Your Name, a film by Makato Shinkai, based on his novel.  With Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi, Ryo Narita.

I’ve been reading Kobun Chino’s commentary on the Song of Awakening, and the day before I saw this film read the following passage: “When the body of all the buddhas penetrates my nature there is interpenetration and fusion.  My nature dissolves into the Buddha and he into me.  That’s to say we’re not merely stitched together like two pieces of cloth.  Even if my face remains that of an ordinary man, on the inside I have become Buddha.”

The following day I read this: “Rationally, transmission of the dharma is an inconceivable process.  It’s not an intellectual understanding resulting from an oral teaching or reading matter.  It’s the fusion of two beings.”

Your Name is a movie in which a teenage boy and girl randomly exchange identities.  One day out of the blue the boy wakes up in the girl’s body, the girl in the boy’s.  The boy, with a sense of wonder, feels his boobs.  The girl feels a need to pee, and reaches down between her legs.  It’s initially just a funny thought—what if I had a girl’s body for a day?—but there’s something more profound about it: what if I knew what it’s like to be another person?  To live inside that person’s skin?  There’s the obvious comic moment.  Then there’s something deeper.

This is also a work of Japanese anime, and I said to my wife, as we headed off to the theater, “I wonder if there will be a lot of autistic people there.”  Not only is her autistic brother—about to turn 65—utterly devoted to Japanese anime, but we once saw a documentary about an autistic community, and no fewer than three of them mentioned their love of anime as a major factor in their lives.  I would think this particular film, with its confusion of gender identities, it’s mild slightly naughty eroticism, its feeling of a person being in the wrong body, the world being not quite right, would be a particular draw to that community.  Sure enough, when we got to the theater—not that I’m an expert—I thought they were well represented.

My immediate impression was that the drawings, and the animation itself, were absolutely marvelous.  The angles of the shots, the small details: this was one of the most entertaining works of animation I’ve ever seen.  For that reason alone, the movie is worth seeing.

The story is another thing.  It isn’t just about a comic gender switch—“Oh my God, how did this happen?”—as it seems to be at first.  Taki and Mitsuha are in communication for a larger reason, which we become aware of only as the movie proceeds.  We see at first, somewhat to our puzzlement, that Mitsuha and her younger sister live with their grandmother, but that their father—we discover this fact in what seems to be an incidental scene—is the mayor of the town where they live, which is remote and rather dead.  Mitsuha thinks she wants to communicate with Taki because she encountered him somewhere once, and because he lives in Tokyo, which is more exciting and has much more to do.  But there’s more to it than that.

My favorite—and the most intriguing character—is the girls’ grandmother, Hitoha.  We see her weaving a cord, like the cord that Mitsuka wears in her hair, and that Taki has on his wrist, and she says that the girls aren’t ready to do that weaving, because it’s so intricate.  She talks as she works.

“Musubi is the old way of calling the local guardian god. This word has profound meaning. Typing thread is Musubi. Connecting people is Musubi. The flow of time is Musubi. These are all the god’s power. So the braided cords that we make are the god’s art and represent the flow of time itself. They converge and take shape. They twist, tangle, sometimes unravel, break, and then connect again. Musubi – knotting. That’s time.”

That speech is the movie’s thematic heart.  Taki and Mitsuha have a connection through time that resembles the way the cord comes together, and their understanding of that connection—of that vague feeling they have met someone they need to meet again—evolves over the course of the film.  The scene where the two girls go off with their grandmother to perform a local religious ritual, and where Mitsuka has to carry the older woman  part of the way, is entrancing, and represents what is beautiful about their life in that remote uneventful town.  But it happens at an ominous moment.

Shinkai takes what seems to be a whimsical and minor plot device and makes it much larger and more significant, but the story thereby becomes confused and difficult to follow.  There are times when we don’t know where we are in time, who is in whose body, don’t know what the hell is going on period; the battle to find the person you’re meant to be with becomes a much larger struggle to avert a tragedy.  The end of the movie was not only hard to follow but also somehow unconvincing.  I would have preferred a simpler story that was nevertheless true to the grandmother’s message.

I couldn’t help noticing, though, that the real anime fans—the group I alluded to before—seemed delighted by the whole film and the way it came out.  The more complicated the better for them.  Apparently it’s done marvelously well at the box office.  It’s anime for the true anime fan.