By Jesse Goodwin, Staff Writer
The international popularity of anime is owed largely to the films of director Hayao Miyazaki and his animation house, Studio Ghibli.
Since Miyazaki retired in 2013 and Ghibli closed its production arm in 2014, the only anime film to attract similar attention is this year’s Kimi no Na wa., known in English as Your Name.
Your Name tells the story of two Japanese high school students leading separate lives: Mitsuha Miyamizu, a girl living in the countryside, and Taki Tachibana, a boy living in Tokyo. Despite never having met, they begin to inhabit each other’s bodies in their dreams.
Throughout the film, they attempt to make sense of their situation and find each other in the real world, meanwhile developing feelings for each other.
The film is already a phenomenon in Japan. It topped the Japanese box office for its first nine weeks of release, a record number, before it was surpassed by Death Note: Light Up the New World in its tenth week. It returned to the top spot in its eleventh week.
It has become Japan’s fourth highest-grossing anime film, fifth highest-grossing Japanese film, and seventh highest-grossing film of all time.
Of the five highest-grossing anime films, it is the only one not directed by Miyazaki and produced by Ghibli. It recently surpassed Ponyo and currently trails Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Princess Mononoke.
Its director, Makoto Shinkai, has been called “the new Miyazaki” by critics searching for Miyazaki’s successor. However, he prefers to carve out his own niche within the anime industry.
“Miyazaki is a genius. He is the legend,” he said in an interview with Steve Rose of the Guardian. “You don’t want to be imitating his style. You’ve got to create something different, something that he hasn’t done. But I do want to trigger emotions like his movies triggered our emotions.”
“I can never stand unrivalled like Miyazaki, but if I have been given the privilege of making films… I am confident of delivering something others can’t make,” he said in another interview with Atsushi Ohara of the Asahi Shimbun.
Although Shinkai is acclaimed in his own right, he was not recognized as an equal of Miyazaki before Your Name.
His first breakthrough was 2002’s Voices of a Distant Star, most of which he produced by himself on a Power Mac G4 computer.
Aside from Your Name, his best known film is 2007’s 5 Centimeters Per Second, which won the award for Best Animated Feature Film at the 2007 Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
His previous film, 2013’s The Garden of Words, was well-received but made a hundred times less than Your Name at the box office.
He finds himself surprised by the success of Your Name. “I feel it’s wrong, in a funny way. It’s too much,” he told Rose. “It feels weird, like I’ve gone into another world. Somewhere completely different.”
That success might be explained by the film’s careful blend of Japanese tradition and modernity, which has resonated with filmgoers of all ages.
Its plot draws inspiration from the twelfth century tale Torikaebaya Monogatari, or The Changelings, which tells the story of two siblings who exhibit the mannerisms of the opposite sex.
Like Miyazaki’s films, it also appeals to an international audience. Its body-swapping premise is common in American cinema, and its themes—coming-of-age, young love, and teenage angst, all of which have been addressed in Shinkai’s other films—are universal.
The film is set to release in 85 regions of the world, including the U.S. and Canada, where it will be distributed by anime licensing company Funimation.
On November 8, the company announced that the film has made the official consideration list of the Academy Awards, or “Oscars,” in the Best Animated Feature category, ensuring that it will receive further international recognition.
It is not often that an anime film is considered for an Oscar. The only one to win Best Animated Feature is Spirited Away, which took the award in 2003.
A film must screen for a week in Los Angeles County in order to qualify for an Oscar nomination.
Funimation will screen Your Name at Los Angeles’ Laemmle Music Hall for one week, from December 2 to 9, thereby qualifying it for the 2017 Oscars.
The company plans a wider theatrical release for the first quarter of 2017.
“We’re thrilled to have Your Name on the list of contenders for a Best Animated Feature nomination,” Gen Fukunaga, the founder and CEO of Funimation, said in a statement.
“It is a masterpiece of animation from director Makoto Shinkai and is definitely worthy of Oscar consideration. We look forward to releasing it in theaters in 2017.”