Your Name: Disastrous Places and Liminal Spaces

Management: This essay is meant to be less of a review and more of analysis of the show being examined. It contains plot spoilers for the Your Name anime.

We’re acquainted with these tales of from folklore and myth, the premises of horror stories, those testimonials people caught on special TV channels: a place of some awful significance is haunted by undead spirits. Moldering graveyards, abandoned asylums, scarred battlefields, places of disaster… In the fields of Gettysburg, for example, some locals claim that they can hear the dead, soldiers from long ago who haunt the former battlefield. Gettysburg was the location of the American Civil War’s bloodiest battle, and its legacy as the site of mass slaughter has made the more superstitious perceive it as a site of restless energy. In the popular imagination, these places serve as liminal spaces, locations and sites where all-too-natural dichotomies are not normally observed: death intermingling with life, life intermingling with death. The dead have not passed into the afterlife, the ether, or permanent rest as they ought to have. Instead, their undead spirits wander the grounds, bound to some place of awful significance.

While Your Name is not a horror film in the way the genre is conventionally understood, the narrative of Your Name plays an awful lot with liminal spaces. The concept of liminality in religious and anthropological studies has a definition that’s a little broader than just the spaces the mortal and the infinite occupy. Liminality is the concept referring to transformation and intersection, where clearly delineated dichotomies of “one” blur and bleed into the “other,” branching into or becoming new and distinct entities. Life and death is the domain of liminality, but so is the profane and the sacred; the child and the adult, the individual and the communal, this direction and that, this person and that, and even time and space itself. Directed by Makoto Shinkai, Your Name is a story layered with examples of its characters passing through various thresholds, states, and spaces of liminality to resolve a conflict. The film starts with the blurring of one traditional dichotomy: the inexplicable bleeding of its two protagonists into each others’ lives, a body-swap. Midway, the film grounds its supernatural gimmick with its extant reason: a place of disaster.

As far as conflicts in narratives go, Your Name has two major ones that carry its story and characters forward. One resolves itself unhurriedly overtime while the other demands an urgent resolution once known. The first is (1) Taki Tachibana and Mitsuha Miyamizu negotiating each other’s lives after finding themselves in each other’s bodies. The second is (2) Taki and Mitsuha working with each other to prevent a disaster from occurring/that has already occurred. The connection between the film’s narrative and liminal spaces becomes clearer as its story transitions from conflict one to conflict two.

Act 1 of Your Name begins humorously. The film begins with a showcase of our protagonists’ daily and ordinary lives. Taki is a high school boy from the city with a part-time job. His life is devoid of higher aims, and his routine amounts to drifting from day-to-day, just getting by. Mitsuha is a countryside high school girl whose father is the mayor and whose family on her mother’s side owns a Shinto shrine. Her life is fairly constraining as a result, and she dreams of escaping the country for the city and freedom. Their lives are disrupted when they wake up in each other’s bodies, and the rest of the First Act amounts to them getting into awkward and amusing situations. After confirming that they have indeed have different anatomical parts while body-swapped, each character struggles with how they should interact with each other’s friends and do each other’s jobs. They end up growing into their forced roles and, to a certain extent, making each other’s bodies their own. Mitsuha’s more sensitive and caring disposition while in Taki’s body earns Taki a date with a beauty. Taki’s more defiant and cool demeanor while in Mitsuha’s body turns Mitsuha into the object of romantic affection. All the while, while possessing each other’s bodies, they are writing notes in journals for the other to read, sending messages to each other via phone, and drawing on each other’s bodies to communicate. Their albeit involuntary violation of each other’s bodies, their liminal transformations, awake a change and dynamism in each other.

Gradually, they even fall in love with each other. And like clockwork at the point of romantic maturation, they suddenly and disconcertingly find themselves unable to body-swap again. Notes, messages, and communication completely cease. But that’s not all.

On a tangentially related aside, Shinkai directed another film called 5cm/s. In it, a clearly smitten student couple move to different parts of Japan because of family reasons, and the strength of their relationship gradually wastes away due to distances in space and time. 5cm/s is a film designed to capture the feeling of a love kept forlorn by formidable barriers, but in a world now dominated by near-instant text-voice-video communication and a country known for its reliably fast public transportation,  the couple not doing more to keep their relationship strong makes the sentiments that 5cm/s is trying to express less appreciable. The male protagonist is crippled by losing his first love to some geographical distance, and yet does not do his due diligence to bridge it when the distance, in reality, is fairly surmountable. Shinkai’s Your Name keeps to similar themes from 5/cm while rectifying what undermined the other film from making those themes more compelling. Your Name takes well into account the modern world’s conveniences in communication and transportation. Taki and Mitsuha are shown constantly communicating with each other beforehand and quite easily before their body swapping escapades end. Taki does do his due diligence to figure out where Mitsuha’s town is and even journeys all the way to it to investigate Mitsuha’s whereabouts. Compared to the quite surmountable physical distance of 5cm/s, the formidable barrier that the male protagonist encounters in Your Name is one that’s supernatural in character.

For not only do notes,  messages, and communications cease to come. Physical records are revised out of existence. Their memories of each other start to fade away into ambiguity, and the location of Mitsuha’s town is tragically revealed to be a place of disaster.

