Only five Japanese anime films have ever been nominated for an Oscar – will 'Your Name' make the cut?
28 Nov 2016 - 1:14 PM  UPDATED 28 Nov 2016 - 1:14 PM

In case you missed it, writer and director Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name (Kimi No Na Wa) opened in Australian cinemas last week. *Cue: high-pitched squealing.*

Your Name follows high schoolers Mitsuha and Taki, two complete strangers living separate lives – Mitsuha in a small mountain town, and Taki in bustling Tokyo. But one night, as they are sleeping, they switch places. Mitsuha wakes up in Taki’s body, and he wakes up in hers. Their Freaky Friday-ing continues to happen at random, and they learn to adjust their lives around each other. As time passes, Mitsuha and Taki slowly build a connection, communicating through notes and messages. Just as they both realise they would like the chance to meet each other in person, a dazzling meteor shower one evening changes everything – and the two must fight time itself to find each other. 

This is a delicate, dreamlike young-adult anime with gorgeous animation. The meteor shower, a swirl of watercolours across the sky, is a recurring image – and Makoto Shinkai is to aurora borealis colours, as J.J. Abrams is to a lens flare. The film is concerned with the thread of fate, and the movie weaves stories and traditions from ‘old Japan’ into the new. A scene where Mitsuha’s grandmother explains the concept of kataware doki – the twilight time, where day and night meet and the supernatural is possible – gave me goose bumps. 

At the time of its Australian release, the film overtook Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke in the box office stakes to become the third highest-grossing anime film of all time in Japan. Not to mention that it’s the first ever non-Ghibli or Miyazaki anime film to earn over ¥19 billion (that’s $225 million, for anyone who was about to google an online conversion calculator).

Your Name is shaping up to be a pretty big deal; it’s also been submitted for Academy Awards consideration. This means the film will be screened for the nominating committee – and will compete to win one of the five spots on the 89th Academy Awards shortlist. It’s not a sure bet, but the Oscars buzz is building…

Since the creation of the Academy Awards Animated Feature category in 2001, there have been five Japanese anime titles that made the awards shortlist. (1997’s Princess Mononoke – which would have won, obviously – was a few years too soon, and was snubbed for inclusion in the Best Foreign Language Film shortlist that year.) Let’s take a trip down memory lane…

1. Spirited Away

Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi) was nominated for – and won – the Best Animated Feature category at the 75th Academy Awards. This Alice in Wonderland-like story follows ten-year-old Chihiro after she enters the spirit world with her family and must fight to free herself and her parents so that they can return to the human world. Hayao Miyazaki was not present at the awards ceremony, and presenter Cameron Diaz accepted the statue on his behalf.

2. Howl’s Moving Castle

Based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones, Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli received another nomination for Howl’s Moving Castle in the 78th Academy Awards in 2006. The film follows the journey of a young lady who is cursed by a spiteful witch, and transformed into an old woman – and must seek help from a self-indulgent, insecure, hot mess of a wizard called Howl who lives in a moveable castle. 

3. The Wind Rises

Hayao Miyazaki’s (are we noticing a trend yet?) The Wind Rises tells the story of the life of Jiro Horikoshi – the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II. A rich, strange film, The Wind Rises was Hayao Miyazaki’s swan song – and this beautiful, bittersweet tale received an Oscar nomination for the 86th Academy Awards, held in 2014. 

4. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Another Studio Ghibli film makes the list – but this one was co-written and directed by Isao Takahata. The film combines hand-drawn, visual beauty and a strong narrative to tell the famous folktale of a mysterious princess. A tiny girl is found inside a stalk of bamboo by an old bamboo cutter and his wife, and grows into an enthralling young lady with a questing spirit. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya was nominated at the 87th Academy Awards, held in 2015. 

5. When Marnie Was There

And finally, at the Oscars earlier this year, When Marnie Was There (Omoide no Marnie) was nominated in the Best Animated Feature Film category. Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s film follows a reclusive girl, Anna, who is sent to live with relatives in the countryside. She finds it hard to connect with people, until she befriends Marnie, a girl who lives in an abandoned mansion. But as soon as Anna discovers what friendship really is, she is also forced to question Marnie’s very existence. When Marnie Was There is yet another Studio Ghibli release, which makes us even more hopeful about Your Name… A non-Ghibli has got to make the Oscars shortlist sometime, right?! 

Follow Melissa Wellham on Twitter and Instagram at @melissawellham. 

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