How does Your Name interpret the 3.11 disasters for an international audience?

Warning: this piece includes major spoilers for the film ‘Your Name.’

One of the major themes of Your Name is how deeply traditions are embedded into the fabric of Japanese society. As the daughter of a family that takes care of the local shrine, Mitsuha participates in traditional ceremonies and spends her evenings weaving bamboo. Later on in the film, these traditions take on a new significance, as they are revealed to bond her and Taki. However, Mitsuha repeatedly expresses her wish to leave the routine of her small town for Tokyo. When she switches bodies with Taki for the first time and discovers the big city, the camera also luxuriates in its sights and sounds with her.

At the end of the film, there is a time jump to a few years after the comet fragment hits Itomori. Taki, who has no recollection of his involvement in saving Itomori’s people, remarks that he has stopped reading about the incident in the news. He runs into Mitsuha on the street, who has now moved to Tokyo, fulfilling her lifelong dream.

Mitsuha’s desire to move out of her stifling hometown parallels the desire of many Japanese teens; to move away from their small, aging and isolated towns. The film also diminishes the importance of the people of Itomori, even as their uncertain fate is one of the leading thrusts of the film. The romance of Mitsuha and Taki is front and center, while the actual saving of the town and its people is played out offscreen. By doing so, the film only furthers the experience of the people facing disaster, while framing the industrialized city as a respite from Itomori’s ills. Unfortunately, this mirrors an increasingly prominent separation in Japan that exists between the rural and the urban in the political, social, and economic spheres. In reality, the tragedies of Tohoku will take decades, if not centuries to recover from fully.

Moving to Tokyo because of a disaster was not an exciting move, but the reality of displacement for 120,000 people as of last year. Many are still unemployed, and even speak of being discriminated against for being exposed to radiation, as if their whole existence has now been “tainted.” In the meantime, Japan’s government has mostly forgotten about assisting Tohoku, redirecting its efforts toward the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics instead. Furthermore, with some of the events being held in Fukushima, there are attempts to signal that the area is back on its feet and has not stood in the way of Japan’s national progression.

At the premiere of Your Name, Shinkai stated that he hoped the Japanese people would find solace in its happy ending. At least within their imaginations, the trauma of the tragedies could be brokered by this cathartic moment. However, the wild optimism of the film speaks to a false narrative of national unity. The film confirms the desire of Japanese culture to steer away from the tragedy and thereby reaffirms the power of those who have nothing to lose by moving on. Almost seven years after March 2011, the majority of Japanese people and those abroad view the disaster through an emotionally distant lens. However, the peace to be gained from seeing the film is simply impossible for those who are still living through the consequences of the earthquake.

Part of Your Name’s success stems from its political nature as a reaction to real events. And because of its commercial and critical triumph, the film will continue to shape contemporary narratives in and out of Japan. No film can or should aspire to exist as a panacea for a whole nation. But, by only assuaging the feelings of the least affected, Your Name reveals its inability to address intense, ongoing pains in the wake of disaster.

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