Your Name enters Act 2 with tragedy. Mitsuha is discovered to have been dead for quite a while, her death the result of a comet that crashed into her town, killing most of its inhabitants and even Mitsuha herself. And yet, for some reason, she and Taki have been communicating with each other, possessing each other’s bodies, influencing each other despite being separated by city and countryside, life and death, and past and present. The sharpness of Taki’s memories of Mitsuha may be fading away, but the impressions she left on the world while possessing his body were real — if now only roughly and vaguely recalled. Taki’s friends remember those periods during and immediately after the body-swapping as him acting unusually sensitive, blustery, and purposeful. Taki remembers those periods as forgetting someone important to him. Phones and trains aren’t traditionally understood vehicles that can bridge natural dichotomies of space and time. Certain rituals, objects, spaces, and even persons, however, have been thought that way customarily. It is the latter, and not the former, that serves as the key to a present Taki and a past Mitsuha communing with each other and working together to avert/reverse disaster.

Liminality is the concept of a threshold separating one dichotomy from another, between and betwixt two different poles of mutual exclusion. The traveler idling at the fork in the road and deciding where to go is in a state of liminality.  Liminal space imagines that threshold as a physical location where the conditions and entities of one dichotomy can coexist and mix with and into the other. The crossroads where the traveler idles is a liminal where a dichotomy of two merges into one and branches into two.  Many sites of mystic or supernatural significance exist as liminal spaces, either (1) because they were empowered by people to facilitate liminal possibility, or (2) because they were seen by people already as places of liminal facility. Demarcated by torii gates, the grounds of a Shinto shrine are spaces where the sacred kami walk alongside and interact with profane humanity, the latter praying and offering gifts to the former in exchange for favor. In the countryside, many small Shinto shrines can be found at the mouth of crossroads to shepherd and protect the traveler making their way. Liminal spaces can not only be observed at Mitsuha’s family Shinto shrine. It is also illustrated at the site of another meteor crash.

A battered stone shrine, sunken slightly into the crater’s maw, is underneath the only tree in sight. Doubly framing the slightly sunken structure are the rising slopes of the crater and an almost perfectly circular moat.  Throughout history, people have ascribed particularly striking landmarks and other phenomena they’ve come across with special and supernatural significance. A particularly majestic or gnarled-looking Japanese cypress might be thought of as being the home or conduit of one or multiple kami. Some of these grand or odd looking trees are wrapped with sacred shimenawa (rice straw) rope. In that vein, the peculiarly laid out elements comprising the site of this older meteor crash evokes in the audience’s mind the idea that something significant and otherworldly lies within its borders, imbuing it with some form of energy. Indeed, it’s within the sanctum of the slopes, the moat, and the shrine that Mitsuha offers and Taki later discovers kuchikamezake, rice wine made ritually with Mitsuha’s spit.

Like certain spaces, certain objects like shimenawa and sake can also be seen as possessing liminal qualities. Sake is a drink that’s been brewed for a long time in the Japanese archipelago, so much so that associated with being the drink of the uniquely Japanese kami. Given the lightheaded sensations and loosening inhibitions that tends to result when any appreciable amount of alcohol is imbibed by the drinker, the quite alcoholic drink of sake has been understood in religious contexts as being able to bring people closer to the kami when consumed. The feeling of drinking sake has also been likened to being transported into another world, which is kind of what happens when Taki decides to drink the kuchikamezake left behind by Mitsuha sunken shrine’s alter all that time ago. He passes out and finds, upon waking, that he’s body-swapped with her again.

Like certain spaces and objects, certain persons like shamen, clerics, and avatars can also be seen as possessing liminal properties. The bloodshed and ferocity of the fighting and feelings at Gettysburg has been seen to have cursed the battle’s participants to restlessness beyond their corporeal demise. Mitsuha’s lineage as the daughter of generations of Shinto priestesses, one of whom — Mitsuha’s mother — is suggested to have undergone her own share of out-of-body experiences, makes her the only plausible candidate in the movie who could successfully reach out to the world beyond the disastrous void. Her bloodline makes her the only person alive in the anime who could circumvent the dichotomies of life and death and space and time to draw Taki to her. Like her mother before her, Mitsuha utilizes her liminal qualities, first inadvertently and later intentionally, to prevent the town from becoming a place of disaster.

Outside of spit sake being this really oddly made drink that also serves as a kiss of sorts between the protagonists, the ritually prepared kuchikamezake by the liminally empowered Mitsuha transports Taki under the liminal conditions of twilight to a place where the two of them meet each other, face-to-face and flesh-to-flesh. Twilight is the time where the sun has set in the horizon and light still illuminates the sky, that dichotomy of day and night, between and betwixt, in that threshold of liminality. Under these circumstances, where the boundaries of space and time and life and death can be violated freely — where Mitsuha can travel from the past and the dead and Taki from the present and the living — the two connect at last, are filled with joy and their reunion, and are bitterly separated by twilight’s end. And yet it’s that brief encounter that makes the two even more determined to rewrite history.

Haunted, in a way, by the ghost of a girl speaking through him from a place of disaster, a place of awful significance, a place of liminal space, Taki reconnects with Mitsuha.  Taki locates and travels to Mitsuha’s town because of how she influenced him. Mitsuha stands up to her mayor father to save the townsfolk because of how he influenced her. The comet ultimately falls on the town, but the townspeople safely evacuate. Together, the two of them avert and reverse the tragedy of the disaster. Mitsuha lives through the ordeal, and Taki sees her again years later.  It is through liminality, through those out-of-body experiences and that time together in the twilight, that the two of them reject resignation and survive as agents of change and dynamism.

Management: If you’re interested in more Your Name analysis, check out Pause and Select’s video on Your Name and Shin Gojira/Godzilla. He analyzes both pieces of media through the lens of the Japanese zeitgeist’s understanding of disaster.

One thought on “Your Name: Disastrous Places and Liminal Spaces

  1. Pingback: September 2018 Community Content Round-Up – The Backloggers

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