By Andrew Osmond.
Once upon a time, maybe ten years ago, if you were talking about anime to a non-fan, you’d have to prepare for the question, “But isn’t anime all sex and violence?” Then Spirited Away and other Ghibli releases changed things, and you could recommend anime to non-fans by saying, “Well, if you liked Spirited Away..” Ghibli films were clearly not sex and violence, despite what theorists would have you believe. (“Spirited Away is a giant metaphor for prostitution, you know…”)
This makes the release of Shinkai’s Your Name particularly interesting. It’s had raves in the mainstream British press from the likes of Mark Kermode and Empire magazine. Many of these reviews start by making up-front references to Ghibli and Miyazaki, which may annoy fans (and make Shinkai uncomfortable), but they’re a sensible way of getting non-fan attention. Effectively, they’re saying Your Name isn’t some cult product for addicts; it’s a movie worth your time and attention.
But there’s one particular way in which Your Name differs from Ghibli and Miyazaki fare and also from Hollywood animation. Namely, it’s a lot more interested in sex. That’s not to say it’s a “sexy” film – that’s a scale where people’s mileages vary enormously – but it does have substantial sexual content. The BBFC made note of this by rating Your Name a 12A, which is higher than any of the Ghibli films except the harrowing Grave of the Fireflies. It’s also higher than Wolf Children, despite that film’s human-werewolf bestiality.
Your Name’s “Insight” page on the BBFC website makes the reasoning clear enough (warning – the page has a big spoiler if you haven’t seen the film yet). “In several scenes, a male character who has woken up in a female character’s body reacts by feeling her breasts. Other infrequent visual sex references include a brief close up of a character’s chest as she plays basketball.” The latter is what anime fans call a “Gainax Bounce” moment – maybe Shinkai regretted not having one in his Gainax-ish Voices of a Distant Star.
I mentioned these elements in an earlier article, where I wondered if some viewers would find them objectionable. The breast-groping, after all, could be taken two ways; as a joke about how teens must cope with their own changing bodies, or a joke about sexual assault on a girl who can’t consent or resist. Shinkai wasn’t inclined to take a “responsible” tone when he talked about the film in London. “It’s quite funny to have Mitsuha waking up in the morning and feeling her tits!”
No doubt there’ll be arguments about this online in the coming months, as well as about the other sexual elements; for example, the fact there’s much more about the boys’ reactions to the girl’s body than vice versa. Meanwhile, one of my Japanese friends (male) was shocked by the film’s interest in female saliva and in shared bodily fluids. (Look, just watch the film and it’ll make sense.)
Still, it’s hard to predict what will provoke most comment. For example, I speculated in my earlier article that women reviewers would be annoyed that the body/genderswap story doesn’t have a menstruation scene. Judging by a review from the Evening Standard’s Charlotte O’Sullivan, I was a few letters out…
But one thing that is significant is that Your Name is being accepted as a film “in the tradition of” Ghibli and Miyazaki, with sexual elements. That’s big. It suggests Your Name is bridging two things once seen as opposites. Perhaps the fact that Shinkai’s visuals are so like live-action is helping. Your Name isn’t just being accepted as a movie about teenagers; it’s been accepted as a teen movie, like live-action teen movies.
Personally, I see Your Name as less like a Ghibli such as Spirited Away, more like a teen classic like Back to the Future. Partly it’s the mixture of comedy, cleverness, romance and drama, but it’s also the sexual edginess wrapped up in a crowd-pleasing package. BTTF, remember, had male voyeurism; a youthful hero in his Calvin Klein underpants pursued by a scarily predatory girl; and, of course, the constant threat of incest. All in a film that was the year’s top-grosser in America.
We don’t know how “wide” Your Name can go globally, or if it can become a yardstick in the cultural consciousness to rival Spirited Away. But maybe, next time there’s a high-quality anime film with a certain amount of sexual spice, we can tell our non-fan acquaintances, “Well, if you liked Your Name…”
Your Name is on national release. Details on screenings in both English and Japanese with subtitles can be found at YourNameTheMovie.co.uk