All That Will Follow: The Role of Names in Sustaining Memory in Shinkai Makoto’s Kimi no Na Wa by Hitomi Yap

Director Shinkai Makoto’s 2016 anime movie, Kimi no Na Wa (Your Name), explores the sustaining and loss of memories through the story of two teenagers who experience each other’s lives in their dreams. Given the relative recency of the movie, there is scant academic literature about it. The only work that analyses the movie in significant depth is an unpublished M.A. thesis by Susan Noh called “Nostalgia in Anime: Redefining Japanese Cultural Identity in Global Media Texts.” In the chapter titled “Transformative Traditions in Shinkai Makoto’s Kimi no Na Wa”, Noh examines how tradition is created and re-created in the movie in accordance with the driving forces of nostalgia and memory. At several instances, she observes that the protagonists of the movie are consistently unable to retain their memories of each other[1]. Given the movie’s titular focus on names and its strong themes of names and memory, it is surprising that Noh does not comment further on the significance of names in sustaining memory within the movie. In this essay, I will engage with Noh’s observations to explore the role of names in Kimi no Na Wa in sustaining memory. First, I will argue that Kimi no Na Wa presents names as being crucial to sustaining memory, as memories in the movie cannot be retained without names, and vice versa. I will next use Maurice Halbwachs’ idea of collective memory to argue that despite the crucial importance of names in sustaining memory, Kimi no Na Wa shows that names alone are insufficient to sustain memory—they must be rooted in a social context in order to be effective. Lastly, I will introduce Jordan Peterson’s idea of narrative as imperative to argue that names give life to memory by distilling the named thing into a communicable narrative, which allows the memory to serve as an imperative for those in whose consciousness it exists.

Before embarking on my argument, I will first provide a short summary of the movie’s plot. Kimi no Na Wa revolves around two teenagers who switch bodies in their dreams. Tachibana Taki, the male protagonist, lives in bustling Tokyo, whereas Miyamizu Mitsuha, the female protagonist, lives in the fictional rural town of Itomori. When the body-switching suddenly ceases, Taki goes to Itomori to find Mitsuha, only to discover that the Mitsuha he switched bodies with was from three years ago. Since then, a falling comet has destroyed the town and killed Mitsuha. Taki begins to question the truth of his body-switching experiences with Mitsuha, eventually rationalising that it was all a dream. As Taki completes his denial of the memory, he also realises that he has forgotten Mitsuha’s name. It is only when Taki talks to Okudera, his travel companion, that he recalls and returns to an ancient shrine that he had been to when he was in Mitsuha’s body. He finds and drinks the kuchikamizake[2] that Mitsuha had made and prays that he will be able to turn back time and save Mitsuha. A mystical dream sequence ensues in which Taki observes Mitsuha’s memories through their spiritual connection. He realises that Mitsuha had tried to visit him in Tokyo but had ended up meeting with the Taki from three years ago, due to the difference in their timelines. Although Mitsuha had told Taki her name, Taki had forgotten Mitsuha’s existence by the time the body-switching events occur three years later in Taki’s timeline. After the dream sequence, Taki wakes up in Mitsuha’s body on the day of the comet strike. He returns to the ancient shrine to finds Mitsuha, who is in his body. As twilight falls, the two timelines are blurred and the two protagonists finally meet. At the end of twilight, they are returned to their respective bodies. Mitsuha, back in her own body, manages to convince her father to evacuate the town before the comet strikes, thus saving the residents. Five years later, Mitsuha and Taki have forgotten each other as well as the events surrounding the town’s salvation. However, they each feel as though they are looking for something, or someone. By chance, they meet on a staircase in Tokyo, and the movie ends with them asking for each other’s names.

