Asia

Why the story of body-swapping teenagers has gripped Japan

  • 27 September 2016
  • From the section Asia
Poster image of Your Name Image copyright ©2016 YNFP
Image caption The movie is slated to open across 85 countries and regions

A Japanese film has made history by becoming the first animation not made by the legendary Studio Ghibli to rake in more than 10bn yen (£76m; $98m) in a month. But what exactly is it that has been drawing in the crowds?

1. It is a body-swapping fantasy

Your Name, also known as Kimi no Na wa in Japanese, is a body-swapping fantasy with two teenagers at its heart.

Based on a novel, it tells the story of Mitsuha, a female high school student in a rural Japanese town, and Taki, a male high school student in central Tokyo.

Mitsuha starts dreaming of herself as a young man. Taki also begins seeing himself through the eyes of a female student in the countryside.

The rest of the movie explores their body-swap and the journey they go on involves time travel as well as disastrous deadly comets.

2. It mirrors the boy-girl swaps found in old Japanese tales

Director Makoto Shinkai is said to have been inspired by a classic Japanese 12th Century tale, Torikaebaya Monogatari, which features a sibling duo, where a boy is raised as a girl and the girl raised as a boy because of their personality.

Image copyright ©2016 YNFP
Image caption Mitsuha soon starts dreaming of herself as a young man, with Taki also seeing himself through the eyes of a female student in the countryside

And it's there in more recent tales too.

Tenkousei is a Japanese film made in 1982 also about a teenage boy and girl who swapped bodies when they fell down some stairs at a temple. A father and daughter switch bodies in 2007, TV drama Papa to Musume no Nanokakan saw

3. It captures the melancholy of adolescent dreaming

It touches on universal themes such as coming of age, adolescence and the struggle to assert your identity in a confusing world.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The line between dreams and reality is one that caught the director's imagination

In Your Name the characters wake up from their dreams as each other and the line between reality and dreams constantly blurs.

This aspect of the film, Shinkai says, was influenced by a famous Japanese poem titled Yume to Shiriseba. It reads:

I wonder if he appeared in my dream because I fell asleep thinking of him.

I wouldn't have woken up if I had known it was a dream.

That melancholy moment of bleary wakefulness after a dream is the sensation Shinkai appears to have been reaching for in this film.

4. It is a reminder of the earthquake that changed a nation

It also draws upon the experience of Japan in the wake of the deadly 2011 earthquake, the most powerful to have ever hit Japan, and which claimed 16,000 lives

Widely referred to as 3.11, Shinkai's told magazine outlet Diamond that it changed not just him but the whole of Japanese society.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Tohoku earthquake resulted in some 18,000 deaths

The film itself is also overshadowed by the threat of a natural disaster. Shinkai said he used the film to reflect a sentiment that many, including himself, shared - that a disaster could strike at any moment.

"You will never know when Tokyo could become like this," the character Taki says at one point.

"It takes five years to digest the shocking experience and sublimate to such a scale of art," one Twitter user Yoshinaga Tastuki reflected.

5. Fans are making pilgrimages to its stunning locations

The film has also been appreciated for its beautiful graphics, often modelled after real-life locations.

"I finally watched Your Name. The story, acting and music were all good but most of all I was overwhelmed by the beauty of [the] images. Each cut was amazing," said one user on Twitter.

Other users posted pictures of real-life locations that the film modelled after, with fans descending upon locations such as Shinkai's home town in Nagano Prefecture, the Gifu prefecture and even Tokyo.

Image copyright Twitter/@Fragments_Sue
Image caption According to this Twitter user, around 20 people were seen taking pictures at the Suga Shrine, a location featured in the movie
Image copyright ©2016 YNFP
Image caption And here's what looks like the steps of the Suga Shrine in reel life

And the film's audience was not limited to only Japan.

"Each detail of the film was painstakingly thought out and executed with such precision and passion," Canadian anime fan Ismael Ramos told the BBC. "It was a perfect balance of art, music and storytelling."

6. Hope for the next generation of mainstream Japanese animation

For the film to be such a success, it had to transcend boundaries and appeal to audiences wider than young people and anime fans.

As such, Shinkai has been hailed by some as being the next Hayao Miyazaki, whose name is almost synonymous with anime and has been credited with bringing Japanese animation to a broad global audience.

Image copyright "Your Name": Film Partners
Image caption Your Name was released in Japan on 26 August

He directed award-winning hits such as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Howl's Moving Castle during his time with Studio Ghibli, all of which have gone on to break the 10bn yen mark.

"Shinkai is on his way to Miyazaki status with Kimi no Na wa," said one Twitter user.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Spirited Away won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003

Others had a slightly different view.

"I think Miyazaki and Shinkai actually have very distinct styles, though they are equally as powerful," said Mr Ramos.

"What they do have in common is the ability to take audiences through a journey and experience, which I believe is the ultimate goal of any artist."

And if you believe imitation is the highest form of flattery, the film has already been turned into a mini horror movie spin-off by fans.

Reporting by Yuzuha Oka in Tokyo and the BBC's Yvette Tan.

Your Name opens in the UK on 24 November

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