Back when the anime movie Your Name. was released, nobody could have predicted the impact it would have in Japan. Even now, with so many product tie-ins, theatrical run extensions, spinoff merchandise, and regional collaborations, no one can really say where it will end.
With the news that has it broken 20.5 billion yen (approx. USD $170 million) domestically, and an additional 4.77 billion (approx. USD $40 million) in China during the first three days of its release, it has become the second-highest grossing domestic movie in history in Japan as well as the twentieth-highest grossing movie worldwide this year.
In the months since its release, the passionate following that the film has garnered has only grown stronger. It is now a worldwide phenomenon, and many have attempted to investigate the catalyst(s) contributing to such an outcome. Prominent among them was Japanese public broadcaster NHK.
Last month, an episode of the long-running current affairs program Close-up Gendai on NHK tried to answer the question of what was behind the unparalleled success of Your Name.
At the time, the movie had not yet overtaken Howl’s Moving Castle in the all-time domestic movie rankings and was holding the no. 3 spot.
In the show, analysts of big data point to one particular spark that lit the flame of interest almost two weeks before release. According to their research, the prominence of videos relating to the film on social media were a main cause. Amateur covers of Radwimps song Zen Zen Zense (Past-Past-Past Life), the theme song to the movie, helped the film to gain traction in the public mind. Thus, the release of the song right before the film’s release added to the word-of-mouth as fans made and shared their own song covers, serving as part of the film’s promotional campaign.
So, is the key to the film’s initial popularity simply because of the heavy rotation and re-appropriation of the theme song? Perhaps so. The Radwimps score is in many ways the backbone of the film aurally, complimenting the the brilliantly-crafted work of animation.
The NHK show also alludes to a similar phenomenon seen in another recent mega-hit, Disney’s Frozen. In it, too, the key to the seemingly-unstoppable spread in popularity was sparked by its hit song, Let it Go, in both its original English and re-recorded Japanese language versions.
Makoto Shinkai, the film’s writer and director, goes further and admits in a recent interview that he borrowed some plotting hints from Disney’s Frozen–the pacing of the story and where to place the gags, in particular.
But even so, he mentions in the Close-up Gendai TV show that the target of the movie is supposed to be young people in their teens and twenties. And for the first week or so after release, that aim held true. What happened afterwards, he still struggles to explain, however. Half of the viewership became people in their 30s and older. The program asserts through its own interviews with viewers that the film made a connection with old memories–e.g., a lost love or a close friend during younger days. The word-of-mouth is what drives these viewers to the theater, but the very real, emotional quotient is what brings them back and compels them to tell their friends and family, multiplying the effect.
What about from a global perspective?
In many ways, this year was the year when Japanese home-grown cinema was placed back on the map. Shin Godzilla and Your Name. are both movies which are typically Japanese but in their own respective ways. Both are about the Japanese psyche in the face of something enormous that upsets everyday life. While Shin Godzilla was a rather impersonal, almost documentary-like probe into the political, practical, and bureaucratic challenges that Japan (and its institutions) faces in the future at the macro level, Your Name. is about the personal connections and relationships at a micro level which, when expanded, make up a harmonious, working society. Both deal with the aspect of Japanese identity by showing how it works within the social framework. You can even explore the juxtaposition of the relationship between Japan and United States as seen in Shin Godzilla with that of the Tokyo metropolis and the rural region of Hida-Takayama in Your Name.
The explosive popularity of Shin Godzilla was much praised until it was shattered by a whole order of magnitude when Your Name. entered the scene.
Both are movies with uplifting messages for the future, but the more personal, romantic, relatable one clearly is the winner with the public. That is not to say that these two are in competition, however: This is really the year of Toho studios, since they distributed both of the biggest hits of the year in Your Name. and Shin Godzilla!
The take-away from all of this is that Your Name. may prove to be a milestone because it may have allowed the more conservative mainstream audiences to fully appreciate the possibilities of an animated movie and shifted the medium way beyond its subculture boundaries. Hopefully this is the start of a full-fledged trend.
Your Name. shows zero signs of disappearing from the public scene. Quite the opposite, in fact. With the holiday season (a traditionally romantic season in Japan), Your Name.-related events are in full swing.
The Ikebukuro and Nagoya Parco Café is recreating the food of Your Name. so you can enjoy the food of the anime. And when you are done with that, you can take your date to see Tokyo’s beautiful night skyline at Hoshizora no Illumination in Roppongi, while the magic of projection-mapping plays out your favorite scenes from the movie on the glass of the observatory.
Another interesting date hotspot is the Hikari no Message Tree, which is an illumination event in the Tokyo Otemachi/Marunouchi/Yurakucho area (in fact, one of many such events in that particular area) that makes use of an augmented reality app to see messages from Mitsuha and Taki as they appeared in the film.
In the non-romantic department, the realistic background art has graced some special editions of electronic travel pass TOICA card, giving it a very trendy design, perfect to brighten your daily commute. A high school art teacher was recently an internet sensation when he responded to a student’s request to do a chalkboard drawing from Your Name., and he came up with a masterful work of art worthy of display as a mural.
Rounding off the year, it is reported that the Radwimps will perform at the prestigious NHK Kohaku uta-gassen song festival to a special edit of the movie footage put together by Makoto Shinkai. When you are done watching that, immediately after, both Your Name. and Shin Godzilla, the two hottest movies of the year, will be screened in super-high-quality sound LIVEZOUND format for a one-week period in Cinecitta in Kawasaki (Club Citta is originally a live house for bands, so they are experts when it comes to sound).
— チネチッタ川崎 (@cinecitta_jp) December 27, 2016
And finally, just to prove that Your Name. fever knows no bounds, a full IMAX release is scheduled to begin its run in January, meaning that it will still be proving its longevity into 2017.