Have you ever had a pleasant dream that quickly faded from your memory after waking up? It leaves you with a kind of longing, without being able to specify what it’s for. It’s the same feeling you get when you’re at the beach, or in the mountains, longing for something past the horizon. It’s also the feeling that Mitsuha and Taki are haunted by in Makoto Shinkai’s international blockbuster, Your Name. Shinkai made this desire central in his film. The vague nature of the desire can make us doubt it can be satisfied at all, but I think it can, and Your Name answers the same way.
So let’s go on a journey together, with Mitsuha and Taki, Shinkai, and some other friends, as we explore that elusive feeling of deep longing and what it means for us… Spoilers ahead!
Mitsuha Miyamizu lives in a fictional village called Itomori, and is frustrated with her rural life. So much so that one night, overwhelmed with her duty as a shrine maiden, she cries out that she wishes she were a handsome Tokyo boy in her next life. For better or worse, she doesn’t need to wait until her next life for that. Every other day, Mitsuha switches bodies with Taki Tachibana, who lives a very different life in Tokyo. This switching goes on for a while, and their feelings for one another blossom, until it all ends abruptly. Will they ever meet again?
Shinkai has a more ambitious vision for this film than with his previous works, aiming to reach a broader international audience. For the first time, we see Shinkai successfully add supernatural elements to a story, and write an exciting and satisfying plot combined with great use of music. Despite these new additions, he sticks to a familiar theme, which he announces at the beginning of the movie. During the first few minutes of screen time, we find out this is once again a tale of two star-crossed lovers. But rather than simply repeating the themes of Shinkai’s previous films, Your Name goes deeper here than ever before. Let us look at the opening monologue by Taki and Mitsuha to see how it does that:
Once in a while when I wake up I find myself crying. The dream I must have had I can never recall. But… But… the sensation that I’ve lost something lingers for a long time after I wake up. I’m always searching for something, for someone. This feeling has possessed me, I think, from that day…that day when the stars came falling. It was almost as if…as if a scene from a dream. Solely a beautiful view.
At first glance, this monologue just seems to function as a dramatic flash-forward to the scene just before the ending, where Taki and Mitsuha have forgotten each other at this point. But Shinkai’s goal with this opening is far grander than mere foreshadowing. Instead, as he explains himself, Shinkai aims to portray a universal type of longing, sometimes called Sehnsucht, which is defined as an intense desire for remote or unattainable states of life.
One of the ways he does this is by equating the feeling with “solely a beautiful view.” This might seem puzzling at first because this last line doesn’t seem to carry the same dramatic load as those that precede it. But with this, the dialogue is conveying the universal nature of the feeling. Nearly everyone has experienced this sensation when they see beautiful landscapes, and so it is no accident that the movie is filled with stunning, mysterious horizons like a promise of something more. For some reason, in those moments, we long for what’s beyond the horizon. Remarkably, one of the reasons Shinkai chose to include an OP sequence for this film is because it allowed him to portray this feeling visually. In an interview he talks about his favorite scene from the OP: “When [Taki] gazes into the distance, we long for something and we yearn vaguely for something… I think I managed to visualize that kind of feeling.”
Here Shinkai is referring to the scene where Taki is looking at the horizon, after which the camera moves past the buildings of Tokyo all the way to Itomori, where we see Mitsuha sitting in her room. The implication is that Taki is longing for Mitsuha here without even knowing it. He is overcome by this longing, which has a grip on him despite how vague it is. In fact, he is so oblivious that he doesn’t even know whether this longing is for a thing or a person. This is why the main protagonists keep saying they’re looking for “something or someone.” But no matter how unaware Taki is of Mitsuha, she is a real person whom he can meet if he looks for her.
While not actually having seen her in person yet, Taki gets to know her very well through body swapping. During the days when he lives her life, Taki forms a clear image of who Mitsuha is. But after this supernatural swapping comes to an end, his idea of her starts to become confused. First, he forgets her name, and soon after that he doesn’t even know whose name he’s trying to remember. Now the only thing he has to remember her by is a feeling. By this point, the movie has progressed to the scene we saw a glimpse of in the opening monologue, where Taki and Mitsuha describe their longing as a sense of loss after failing to remember a beautiful dream. Because the memory of the dream is inaccessible to them, they must move on and accept that their desire will not be satisfied in this life. This is how Taki and Mitsuha must live for many years, seemingly without hope of relief from this haunting feeling.
