Let’s look at some of the stories that Makoto Shinkai referred to when creating Your Name. Below is a translation of a column written for the official Your Name guidebook. It’s written by Mizuo Watanabe, a manga critic and the main writer of the yearly Kono Manga ga Sugoi! guidebook.
Torikaebaya Monogatari is a classic tale about body-swapping, but at heart it’s just a story about a boy and a girl changing places at birth; their souls don’t change places.
Right from the beginning of the Your Name’s conception, the director Makoto Shinkai kept Torikaebaya in mind. In order to accurately depict a story about a boy and girl switching places, he apparently dove into a lot of different books and films. Doing this was what made him decide that he didn’t want to make a story that revolved around the differences between the sexes.
“These days, it’s normal to see boyish girls and girlish boys, so it’s hard to capture what makes the gender-bending theme of Torikaebaya so compelling,” says Makoto Shinkai. “The manga Boku wa Mari no Naka (by Shuzo Oshimi) takes a different approach. It’s a story about an unattractive college student who becomes a high school girl and is forced to see things through that perspective. What makes that story interesting is that it’s about empathising with another person’s perspective. In fact, I’d like Your Name to be kind of like Ranma ½ (by Rumiko Takahashi). One person can change into another person, and by seeing things through another person’s body, they start to understand that other person better. I hope that’s one of the main points people take away from the film.”
Shinkai also drew inspiration from the sci-fi novelist Greg Egan’s short story The Safe-Deposit Box. It’s a story about a man who wakes up in a different person’s body every day. Apparently, Shinkai also went to see the South Korean film The Beauty Inside, which is also about empathising with another person. The subtext is part of what makes the film enjoyable. I hope you take the time to enjoy all kinds of “body-swapping” stories.
Translator’s commentary: I translated this column a few months ago, but I figure it’s best to post it now that the film is finally being screened in the US.
I was really fascinated to hear that Shinkai drew inspiration from Greg Egan, an Australian novelist. I had no idea that Greg Egan was popular in Japan. Soon after translating the column, I actually went out and read The Safe-Deposit Box, which was first published in 1992 and can be found in the short story collection Axiomatic.
As what might be expected from a Hugo Award-winning author, Egan’s take on body-swapping involves no romcom or sexual shenanigans. Rather, the story is preoccupied with the concept of “ego” itself. The nameless protagonist wakes up in a different person’s body every day, and so in order to retain his sense of self, he keeps a safe-deposit box filled with memories of each of his lives.
On the surface, this doesn’t sound very much like Your Name, but I was struck by these opening lines:
I dream a simple dream. I dream that I have a name. One name, unchanging, mine until death. I don’t know what my name is, but that doesn’t matter. Knowing that I have it is enough.
Names have power. By attaching a name to something, we affix it with a sense of self. Taki and Mitsuha spend the film searching for each other, unable to put a name on what they seek. At one point, they even forget each other’s names. But this does not stop them from empathising with each other. If anything, it makes them more desperate to connect.
I’m glad that I read Watanabe’s column; it helped me appreciate why the body-swapping in Your Name is no gimmick. Shinkai evidently took care to write a body-swapping story where gender differences were beside the point. I think that’s why people found the love story between Taki and Mitsuha so affecting despite the fact that they only interact directly, like, once in the entire film. They learned to see the world through each other’s eyes, and isn’t that the most important thing?