Having summarised the salient points of the movie’s plot, I will first argue that Kimi no Na Wa presents names as being crucial to sustaining memory, as memories in the movie cannot be retained without names, and vice versa. The impetus for my argument lies in Noh’s observations on names and memory in the movie. In one instance, Noh points out that “even as [the two protagonists] try to preserve the memory of the other or sustain the significance of what the other has done for their [well-being] and development, they keep forgetting the other’s respective name and face” (64). Here, Noh seems to be merely pointing out a trend of memory loss in the movie. However, we can infer from this trend that names must be so crucially linked to memory that each time the protagonists forget each other’s names, they also forget all the memories related to the other. This inference is supported by the three instances of memory loss in the movie. The first instance occurs when Taki discovers that Itomori was destroyed by the falling comet three years ago and begins to question the truth of his body-switching experiences with Mitsuha. Taki eventually concludes: “It was all a dream. I recognised the scenery because I remembered the news from three years ago… If not that, then… a ghost? No… was I fantasising? Her name… What was it?” (0:54:33–0:55:00) We see that as Taki erases the memories of his body-switching experience from his mind, he also forgets the name of the person who he switched bodies with. Mitsuha’s name cannot exist in Taki’s memory independently of Taki’s memories of their body switching. The second instance occurs during Taki’s dream sequence, when he realises that Mitsuha had tried to visit him in Tokyo but had ended up meeting with the Taki from three years ago. Although Mitsuha had told Taki her name, Taki has forgotten both their meeting and Mitsuha’s very existence by the time the body-switching events occur three years later in Taki’s timeline. Again, we see that Taki does not recall either the meeting or Mitsuha’s name in isolation. The final instance occurs when Taki and Mitsuha forget each other’s names after waking up from their meeting at the ancient shrine and return to their normal lives. Years pass, and we learn that the adult Taki has also forgotten his involvement in saving Itomori. He tells the audience: “[A]t one point, I was inexplicably drawn to the events surrounding that comet…. What had caught my interest so much is now a mystery. I didn’t even know anybody in that town” (1:35:16 –1:36:03). Yet again, Taki’s lines reveal that in losing the memory of Mitsuha’s name, his memories of helping her save her town decay away until his interest in the town is only an inexplicable “mystery”. Because Taki forgets his involvement in saving Itomori, he forgets not just Mitsuha’s name, but also the names of all the other townspeople he had interacted with while in Mitsuha’s body, which forces him to conclude that he “didn’t even know anybody in that town.” From the three instances of memory loss in the movie, we can conclude that Kimi no Na Wa presents names and memory as being so inextricably linked to each other that one cannot exist independently of the other.

I will next use Halbwachs’ idea of collective memory to argue that despite names being crucial to memory, Kimi no Na Wa shows that names alone are insufficient to sustain memory—they must be rooted in a social context in order to be effective. Halbwachs theorises that the individual experiences events and processes them in relation to the social groups that they belong to. For Halbwachs, the resulting memories are inseparable from the various social contexts in which they were gained. Halbwachs calls this mechanism a “collective memory”. According to Halbwachs, an individual’s memory of an event can only persist so long as they maintain contact with the “group in whose midst [they] perceived the events” (Individual 27). In other words, Halbwachs theorises that once the individual is disconnected from the group, they will be unable to retain memories pertaining to the group.

Applying Halbwachs’ theory to the movie, we see that the protagonists are consistently unable to retain memories of each other because they lack a persisting social context for these memories. Taki and Mitsuha only come into contact with each other in their dreams. Halbwachs specifically argues that “we are incapable of reliving our past when we dream” (Collective 41). He explains that this is because dreams are an “area in human experience that is not rooted in a social context and structure” (Coser 23), a state in which the individual’s consciousness is truly “in a state of isolation” from society (Collective 39). Without a social context, the disparate images found in dreams cannot be assembled and interpreted to form a proper memory (Collective 42), which explains why dreams are so easily forgotten upon waking. Indeed, we see that the protagonists’ dream lives are completely separate from their waking lives. While Taki leads a busy life in modern Tokyo, with its trains, noise, Italian restaurants and cafes, Mitsuha’s life is simple and rural, immersed in nature and tradition. Once they wake up from their dreams, the protagonists are thrust back into their own lives, with no witnesses to nor evidence of the experiences in their dreams. As a result of this disconnect, Mitsuha observes that she cannot seem to hold on to the memory of the events she experiences in her dreams. She says: “My memory of the switch is hazy after I wake up” (0:30:44–0:30:48). The protagonists’ memories of each other are fragile because they are not proper memories, according to Halbwachs. Without a social context in which to make sense of the memories, they are only disparate, unlocalised “images that have the appearance of memories” (Collective 41). We thus see that because the protagonists’ “memories” of each other have no supporting social contexts to sustain them once the protagonists wake up, they are accordingly lost in a very short time.

