There is a tale in Chinese and Japanese folklore about a red thread. Because of its divine properties, it cannot be seen, nor felt. You will never even notice that it’s there. But by some other worldly chance, the red thread will always bind two people together, across time and space. It is said that two people who are bound by this red thread will make history together.
For modern interpreters, the meaning of this tale is rather simple: the two who are bound by this red thread are soul mates; and thus, they will be romantically attracted to each other. But if you were to ask a classic Eastern interpreter, the red thread goes beyond just erotic love. A higher love, you might say. It is this quality of the red thread that I am reminded of when I saw one of the highest grossing anime films of 2016 recently: Your Name.
Your Name (Kimi no Na wa.) tells the story of two people: Mitsuha Miyamizu from a small village, and Taki Tachibana from the city. Mitsuha is an apprentice shrine maiden that despises her country life and longs to be a boy in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Taki is a carefree student that has little direction in life, going to school and working a part time job to get by. Under normal circumstances, their paths would never cross. But one day, these two odd teenagers would have a rude awakening, when their souls switch places.
Annoying as body-swapping is aside, I found their reactions to their new life are exactly how I might picture a boy or a girl switching roles, whether they’re checking out their genitals or freaking out over what kind of friends and family they have. The tumult they have in wondering just who they are in this new disposition feels like waking up to a nightmare! But the joke’s on them, because when they do return to their original bodies, the events that happened to them cannot be forgotten by those around them!
What I do admire about this exchange is the ingenuity these two have in the wake of this situation. Without ever calling the other, they decided to leave a message in the diaries on their phones, setting their boundaries and laying out every last detail about how they would normally live their life. And of course, as the body-swapping continues in a montage of occasions, they playfully get back at each other by changing their daily routines around, because why not?
I suppose one obvious criticism for this part of the movie is out of practicality: why didn’t they just call each other at any point when they changed places? Not to defend this movie’s plot holes, as I think the feelings one gets from it are far more important than the actual story, but Mitsuha and Taki both assume the same thing: that this new version of themselves is just a part of a dream, and they are crossing a completely different plane of reality whenever it happens. Heck, I’m sure they did try to call each other at some point, but the reply probably never got through, because another (rather cliché) theme pops up, that I will be discussing later on in this review.
What Mitsuha and Taki learn about each other is that life is difficult for both of them on the other side. Their own personal circumstances probably suck as it is, but put them in a new situation that they could have possibly dreamed of, and it doesn’t get any better! But the advantage that these two have in being one another is that they do think about their situations differently. They use their own memories to change the course of the other’s situation, when they have the chance to be that person. Some of these changes make them look like fools to their friends and family, but that also makes them stand out more to those around them as well.
In time, Mitsuha and Taki actually make life better for each other when they switch places. However, about halfway through the movie, all that progress seems to come to a halt.
On the night of a town festival, Mitsuha experiences the passing of a comet that was scheduled to fly by Earth that day. It was to be a marvelous sight for all of Japan to get a glimpse of it. But as chance would have it, the comet got too close to the atmosphere and split apart into two pieces. The remaining shards of the comet crashes into Earth, and decimates Mitsuha’s small village. At that point, Taki no longer experiences any body swapping, and over time, his memories of being Mitsuha start to fade away.
This plays along with the same criticism I had from earlier. For Taki, being in Mitsuha’s body felt like a dream, and given how his memory fades about it, it must have been! And yet, those memories are so vivid in his mind, that he longs to find out what is that place in his dreams. He had to know why these memories of his were so strong.
Much of Taki’s development is this constant searching for what is important to him. Yes, it is very frustrating to see him go around in circles, wandering aimlessly in search of clues as to what happened to this mysterious village. But Taki always had one physical keepsake that he had kept for quite some time to remind him that he still had to look for it: a red ribbon that he kept wrapped around his wrist.
Taki may not seem like he has any direction in life, but searching for what’s so important to him is a part of his growth. When I don’t have any idea where I’m headed in life, I find it helpful to have at least one constant to set my bearings straight before I move on; and to me, moving on is a must, because feeling like I’m in one place in my life freaking sucks! This is also how Taki feels about his life in the city, under the stress of getting good grades and making money after school. Still he longs to find out why a vivid dream he had of being someone else was so important, and that red ribbon is symbolic of his journey.
