Comet-y Central: “Your Name” Analysis and Haruki Murakami

After months of waiting, Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name (Kimi no Na wa) has finally been released in North America. In Japanese theaters, the film received critical acclaim and made over 320 million USD, and currently stands as the fourth highest grossing film of all time in Japan. In other words, it was impossible to go into the film without any expectations.

Being a longtime Makoto Shinkai fan, I knew I would encounter themes of human connection and be dazzled by stunning animation; those are his touchstones. In this analysis, I hope to examine Your Name’s theme of connections through time and space in comparison with another Japanese artist’s work, Haruki Murakami, through his short story, “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning, ” which covers a similar subject. This post will contain full spoilers for both works.

Your Name

Your Name tells the story of two high school students: Mitsuha, a girl who lives in the county who dreams of finding more in Tokyo, and Taki, a boy who who lives in Tokyo who dreams of the Japanese countryside. Through magic realism, they switch bodies on random days. However, the catch is that whenever Taki or Mitsuha return to their normal bodies, they forget the previous day’s events like a fading dream. Because this has become a part of their lives, they write notes on their smartphones to retain stability in their lives. Essentially, these messages allow them to learn about the person (their friends, interests , and personalities) so they can pass as the other when switches occurs.

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Taki (left) and Mitsuha (right), the body swapping leads of Maktoto Shinkai’s Your Name.

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Ghibli-style magic sooner than expected

Studio Ghibli fans and animation aficionados: today, we’ve been granted a gift:

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That is a still from Mary and the Witch’s Flower, the first anime film from Studio Ponoc, helmed by Studio Ghibli alum Hiromasa Yonebayashi (director of When Marnie Was There and The Secret World of Arrietty). The film will be released in July 2017 in Japan with a late 2017 English release, according to Anime News Network. Studio Ponoc was founded in 2015; many of its animators are ex-Ghibli employees.

The film follows the adventures of a young girl who is granted magical powers for a single night. The anime is an adaptation of Mary Stewart’s 1971 novel,  The Little Broomstick.

Simply put, this is fantastic news. After viewing the trailer, the Studio Ghibli influences are undeniable. The fluid and high detailed animation takes the forefront, the Miyazaki-esque aerial shots ooze with style, and like most Ghibli films, the protagonist is a young female.

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What Does It All Mean and Why It Matters

The Animation Curation began as an overview of animation news and trends. Over time, my blog transformed from a news site to a review/analysis/reflection site. Essentially, I discovered my blogging style.

But what does it all mean and why does it matter? Why am I telling you all this?

Well: Every once in a while, I believe it is important to write about what we write about and why we write about it. Without doing this, the sense of purpose regarding why we write might fade. It’s important to remind oneself of the context of our our ideas and the inception of the big idea (in this case, The Animation Curation). Think of it as a reflection necessary to improve a craft.

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One of Google Image’s quite literal search results for “reflection.” Is this a subtle reference to an Arcade Fire song?

So readers, this is going to be a different type of post. No Disney dissections or 80’s OVA anime analyses. It’s time for my memories. 

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Starlight Angel, an Anime in Disney’s Tomorrowland

Robot Carnival is a 1987 anime anthology film in which every segment features a robot central to each short’s plot in some way. A fine collection of short films featuring narrative and visual experimentations (or both), my personal favorite is “Starlight Angel,” (link to video) a nine minute Disney-esque tale of magic and memories. Full spoilers of the short follow.

“Star Light Angel” centers around two friends enjoying each others company and forgetting some of life’s troubles at an amusement park that strongly resembles Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland, though this is never stated,but instead called Robot Wanderland. The short contains no dialogue and features an unapologetically sentimental score by frequent Studio Ghibli film composer, Jo Hisaishi. The protagonist is a pensive brunette girl (who for the sake of making this piece less confusing, will be referred to as Jane), and her friend is a blonde girl who is the more extroverted of the pair (who will be referred to as Amy).

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Amy (left) and Jane (right) discussing which attraction to ride next in Robot Wanderland, an amusement park very similar to DIsney World’s Tomorrowland.

What’s so clever is that the theme park featured in “Starlight Angel” is Walt Disney’s perfected vision of Tomorrowland: it features functioning android performers, a ride in which a mechanical hand lifts guests from a ride’s queue into its vehicle, and even a sentient animatronic attraction attendant. The film’s atmosphere captures the feelings of innocence, nostalgia, and wonder associated with Magic Kingdom (or theme parks in general) through both fantasy and highly-detailed realism. Ever wonder what riding Space Mountain would look like if life were an animated film? “Starlight Angel” has the answer for you.

