I have a strong cynicism for films that portray the inherent unity of all things that we are connected by some invisible threads where we are destined to be connected with each other. The ontology of holistic unity of things is merely a reverberation of some ecological politic to encompass human politic, to extinguish the fire of partisan struggle, seen as the source both of societal and ecological disasters. The pervading mindset that we can create multi-sectoral solutions sans party politics that divides statecraft politics is explicated within the admiration of nature as beautiful and orderly entity to which we all belong. Hence, social relations are pattered or should be patterened after the connecting threads that connect each and every one of us regardless of race, gender, and political support. Despite its attempt to rid politics of politics (i.e. to be outside of politics), it is fundamentally built on a new age political ontology, albeit refusing to admit it.
The central theme of Makoto Shinkai’s Kimi no na wa (Your Name) lies in its plot wherein two people are connected by single destiny. With the story revolving around the Shakespeare-ish comedy of errors, Taki and Mitsuha’s destiny unfurls in the succeeding scenes as each body swap is a glimpse of each other’s life that they desired. Mitsuha experiences urban life while swapped in Taki’s body eventually landing him a date with a female coworker. Taki, on the other hand, helped Mitsuha deal with the anxieties of rural life and an overbearing political father. The comedy of errors ends with Taki’s attempt to intervene by informing Mitsuha of an impending disaster, involving fragments of a comet hitting Itomori, Mitsuha’s town. Centered around the goal to change what happened three years ago (both characters are apparently three years apart from each other ), the whole message of the film revolved around the internal unity of things and the connections it weaves upon everybody. This unity is deemed sacred that even the gods follow suit. Such was how nature is oriented and that fastidious patience is demanded of people for them to reap the rewards of the divine ordination of things.
As a text within a particular cultural network of Japanese anime, Your Name (regardless of its basic fantasy and sci-fi elements) is simply a one of the many attempts to remove anime from the clichés it was known for. Makoto Shinkai’s works have the indelible mark of being hyper-realistic with a careful attention to small details. Such technique turns anime into a respectable medium on par with the medium of cinematic fiction, something that elitist film makers are wont to accept, isolating it to the confines of animated features or some form of escapism.
However, despite the good intentions to create an animated masterpiece, its themes clearly exhibit our current ideological situation. This is clearly seen from Mitsuha’s relation to her father, Toshiki Miyamizu, and how Taki eventually helps her deal with him and its situation in the progress of the story. The kinship dynamic between daughter and father is the continuation of a feud in the Miyamizu family who were the titular heads of the local Shinto shrine. Hitoha Miyamizu, their grandmother, holds on to the family traditions, passing on the rituals and practices of the Itomori shrine to the Miyamizu daughters despite the loss of the knowledge concerning the purpose of the rituals; furthermore, Hitoha holds Toshiki in contempt for leaving the priesthood and later settled in local politics. Here, two distinct spheres are lined out: the sphere of the political i.e. the sphere of political maneuvering, agonism and technocracy and the (pagan) religious sphere of nature where the traditions echo the divine order and connections of things: they are kept despite our lack of knowledge about them, content with the knowledge that these traditions reflect the place of humans within the order of nature. Politics is the sphere of the father, where he exercises his legal authority over his legal constituents. The sphere of paganism that of the guarding of “the way things are” is the domain of maternal superego; the uncompromising attachment to the unknown and the mere appearance of ritual is the (grand)mother’s ethical stance: it is what keeps the world from what it is and hence to maintain the appearance of the traditions as such. Throughout the film, both the father and grandmother’s disagreements form Mitsuha’s silent resentment both for her father’s authority and the arbitrariness of keeping the appearance of the religious traditions. Clearly, she exercises a form of fetishistic disavowal, when she performs the prescribed sacred ceremonies. The paternal metaphor (legal authority) clashes with the maternal superego; but by going against the maternal authority, the latter re-inscribes itself, attempting to suppress the antagonism between it and politics. Your Name’s background is set on the inherent struggle between the demands of political life (and whatever it stands for) and the realm of the sacred order of things.
The disaster served as the external obstacle to seemingly reconcile the realm of the political and tradition. To read that situation fundamentally, the comet is the objet petit a at its finest, a spectral thing that intrudes constantly with the current state of things. The external thing happens to repress the antagonism inside the object in order to express the conflict as the struggle against something else outside of itself. In the case of the antagonism between politics and tradition, the comet acts as an external threat to re-inscribe the authority of the latter in the social field. A great deal of disaster flicks follow the pattern of conflict—external threat—reconciliation pattern; Slavoj Žižek noted apropos of how disaster films like Armageddon, Deep Impact or War of the Worlds does the same thing of reconciling children to paternal authority. External conflicts serve as the catalyst needed to repress the traumatic element of antagonism inherent in the relation between the two. In the case of Your Name, the comet incident is a suppression of the antagonism inherent in the relation between politics and the realm of nature, stressing the overall importance of the underlying unity that the nature entails.
The return to the authentic realm of nature from the inauthentic and oftentimes exploitative field of technology and politics pervades to-day’s field of struggle from multicultural struggles sans class conflicts to ecological activism that aims to fight technocracy. In anime, Makoto Shinkai’s work responds faithfully to Hayao Miyazaki’s criticism of the prevailing otaku culture that form most productions of animation and the usual clichés in anime that we know to-day. Perhaps, both Shinkai and Miyazaki (and Studio Ghibili for that matter) form a reaction to the apocalyptic absurdity that pervaded animated classics like Akira or Neon Genesis Evangelion by emphasizing again the greatness of the human spirit and the hope that comes with it, set against the invading force of political upheaval and the impending damages it does not only to man but to nature.
To liberate ourselves from that bleak imagination, anime, just like cinema, attempted to make itself a reflection of everyday life. What the re-inscription of the inherent unity in nature really wants to do is to point towards an authentic sphere outside of the antagonism of political and economic life, where everyone can experience the unity of all things and how it binds us. This way the antagonism remains covered, but we are awarded with the sublime consummation of teenage love or inner peace, blind to the symptoms of the current state of affairs. Despite its attempt to restore hope and the beauty of the human spirit in anime, a medium that grew with the rise of the hikikomori i.e. people who decided to shut themselves in at the failure of integrating into the socio-economic-political demands, to unveil the authentic sphere of being outside of technological enframing is the suppression of the internal conflict within nature and the social field itself. Beneath every attempt at realism is an underlying fascination with the unseen reality, hiding beneath the inauthenticity of technical conceptualization. However, the attempt to exercise distance from the conflicts of social and political relations is to simply repress the antagonism itself, to discredit it merely as a conceptualization, conjured out of the reactionary attempt to escape the realm of the political.