For a moment, the movie seems to set up a very frustrating ending where Taki and Mitsuha never meet again. Viewers familiar with Shinkai’s previous film, 5 Centimeters per Second, would have good reason to be worried at this point because the director cruelly uses the same visual motif signifying the separation of the protagonists from that film in Your Name. When I saw those trains again, I thought it was over for these two! Too often, trains are a metaphor for fate or life’s circumstances, taking the characters down separate paths. But against all hope, we then witness a beautiful moment: through their train windows, Taki and Mitsuha lock eyes with each other. Mitsuha finally sees the person she had forgotten all these years. But more than that, she realizes in this moment that her vague longing for all these years was not of a fraudulent nature. No, this desire was for a real person, who she could see now before her. Shinkai considers this the most significant moment in his film, representing the fulfillment of their vague longing: “It is the moment when [Mitsuha] finally overcomes the feeling that she is ‘always searching for something, for someone.’”
After years of feeling incomplete, Mitsuha and Taki find out what it is they have been looking for. And now they need to meet. They run through Tokyo full of expectation, before Shinkai makes us doubt their reunion one last time. Taki sees Mitsuha looking at him from the top of an outdoor staircase, but at that moment he decides against approaching her directly for some reason. He might be thinking: “Is she really who I was looking for? But how? I don’t know her. What was I thinking, running desperately to a total stranger?”
He walks past her, defeated, and Mitsuha does the same in response. But ridiculous or not, Taki is sure that the girl from his forgotten dream is right behind him. He decides that he’d rather risk sounding ridiculous, and asks the girl he has never met before, “Have I met you somewhere?”
Mitsuha acknowledges that she thought the same, and the movie ends with them asking each other’s names.
This is easily the most satisfying movie ending Shinkai has made so far. But what is Shinkai conveying here? If we go by his comments from the interview, he makes it clear that he is expressing a universal longing and not just one created by the specific magical circumstances of these two teens. Given that Your Name is considered a romance, is Shinkai then saying that the universal answer to Sehnsucht is romance? I think that is very unlikely. Both 5cm/s and The Garden of Words explore romances that are not meant to be, implying that Shinkai doesn’t have a rose-colored view of romantic relationships. And besides, Taki and Mitsuha only managed to meet through supernatural means. Considering that final encounter will bring us closer to an answer, Shinkai had the following to say about the ending: “They (subconsciously) longed for each other for over 8 years since the meteorite disaster, so I thought it was time for a miracle to happen.”
Shinkai here aligns with the conviction that longing demands satisfaction, that longing does have an answer, a resolution. And so as the screenwriter, he thought it was natural to satisfy it in the end. Whether he is aware of it or not, Shinkai is tapping into a deep truth here. Because—guess what?—the Author of our lives, our real lives here in the real world, operates under that very same compulsion. Our longing too has satisfaction in the end, and it too comes after a life-changing, life-defining encounter, a recognizing of Someone who is somehow so vital that when you first encounter Him, it seems impossible that you’ve not met Him before.
So basically, Shinkai is reflecting a godly reality in his film: that longing we experience before a beautiful landscape, or in a pleasant dream we can’t remember; this longing was intended to be fulfilled, and it happens by miraculous or supernatural means (just of a slightly different kind than in Your Name!).
So rather than romance, the film is pointing out that our hope is for something that transcends this world. This distinction is important because hoping to find that fulfillment in romance can only end in disappointment. We can see the truth of this if we imagine for a second that these characters are real people. Will Mitsuha and Taki be fulfilled for the rest of their lives now that they have finally reunited? As we know, real life is never quite that simple. And chances are, each one of us has already experienced the disappointment that comes when that deep longing seems to be fulfilled, only to leave us feeling empty. Let’s take a look at how C. S. Lewis described this feeling, and pay attention to the parallels with Your Name’s monologues:
The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality…
It’s incredible how much Shinkai’s writing is in line with this passage from C. S. Lewis. In the last act of Your Name, Taki is pondering his mysterious longing and contemplates: “I’m not sure if I’m searching for something, for someone, or maybe a job.”
Note how this parallels Lewis’ examples of holidays, marriages, and careers. Because our longing is vague, we assume we can satisfy it with some earthly pleasure, we just don’t know which one. But the more we chase it, the more it eludes us. Our attempts at remembering the forgotten dream are futile.
While Lewis might sound pessimistic here, he doesn’t leave it at that. In that same chapter of Mere Christianity, entitled “Hope,” he notes that creatures aren’t born with desires that can’t be satisfied. Hunger, thirst, and sexual desire, all of these can be satisfied. He continues: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Lewis gives a glimpse here of an eternal reality beyond the material world. In the Christian view, our deepest longing is for Heaven, where we can be with Jesus, the only person who can bring complete happiness and fulfillment. In the Gospel of John, Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman at a well who wants to know about this eternal reality. Samaritans and Jews didn’t associate with each other at this time. But this existential longing caused her to put that ethnic tension aside in order to question him further. In response, Jesus gave her a hopeful promise: if she accepts His gift, her longing will be satisfied together with the promise of eternal life.
Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.John 4:13-14
C.S. Lewis adds that we shouldn’t conclude that the universe is a fraud for giving us a desire that can’t be satisfied on Earth. Earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to suggest the real thing. So while we can appreciate earthly blessings, we should take care that we don’t mistake them for the “something else” of which they are only a shadow. He ends the passage by stating: “I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”
Once we know that the full measure of joy will be in Heaven, we can stop worrying about where to find joy. Instead, we are inspired to be kind and to be good to other people out of gratitude for what God has done for us in giving us this promise that our longing will be fulfilled. On the cross, Jesus made it possible for us to be reunited with God, who makes all things new and brings all things to completion. No, we don’t have perfect joy yet, but we can now see the path, and we can see a glimpse of the destination.
Once Mitsuha has seen Taki and realizes that it was him she was looking for, she is in a similar situation. She now knows where she can find ultimate joy. While a fruitful career would make her feel better, she knows that deeper happiness lies somewhere else. Instead, she immediately chases after Taki. Just like believers, she still has a moment of doubt, even after having seen him clearly. But her longing for Taki is strong enough to overcome any doubt. Because of that, she gets to meet the person she was destined to meet. We are not at that point yet. Like Mitsuha, we have seen who will fulfill our deepest desire, but we are still looking forward to the moment when we can meet Him in person.
You might have noticed that something strange has happened here. We established that romance can’t satisfy our deepest longing, and that Shinkai would probably say the same thing. But isn’t Your Name clearly a romantic movie? Yes, but in a very non-typical way, with a focus on the allegory. Unlike other romantic movies that focus on the personalities of the two protagonists, Your Name is about the connection between the characters. Mitsuha’s grandmother would sum it all up in one word: “Musubi.” This is a word that can mean multiple things: tying threads, connecting people, and the flow of time. It’s a word closely related to the Shinto god in the movie. With all this, Shinkai is leaning in on the symbolic aspect of their relationship. He commits to this all the way, and to the chagrin of romance fans, the ending is without any confession scene, kiss, or marriage proposal. Rather than that, Shinkai paints an image of something deeper. He illustrates the joy of union, the same joy that Christians will have with God in Heaven and which we receive a foretaste of in this life.
This might seem like a wild claim, especially because Your Name’s creator is not a Christian, and because the film features a pagan religion. But surprisingly, C. S. Lewis himself did something similar in his final and favorite work: Till We Have Faces. This book is a Christian allegorical retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche. Although the plot is very different from Your Name, it shares the central theme of longing. Psyche experiences the same nostalgic and painful longing for something or someone she doesn’t know, which she expects she will find on the mountain beyond the horizon. As the novel progresses, it seems like this longing is for marriage, for romance.
But just when Cupid and Psyche’s wedding is supposed to take place, Lewis opts for a different conclusion. A marriage between two good and beautiful people is great, but instead of ending his novel with simply a joyous celebration, he chooses to portray something greater. He shifts the focus away from the happy couple onto Orual, Psyche’s ugly and bitter sister, who nearly managed to separate Psyche from her bridegroom forever. But rather than being punished for her actions, Orual is forgiven as Psyche shares the gift of beauty and goodness with her. Now blameless and purified, Orual is able to stand before God, Who sees her as Psyche’s equal. It is an unexpected spin on the original myth, but it highlights the necessity of redemption and union with God, which finally completes us. This perfect and beautiful union with God is what Sehnsucht and the joys of marriage are hinting at. But unlike any earthly relationship we can think of, this union in Heaven will leave no one disappointed.
While Your Name doesn’t include the theme of redemption, it does show us that our deepest longing is not fraudulent. Shinkai shares a hopeful message, that our painful longing for completion is meant to be fulfilled. And where Shinkai falls short in terms of addressing our need for redemption, he more than makes up for it with pure artistic beauty along with an engaging narrative. Great films like this can do more to spark our longing for the divine than we often give them credit for. With this masterpiece, Shinkai has managed to captivate an international audience, but Christians in particular have a reason to rejoice at the emotionally satisfying ending of Your Name. After all, the rewarding reunion between Taki and Mitsuha gives us a glimpse of something greater to come: the reconciliation we will experience in full when we meet God face to face.
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