Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name (Kimi no Na Wa) is a beautifully animated, wholesome film. Spirited Away by Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki is, too, a wonderfully imaginative and whimsical experience, introducing Japanese animation to a more mainstream audience.
They're both excellent films individually, but their value is undermined when compared with one another.
Despite not airing in the United States until April, Your Name has earned $US281 million worldwide, becoming the highest grossing anime film ever; a title previously held by the Academy-Award winning Spirited Away in 2001. And so, now fans are associating the teen body-swap flick as the “next Spirited Away.”
Studio Ghibli has a certain charm to their work. Watching their films as a young child was the first time I considered anime as anything grander than a cheesy cartoon to watch before school. Spirited Away was my first Ghibli film. I remember watching it at a family friend’s house, mesmerised by the distinct art style, magical world and music.
It’s a film that a generation of anime fans grew up on; and its child protagonist, Chihiro has understandably become a poster girl for the genre. She resonates with people, regardless of their age, cultural background or gender. There’s a certain whimsical charm to Studio Ghibli as a powerhouse of animation that connects with even those completely foreign to animation and fantasy.
“In Spirited Away, no one waves weapons about or has showdowns using superpowers, but it’s still an adventure story,” Miyazaki said in Turning Point, a collection of translated interviews about his career from 1997-2008. “Our world appears ever [fuzzier] and confusing, yet in spite of that it threatens to corrode and devour us. The job of this film is to depict this world with clarity within a fantasy framework.”
While the characters in both Spirited Away and Your Name deal with conflict in the absence of violence, their central themes differ. Your Name's director, Makoto Shinkai says “it’s about memories”.
“It’s about individual memory and collective memory, the forgetting of a certain morality and sense of tradition,” he told the The Japan Times. “I [also] wanted to talk about the way we see sexuality now but in a funny way.”
An auteur himself, Shinkai is humble but uncomfortable with the mass reception of his film, even defusing conversations about the film being Oscar-nominated.
“Obviously I was happy to see it worked but at the same time, I was afraid that it had worked too well,” he told The Japan Times. “I don’t think any more people should see it. It’s unhealthy.”
There’s no doubt there’s a familiar whimsical charm to the film. Yet, Makoto Shinkai and Hayao Miyazaki are both auteurs with extensive careers. Their styles are deeply rooted in the DNA of their films and watching their works, you can see there’s different mechanisms and meanings in play.
Comparing the two is problematic. It not only adds little to understanding them, but acts as a disservice to them as artists. It creates an “either/or” attitude toward the films and creators, suggesting you can only officially enjoy one over the other, and downplaying Shinkai’s work.
Yes, Your Name is as financially successful as Spirited Away, and as great of an entry point into Japanese animation. Of course, you can appreciate both films and critically examine both (and even compare elements of the two); but simply dubbing it the “next Spirited Away” is wrong. It’s clear when watching the two films and acknowledging their difference in themes, narrative, setting and characterisation; this comparison is unwarranted.
That said, if you haven’t already, you really should watch Your Name. It’s fun and visually stunning, and the first film in a while to make me cry.
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