Wednesday 20 September 2017

Kimi no Na wa (Your Name) : Contrasts and Diversity in Contemporary Japan

DVDs of Kimi no Na wa lined up in a local video store for one week rental
DVDs on display in a local Tsutaya video rental store
Your Name (Kimi no Na wa =君の名は), the animated movie (anime) directed by the "New Miyazaki" Makoto Shinkai (who wrote the book of the same name), has been breaking a lot of records. Earlier in the year, it became the highest grossing anime film ever (worldwide), overtaking Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kami-kakushi =千と千尋の神隠し), and is currently the fourth highest grossing film of all time in Japan (behind Spirited Away, Titanic, and Frozen). The story is centred on a teenage boy from Tokyo and teenage girl from a small village in rural Gifu who come to occupy the other's body. The plot itself is not terribly original and the chronology (and mysticism) is a bit confusing but it is so beautifully illustrated and full of both humour and human feeling that it draws you in. For the Japan lover, the scenes of everyday life are so intricately drawn - from subway train signs to classroom furniture - that you can't but be amazed at the attention to detail. On top of that, the two key themes of (1) urban rural vs urban Japan - the different language and value systems - and (2) male vs female - especially the differences in language, such as pronouns - are skilfully interwoven into the story, highlighting the huge range of diversity in a country which is too often described using simple keywords, bland stereotypes, and sweeping generalisations. The English trailer is available here.

Books written by Kimi no Na wa director Makoto Shinkai, including the 2013 Garden of Words (言の葉の庭)
For older Japanese, Kimi no Na wa may bring back memories of the 1953 black-and-white movie of the same name (left). The film is translated a little differently though as "What's your name?", and indeed in the Showa period this was a common (casual) way to ask someone's name. Today, the phrase sounds both old-fashioned (namae - 名前 - not na is the norm today) and self-important (kimi would only be used by someone in a position of power, say a boss speaking to a subordinate or a senior speaking to a junior member of a club). The only time 名 tends to be used today is on official forms where it refers specifically to your given name and is pronounced mei not na (this makes a pair with family name which is written 姓 and pronounced sei). However, in everyday speech shita no namae (下の名前) is the term used to refer to given name and myōji (名字) for family name. Most Japanese give their name in family name/given name order, so asking for their "first name" would be confusing (indeed, as the term shita no namae implies, the given name is considered "below" or second to the family name).