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Satoshi Kon Central: Nocturnal Animals Movie Connection

This is a series of articles discussing themes present in anime director Satoshi Kon’s works. Kon was an auteur with a unique sense of style, time and reality. Here, I will be discussing how Tom Ford’s 2016 film, Nocturnal Animals, exhibits strong thematic and visual connections to Satoshi Kon’s oeuvre, namely Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress. This piece contains full spoilers of Nocturnal Animals and Perfect Blue.

Kon’s Blurred Reality

Threading Satoshi Kon films with modern Hollywood movies is not a common connection. Kon’s style usually exists in its own unique place in cinema history. It is best described in the video, Satoshi Kon – Editing Time and Space, as:

How modern people cope with living multiple lives: private-public, off screen-on                  screen, waking-dreaming… a blurring of reality and fantasy… his most notable                      habit was matching scene transitions. (Every Frame a Painting)

Kon’s mastery of creating stories is seen through his seamless transitions between memory, fantasy, and reality. The best example of this technique is the film Millennium Actress, which weaves the story of a legendary actress by having her past film roles mirror her personal  life. With Kon’s editing, the audience is never positive what reality is being portrayed on screen: the actress’s films or her personal life.

Kon’s first film, Perfect Blue, uses a similar blurred reality story structure. In this, Mima, a pop star turned actress, suffers a psychological breakdown as she slowly loses the distinction between the television screens in which she performs and her private life. After leaving her pop career, her life becomes a waking nightmare spurred by a deranged stalker, Me-Mania, and her clingy manager, Rumi.

In this post, I will compare the cinematic narrative techniques and style between the 2016 film Nocturnal Animals and Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue.

Nocturnal Animals: A Tale of Parallel Plots

Nocturnal Animals is a 2016 thriller directed by Tom Ford about an art gallery owner named Susan (Amy Adams) who begins to feel disenchanted about her life and work. When her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gylleenhaal), sends Susan the manuscript of his first novel (called Nocturnal Animals), she soon discovers that the book’s plot speaks to the pain Susan caused Edward through her dismissal of his passions and her ultimate abortion of their child.

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Jake Gylleenhaal as Tony from Nocturnal Animals. The actor plays the protagonist in the novel narrative of the film.

The plot of Edward’s novel follows a family man named Tony and his hunt for the men who killed his wife and daughter. Tony, like Edward, is a sensitive man trying to come to terms with a sudden, grieving loss in his life.

Edward and Tony’s similarities are no coincidence. In one of Susan’s flashbacks to her relationship with Edward, Edward asks Susan to read one of his writing samples and asks for feedback. Not understanding Edward’s writing or creative endeavors, Susan scornfully tells him to write protagonists unlike himself. Edward responds that all authors only write about themselves. Here it becomes clear to Susan that Tony is fully and wholly Edward. This is further reinforced by the fact that both Edward and Tony are played by Jake Gylleenhaal.

Noctunral Animals: A Kon-esque Film

Just like in Perfect Blue, Nocturnal Animals is told through the protagonists’ memories and delusions. This is especially clear as Susan experiences flashbacks to key moments in her relationship with Edward which relate to both their blossoming and destruction. Just as Perfect Blue is told through Mima’s delusions and anxieties, Nocturnal Animals’ visual and emotional core is presented through Susan’s increasingly diminished psychological mental state. Although Susan’s mental fragility is not as prevalent early on, it becomes clear as the film wears on.

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Miyazaki Out of Retirement: A Reflection

Last week, Hayao Miyazaki announced he would come out of retirement (again) to direct another film. This is obviously great news for anime fans and film lovers alike. To date, all eleven of Miyazaki’s features have been critically acclaimed and commercially successful.

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Jiro Horikoshi hard at work in 2013′ The Wind Rises. With Miyazaki returning from retirement, another feature film is on the way.

His most recent feature, 2013’s The Wind Rises, was a bittersweet drama about a man, Jiro Horikoshi, who overcomes his physical limitations to achieve his dream of becoming an aviation legend. About three months after the film’s release, Miyazaki announced his retirement. This was undoubtedly the end of the auteur’s career. So we thought.

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Ranking Satoshi Kon’s Films (Part 3)

Satoshi Kon was one of anime’s greatest directors and visionaries, which is all the more impressive considering he died so young at 46 in 2010. His works have inspired many over the years, including Hollywood’s Christopher Nolan and Darren Aronofsky. I will attempt to rank Kon’s four films, each of which could arguably be placed at number one. I hope to do one entry per blog post; I have a lot to say about each film.