Eventually, Taki discovers that the Mitsuha he had been switching places actually existed three years before his current time, so not only was he body-swapping with Mitsuha, he had been traveling through time as well. Now seeing how my last couple of anime reviews have dealt with time travel, I’d say this version is linear, but how it’s perceived has two focal points: Mitsuha and Taki. Whether or not these two points in time are in alignment with one another is rather vague, but I think it does tie together (see what I did there?) with the supernatural red thread.
When I saw this in the theater, I found that the audience reacted most strongly to the scene when Taki and Mitsuha finally meet atop the crater where the village once stood. It’s not very clear whether they actually saw each other, but they could certainly sense one another. Not to give away how that happened or how they got there, but Taki realizes that his memories of Mitsuha are fading away rapidly, and he had to do something before he forgets about her altogether. In a quick moment, Taki decides that they should write each other’s name on their arms, so they would not forget each other when they wake up.
Taki does manage to write on Mitsuha’s arm, but before Mitsuha can complete a single stroke, she fades away. Taki wakes up with no way of knowing who that girl was. And when Mitsuha wakes up, she finds a simple phrase written on her arm: すきだ。”I love you.”
This is an ominous reference to the film’s title, but I felt that this scene also resonated with “The Tale of the Red Thread” the most. Taki and Mitsuha would never have known each other at this point in their lives. Their memories of one another would have remained in dreams. But for the two of them, they had proof that this wasn’t just a dream. And for that, Mitsuha had a chance to do something about it.
While Taki’s goal was to search for something important, Mitsuha’s goal was to do something important. With such an ominous message written on her wrist, she knew that she mattered to someone else, someone whom she hadn’t met yet. So in Mitsuha’s time (before the comet strike), she went to the city to find that boy who means so much to her. While she didn’t remember his name, she remembered his face so vividly. Mitsuha did find Taki, but since he had been three years younger than how she remembered, he had no recollection of her. As the two became separated yet again on a busy train, Mitsuha’s hair came undone and she left behind one thing for the younger Taki: a red ribbon. I suppose if the “Tale of the Red Thread” symbolism wasn’t obvious enough yet, that’s the same ribbon that Taki ties to his wrist. Despite not knowing her name, Taki is always searching for Mitsuha.
For the final act of the film, we see Mitsuha go through a drastic change in her disposition from where she began. Despite cursing her country life before, she goes to extreme lengths along with her friends, just to save it. Unbelievable as her actions may have been, she had something important to save other than her miserable life or her small community. She had to live in order to find that person who cares about her so much.
The climax to Your Name seems rather ambiguous, which I don’t think is a bad thing. But in these last few moments, even I was taken aback when the comet slams into the Earth. Much of the animation in this film is committed to subtle, everyday actions, putting more emphasis on dialogue and expressions. The massive explosion that comes with no sound at all changes that formula quite beautifully, and it reminded me just how easily everything we think is important can just as easily vanish in an instant.
I suppose if this were a postmodern film, that’s where Your Name would have ended. But because there is plenty of ambiguity in the epilogue, I should end this review on that.
EVEN MORE SPOILERS PORTION!?
At the very end, we see Taki as an adult, and a relatively successful one at that. But even so, he is still searching, still wandering the city to find someone who is so important to him. The village that haunted him in his teenage years was now just a fond memory of a tragedy that he had researched a lot. But even though he seemed to have moved on in his life, he found one last clue that could lead him to something important: a young woman with a red ribbon tied in her hair.
Now I’m going to be frank with you all: there actually is nothing to suggest that this woman is certainly Mitsuha. Since he can’t remember her name, Taki never found out if Mitsuha survived the comet strike, no matter how many times he had searched for any name in the reports he had found about them. For the sake of ambiguity, I felt that his search for this woman was a perfect way to end the film, so that we could complete the ending for ourselves.
But I also think that Your Name is a refreshing interpretation of “The Tale of the Red Thread.” The thread that led Taki through his urban life was the same thread that encouraged Mitsuha to make a difference in her rural life. Of course, this thread is invisible compared to the symbolic ribbon that both of them had exchanged at some point in their lives without knowing it. They found a way to change the course of their respective histories, to make something happen.
Taki doesn’t know if this woman is the person he has been searching for all along, but when they do finally meet face to face, they seem to be familiar with one another. They just have to recall their name.
So if you are curious about one of the most talked about anime films of 2016 and see “The Tale of the Red Thread” unravel for yourself, check out Your Name. As for the red thread that’s supposedly attached to me? Heh. I can’t even tell if it’s there to begin with. Guess I’ll have to keep searching.