When I read about the passionate response this movie was getting from its audiences and how it was basically breaking the Japanese box office, so much so that it spooked its writer-director Makoto Shinkai and caused him to come out and say he wasn’t satisfied with his movie and he hoped no more people would go see it because it wasn’t worth the furore it was creating, I knew I had to watch it, if only to see what the fuss was about.
Now that I have seen it, I just have to say: this is So, So Good, you guys. <3
THE PREMISE & GENRE MASHUP
Even if you’re not usually into Japanese movies or anime (like I’m not usually into Japanese movies and anime), I’d say that this movie is an easy one for a drama fan to love.
I mean, the premise itself could pass for the description of a fun fantasy sort of drama: a high-school girl and a high-school boy find themselves switching bodies and living each other’s lives when they go to sleep, but aren’t quite able to retain the memories of the switch, once they wake up.
There’s lots of room for fun and hijinks, but this movie is so much more than a cute case of body swapping. The themes that this movie explores are extremely varied, and read like a mishmash medley of drama genres and motifs: switched identities; the passage of time, and how the parallel passages of time can interweave and meet; high-school and coming-of-age; the search for meaning; the search for self. This is, quite literally, anime meets Queen In-hyun’s Man meets The Lake House meets Who Are You – School 2015.
The best part is, somehow, it all works. This crazy-sounding mashup is pulled off with such finesse that the watch experience feels seamless and easy, thanks in no small part to the fantastic writing and directing.
Even as a casual viewer, I found the story-building extraordinarily intricate and thoughtful. The threads of the fabric of this story, are all laid down from the very beginning, with meaningful intent.
Throwaway lines and little remarks during incidental moments aren’t ever quite really throwaway nor unimportant. Everything weaves together in due course, and it is gratifying, and even a little overwhelming, to see the threads eventually take their place of importance in the structure of our narrative.
The end result is one that I love, in that it all feels so whole. As someone whose drama miles were mostly earned on live-shoot kdramas whose narratives often took weird sidesteps to cope with the live shoot, this kind of storytelling feels extra precious to me. As I watched this, I could feel that the writer had lovingly conceived every line of dialogue and planted them in their places, pregnant with purpose and meaning, all of which would be brought to fruition in the watch process.
Guh. So good. This is how stories should be written.
THE EMOTIONAL PULL
My favorite thing of all, with this movie, is the surprisingly deep emotional pull that it has.
This movie has a distinctive emotional pull about it that is beautifully, profoundly visceral. As I watched this movie, my heart often responded, almost independent of the rest of me. Even when my head sometimes hadn’t grasped the full meaning of what was happening on my screen, my heart was way ahead, completely immersed, gripped in the throes of emotion.
It sucked me in so completely that at times, I felt my tears welling up instinctively, almost like the involuntary tears our lead characters Taki and Mitsuha experienced, after waking up from one of their switches. This heart-over-head thing is a strong theme in this movie’s narrative, so to have the viewer experience actually mirror that, is masterful indeed.
THEMES [MODERATE SPOILERS]
While this movie can be appreciated very well at just face value, all you’d have to do is poke a little deeper, and you’d find that there are so many deeper themes and ideas just waiting to be mined.
Here are the ones that reverberated through me, long after the credits had finished rolling:
1. The unimportance of labels
Taki and Mitsuha develop a deep and enduring care for each other, without being able to remember each other’s names. I love the underlying idea, that we don’t need labels in order to embrace or create meaning. That capacity and process, of building a strong connection with – and caring deeply for – someone whom you’ve never met, reminds me of almost all of my online friends, many of whom I’ve never met.
2. Creating meaning from fragments
Our lead characters Taki and Mitsuha consistently find that they have difficulty retaining the memories from their switches, but they so deeply want to remember, that they fight to create meaning from the little bits of clues that they do have. That struggle, to piece together meaning from the fragments that we have, is, I think, a universal pursuit / state of being that we can all identify with.
3. Listen to your heart
The idea that if you listen to your heart long enough, and follow where it leads you, one day, you will realize your dreams. I love the idea that sometimes – perhaps oftentimes – our hearts know better than our heads, and it’s worth trusting our hearts and following where they lead.
4. The struggle to make a difference
In the last stretch, both Taki and Mitsuha are shown doing all they can, to evacuate the people from the impending comet crash, and it is a monumental task. That idea, of striving to achieve something so much larger than yourself, even when the universe seems stacked against you, is one that I found deeply stirring.
5. Capturing meaning from moments of surreality
This is the precise struggle and process that Taki and Mitsuha go through, to capture the “dream memories” before the moment of surreality passes and they’re fully in their own world again.
In a similar vein, we all know those fleeting moments of inspiration, where we have amazing thoughts and ideas, that, if left uncaptured, will drift into the forgotten recesses of our consciousness, once our attention is directed elsewhere.
I love what this movie does with this idea. It essentially takes seeds of possibility from the deepest recesses of our consciousness, and delves into the what ifs, of forgotten memories remembered. Why are our hearts drawn to things that our minds don’t remember or understand?
So very intriguing and thought-provoking.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
What a satisfying ending, that manages to satisfy not only the audience desire for a happy ending, but also stays true to the mythology of the drama world. That’s skillz, considering that the mythology has set up Taki and Mitsuha to have absolutely no memory of each other, despite their best efforts to capture the memory of each other’s names.
I do love that in bringing about this story’s happy ending, that not only does the writer stay true to the mythology, but even leans deeper into the themes that have already been running through the movie: the idea that their hearts knew something their heads didn’t remember; the idea that if they saw each other, they’d know each other. It all comes together so well – and yet, until the very last moment, I felt like I was on the edge of my seat; I didn’t actually know for sure, that we would get a happy ending.
In the end, we don’t get to see Taki and Mitsuha actually having a conversation; all we see is each asking for the other’s name, agreeing that they seem to have met before. Yet, despite what on paper looks like mere breadcrumbs of a happy ending, this moment felt satisfying to watch.
I love that their longing for each other endured through all of those years after the comet incident, through the vacuum of silence and separation. And I love that it was precisely their longing for each other, that heart-knowledge of each other, that eventually enabled them to finally make a connection in the everyday world, beyond the mystical magic of twilight.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Surreal & beautiful, yet meaty & thought-provoking. Grabs you by the deepest heartstrings and doesn’t let go.
FINAL GRADE: A+