2. Perfect Blue

Perfect Blue is as enigmatic as its title (interpret it as you please), but stands as one of the most impactful animated films ever. The film follows Mima, a former pop star looking to start a new career in acting, much to her fans’ outrage. Seen as a direct inspiration for the Oscar-winning Black SwanPerfect Blue explores the psychological frailty of young performers dealing with stress.

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Mima seeing herself in a storefront television display. Perfect Blue’s use of cameras and screens to express Mima’s anxiety about her new acting career capture the film’s building sense of paranoia.

Perfect Blue is a rare cinematic anime thriller that takes place in our own world. There are no robots, aliens, or time warps in sight. However, the film’s commentary on the Japanese pop industry shows that unlike its saccharine performers, it is anything but happy. Once the pure, peppy, and dolled-up Mima leaves her artificial world,  her life becomes a waking nightmare spurred by a deranged stalker, Me-Mania, and her clingy manager, Rumi.

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Ranking Satoshi Kon’s Films (Part 2)

Satoshi Kon was one of anime’s greatest directors and visionaries, which is all the more impressive considering he died so young at 46 in 2010. His works have inspired many over the years, including Hollywood’s Christopher Nolan and Darren Aronofsky. I will attempt to rank Kon’s four films, each of which could arguably be placed at number one. I hope to do one entry per blog post; I have a lot to say about each film.

3. Tokyo Godfathers

Kon’s third film, a Christmas story about three homeless people trying to find an abandoned baby’s mother, is his most pleasantly satisfying. Tokyo Godfathers is Kon’s only film that does not explicitly blur dreams with reality, making it the black sheep of his filmography.

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The homeless protagonists of Kon’s character-driven Christmas tale, Tokyo Godfathers

Its greatest strength is the film perfect balance between humor and seriousness. The unlikely homeless grouping of a gay man craving for motherhood, a regretful man who has given up on the world, a troubled teen who ran away from home, and an infant make for some unorthodoxed situations. This premise sounds like a sitcom, albeit a dark one. The humor is never played at the characters’ expense, but instead,  the jokes and situations explore their fears, insecurities, and hopes (or lack thereof). Our laughter lightens their pain.

This is Kon’s most character-driven film. Importantly, each character is homeless not because of disaster or poor luck, but due to personal mistakes.

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Ranking Satoshi Kon’s Films (Part 1)

 

Satoshi Kon was one of anime’s greatest directors and visionaries, which is all the more impressive considering he died so young at 46 in 2010. His works have inspired many over the years, including Hollywood’s Christopher Nolan and Darren Aronofsky. I will attempt to rank Kon’s four films, each of which could arguably be placed at number one. I hope to do one entry per blog post; I have a lot to say about each film.

4. Paprika

Paprika is arguably Satoshi Kon’s most ambitious film, and that is truly saying something. It concerns the psychiatric experimentation of connections between the dream world and reality through devices called DC Minis. When one client becomes too involved with the implications of his own nightmares and the DC Mini, what follows is a psychedelic and visually stunning film that blurs the lines between dream and reality.

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The parade in one especially surreal dream sequence in Paprika

In most of Kon’s works, the line between reality and fantasy are seamlessly crossed, often unbeknown to the viewer. In Paprika, a normal occurrence could suddenly turn to a surreal nightmare full of parading anthropomorphic monuments and giant babies. More than any other Kon film, Paprika world builds. The introduction of the dream world opens enough possibilities to create an entire television series. This is its weakness: it is too large of an idea to fit in one film.

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The most important animated films (part 2)

Welcome back to my most important animated films list! As mentioned in Part 1, this is not a list of the greatest animated films ever. All here would qualify for that, but these films are here to illustrate their innovative nature and major impact still felt in the industry today.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)

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Eddie (left) and Roger Rabbit (right) catch in a disagreement. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” helped restore studios and audiences faith in the medium of animation after years of disappointments.

In the mid-1980s, animation was struggling. The industry craved for its impressive past era after reaching a critical and commercial blow with Disney’s The Black Cauldron in 1985. Something needed to be done. 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit? showed that if done right, animation could return to its glory days. The wide variety of classic cartoon characters in the film must have led people to strive for the days of classic animation, and they succeeded. What followed was The Disney Renaissance, a return to form that greatly impacted the entire animation industry. Other studios followed suit, creating great works for theaters and television alike. Thanks, Roger Rabbit!

Akira (1988)

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