films of all-time list” — both of which would be true — but, it’s far more complex than that.

I was emotionally moved in a way no other film had managed before. I was rocked to my core and found myself feeling numb long after the credits rolled. My heart emulated the yearning that Taki and Mitsuha express in the quote that opens the film (and this piece). It was a profound feeling — something I wasn’t quite sure how to process.

“Why am I feeling this way?”

Over the past year, I’ve watched Your Name. more times than I’m comfortable admitting and have given the film countless hours of thought to try and unpack why the film lingers so distinctly.

I had to dig deeper — I had to look not at what was different about the film. I had to recognize what was different about me.

Recently, I made an integral change to the way I watch things.

I was at a point where I was simply looking for things to dislike in everything I saw. I was only searching for flaws. The joy I typically found in movies — a medium I love so dearly — was being sucked dry.

That’s when I stumbled across an interview with Atonement and Darkest Hour director Joe Wright. In discussing the ups-and-downs of the craft, Wright noted “Our filmmaking is an expression of ourselves. It’s who we are at the most fundamental. It’s the closest thing to my essence that there is.” He continues, “That’s where I allow myself to be revealed.”

This flipped a switch in my brain. It helped me recognize that artists create in an attempt to make sense of the world around them. They open themselves up to us entirely in an attempt to convey a message or some greater meaning. And oftentimes, we as viewers latch onto our favorites because we find something we can relate to in that expression.

Movies are a dialogue between filmmakers and audiences. It is a conversation in which writers, directors, actors, and all others involved aim to reveal a feeling or an idea through their own vulnerability. And for this exchange to be balanced, we must, in turn, reciprocate that vulnerability. We must make ourselves equally open to storytellers to properly embrace their visions.

So, that is how I now choose to watch movies. By giving myself up to them, by allowing every ounce of meaning to wash over me. And let me say, it’s made each and every thing I’ve watched since that much more rewarding.

Although he’s often criticized for being a “style over substance” director, I think it’s fair to say that Makoto Shinkai is among today’s most emotional filmmakers. He approaches each frame with passion as vivid as his style of animation.

What sets Your Name. apart from the rest of Shinkai’s filmography — and for that matter, most other films in general — is that it is the culmination of a special kind of raw, unfiltered storytelling.

It goes to a place of absolute truth and proudly wears it on its sleeve. It lets all guard down and leads with the heart. It strives to make a connection more intimate and authentic than any other in its medium, and rewards those of us that accept that kind of honesty with open arms.

Maybe best personified in the film’s inciting incident, Shinkai forces us to confront empathy for another’s experience by having his lead characters swap bodies. There is nothing more intimate than living someone else’s life — literally walking in their shoes.

And through this lens, Shinkai explores the most personal aspects of Taki and Mitsuha’s being. We experience family, friendship, struggle, and love through the other’s eyes.

We see what makes them happy. We learn what makes them tick. We begin to feel what they feel as we peel back the layers and discover their deepest truths.

And hidden in those truths is that “something” or “someone” that has shaped them in a significant way. And while Taki and Mitsuha can’t quite put their finger on what exactly it is, they long for it. They need it. They know they can’t be complete without it. It is a part of them that is lost.

In using that longing, or “searching,” as a channel to frame his story — bookending the film by presenting the question and answer of the characters’ most true feelings, or what they dream of — Shinkai draws a thread between his film and the viewer equal to the thread, the Musubi, that connects Taki and Mitsuha.

It is a nod of the head, an unspoken acknowledgement of the director’s understanding that we all long for something — it’s a feeling we can all directly relate to. Whether or not we are brave enough to admit it, we walk through life hoping we stumble across that thing we feel fated to.

It is an invitation, a beckoning even. It is the director piercing through the surface, drawing that line, and tapping directly into the well of our most personal emotions. It is Shinkai expressing to us that his film is a safe space by giving us something so relatable to latch onto in his characters’ deepest truths.

He’s saying that although these people are two-dimensional drawings, what they feel — that pull — is as real as what we feel. Because, if Wright is to be believed, Taki and Mitsuha are simply an extension of Shinkai himself.

It took a lot for me to realize that. It was easy to fight back against those things I most closely connected to in Your Name. because they come from such a personal place. But when I let down my guard and came to embrace Shinkai’s intent, it sparked something. I felt as though I was able to reconnect with a side of me that I had been detached from for some time.

I found a positivity in Your Name. that helped draw out a more hopeful me, one that was unafraid to pursue a more positive outlook on life; one that doesn’t shy away from ideal aspirations or the most far fetched dreams, but rather faces them head on.

I can’t sit here and say that this type of emotional filmmaking will appeal to everyone, nor would I ask others to exhibit such vulnerability when experiencing something so delicate.

In fact, I’d argue Your Name. works impeccably well at face value — a beautiful story of two lovers tied together by greater forces, which masterfully weaves together drama, comedy, and fantasy, anchored by stunning animation and a killer soundtrack (shoutout RADWIMPS).

What I can say from my own experience, however, is that in the time since making myself as open to film, music, poetry, and other forms of art as the creator themselves, I’ve felt richer emotions that have made me more in tune with myself and my surroundings.

Not only do I gain a lot from each and every new thing I see, but I also discover elements of films I’ve seen a number of times that completely recontextualize how I interpret them.

I’ve rekindled a passion for a medium that informs so much of my life, an art form that teaches me to think bigger and feel deeper.

And maybe the greatest example of that is Your Name.

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