Note: this opinion was originally published in Indonesian on KAORI Nusantara Indonesian site on December 13, 2016. It has been translated into English with the author’s permission.
Kimi no Na Wa or your name. tells the story of a girl named Mitsuha who is tired of the small town where she lives and dreams that in the next life she will live as a handsome boy living in Tokyo. As a result of some kind of mysterious power, Mitsuha switches bodies with a high school student in Tokyo named Taki. Shortly thereafter, the lives of the two of them becomes intertwined with each other even though they have never met face-to-face. Mitsuha helps Taki to bring him closer to a senior at the place where he works part-time job, while Taki helps Mitsuha face her problems at school and home.
The fame of the animated film your name., particularly in the Asian market at the time of this writing, need not be doubted, dominating the box office in its home country of Japan and exceeding the income of Howl’s Moving Castle from the renowned director Hayao Miyazaki. It’s also a hit in China since it first showed up in theatres. In Southeast Asia, this film has been performing well in Thailand, and showings in Indonesia started on December 7, 2016 with the Philippines next in the following week. Moreover, this anime has also won an award from LAFCA (Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards) in the category of Best Animation in 2016 and was also registered for a nominee candidate for the 2016 Academy Award in the Best Animated Feature category.
Despite the successes and awards that accompany this film, your name. did not escape the criticism of various viewers and movie critics who might feel disappointed because the general enthusiasm for this film may not be in line with their expectations. The loudest critics even commented that the anime is just a “big sensation’ but ‘lacking in substance.” I do not intend to downplay or even reject criticisms of the work—it is not a perfect film that has absolutely no flaws or plot holes of its own, such as in how Taki and Mitsuha don’t pay attention to the year on their smartphones while switched—but to say that this film is just a standard work that relies only on marketing and hype is kind of negating the quality and artistic value that does exist in the film.
In general, much criticism is directed at the second part of the film, which is when the plot becomes more intense after the romantic comedy situations in the first part. Critics argue that the second part of the film seems to contradict the previously established setting, it feels forced and confusing. Other critics say that the narrative of your name. feels flat or mediocre, the storyline is a mess, the climax and anticlimax are unclear, and its even boring because the conflict is not impactful enough. All of them are fair criticisms that make sense and also have good reasons, but to be fair to the story, let’s open our minds more to think about it.
In East Asia, especially Japan, there is a story structure called Kishōtenketsu (起承転結). Kishōtenketsu originated in classical Chinese poetry that later became implemented as narrative structure. Kishōtenketsu consists of four acts:
Ki: Introduction of story, characters, and other information to understand the setting of the story.
Shō: Story development. Building on from the setting that has been established and describe the story more deeply.
Ten: Turning point or twist. In this stage, other topics or new topics are introduced. This element is surprising, even though there is actually a relationship with the previous two acts, it seems to bear no relation at first.
Ketsu: The conclusion. Rounding up the first two acts with the third so that they become into a coherent whole.
An example of kishōtenketsu is the poem by Sanyo Rai (S. K. Maynard’s translation):
Introduction (ki): Daughters of Itoya, in the Honmachi of Osaka.
Development (shō): The elder daughter is sixteen and the younger one is fourteen.
Twist (ten): Throughout history, generals (daimyo) killed the enemy with bows and arrows.
Rating (ketsu): The daughters of Itoya kill with their eyes.
Or as in another example that can be seen at Wikipedia, kishōtenketsu can also be used to organize an argument:
Ki: In the past, copying had to be done by hand and it is prone to error.
Shō: With a copier, copying is faster and more accurate.
Ten: Traveling by car saves time, but it’s hard to observe the surrounding scenery. On foot, it’s easier to see the view up close.
Ketsu: Even though copying by using a copier is easier, copying by hand is sometimes better, because the information copied can be remembered longer and can be used at any time.
Interestingly, kishōtenketsu as a narrative structure does not require conflict in the story. In Western narrative structures, the plot generally revolves around a conflict between opposing parties which will end with one of them overcoming the opposing one. The commonly used structure in the West is the three-act-structure, where conflicts are introduced in the first act, rise to the climax in the second act, then resolved in the third act. Overall, conflict is an important element in Western narrative structure: if here is no conflict, then there is no story. It doesn’t mean that there can be no conflict in kishōtenketsu, but rather the structure kishōtenketsu can still function even without any conflict present.
If we try to analyze the narrative style found in your name, we can conclude that the director-writer Makoto Shinkai uses Kishōtenketsu in his story. Ki or introduction is when we are introduced to Mitsuha and her life in Itomori and her anxiety. The development or shō is in the body switching section between Taki and Mitsuha and Taki’s life in Tokyo. The twist or ten is when Taki discovers the truth about Mitsuha and Itomori. And finally, ketsu rounds up the hints and twists that occur throughout the film.
This use of kishōtenketsu is the reason why the second part of Kimi no Na wa appears as if it appears out of nowhere and contradicts the previous part of the story. The main attraction of this storytelling is not conflict, but the contrast of the twist in the ten act which is finally brought to make sense in the ketsu act. This pattern can also be seen commonly in 4-koma (four panels) manga and also even in films produced by Studio Ghibli (notice how there are no antagonists in Totoro) or video games from Nintendo. This opinion piece is also structured using the kishōtenketsu technique.
Regarding why your name. feels flat, the storyline feels messy, the climax and the anti-climax are unclear, boring, or the ending makes you go “huh, that’s all?”, apart from the fact that conflict in not a necessity in kishōtenketsu, many Japanese storytelling styles do not really bother with how to end the story and prioritize the experience of the ongoing story. Coupled with the lack of conflict and Shinkai’s tendency to hide meanings in visuals and sounds, it is not surprising that many didn’t feel the “impact” after watching your name.
What may seem to be strange storyline in the film is not because of the weakness of Makoto Shinkai at storytelling, but because it was designed like that. In fact, most likely the appeal of your name. lies in how Makoto Shinkai brilliantly utilizes the concept of kishōtenketsu in accordance with his vision. Not that kishōtenketsu is better than Western narrative style, but we have to recognize that there are many different techniques and structures that can be used for storytelling. Just like other kinds of works, there are good and bad kishōtenketsu, but it would be nice for us to be more open-minded when a work that we think is mediocre getting hype and positive responses from many people, maybe our way of appreciation has not been the right way to appreciate that work.
The Indonesian Anime Times | Written by Adit Sulistyo and translated by Keinda Dwi Adilia | The writer is a game and animation enthusiast who learn about game design, writing, and world-building independently | This opinion is the personal views of the author and does not represent the views and editorial policy of The Indonesian Times or KAORI Nusantara