Conversely, we see that names which are rooted in a social context are not easily lost. In fact, they can be passed down generations and survive beyond the lifespan of the individual as each successive generation joins the group that sustains the memory. This constant rejuvenation ensures that the group, and thus the memory, never ceases to exist. For example, there is a scene in the movie where Mitsuha’s grandmother makes braided cords in the Itomori tradition with her granddaughters. While they work, Mitsuha’s grandmother recounts a memory: “Two hundred years ago, sandal maker Mayugoro’s bathroom caught on fire and burned down this whole area. The shrine and old documents were destroyed and this is known as the Great Fire of Mayugoro” (0:12:46–0:13:05). After hearing the story, Mitsuha’s younger sister Yotsuha exclaims, “The fire has his name? Poor Mayugoro” (0:13:06–0:13:10). In contrast to the protagonists’ fragile memories of each other’s names, the memory of Mayugoro’s name has persisted for 200 years because of the existence of a social context in which it continues to be passed down. Though it is a rather unfortunate connection, Mayugoro’s name is, as Yotsuha observes, inseparable from the memory of the Fire. Because the memory of the Fire is relevant to and rooted within the social context of the Miyamizu shrine-keepers, the memory of Mayugoro’s name is in turn sustained by this social group, of which Mitsuha and Yotsuha are now members. Thus, we see that although names are crucial to sustaining memory, the names must be rooted in a relevant social context for them to be sustained as objects of discourse among the members of a social group.

Lastly, I will introduce Jordan Peterson’s idea of narrative as imperative to argue that names give life to memory by distilling the named thing into a communicable narrative, which allows the memory to serve as an imperative for those in whose consciousness it exists. Before introducing Peterson’s ideas, I will return to the ideas of Halbwachs. Halbwachs argues that language makes up the structure of collective memory, because language is what allows people to express their thoughts and thus memories with each other. He writes:

People living in society use words that they find intelligible: this is the precondition for collective thought. But each word… is accompanied by recollections. There are no recollections to which words cannot be made to correspond…. It is language, and the whole system of social conventions attached to it, that allows us at every moment to reconstruct our past. (Collective 173)

According to Halbwachs, words (including names) that are “intelligible” to others are the “precondition of collective thought”. This is because names are an “agreement” (Collective 71) between individuals on the qualities of a thing that are significant to them. Peterson argues that naming something “sharpens it, brings it into focus, and gives it… borders and boundaries” (Biblical 1:17:00–1:17:05). This means that when we name something, it appears in our consciousness in a definite form, sculpted down from an overwhelming series of empirical details into a focused narrative that directs the user of the name to the significant qualities of the named thing. In the movie, we see how names are an “agreement” that capture the salient qualities of the named thing in a narrative. An example is the term kawatare-doki, which is the Classical Japanese name for twilight. Kawatare literally means “Who is that?” and the term evokes the time of day “when the world blurs and one might encounter something not human” (0:09:00–0:09:05). The mystical, world-blurring qualities of twilight are themselves a narrative: at twilight, your world will blur and you will encounter things you never thought possible. This narrative is captured in the metonymic term, kawatare-doki, and becomes part of Taki and Mitsuha’s story when their timelines literally blur into each other at twilight, allowing them to meet despite being split by the span of three years. However, Taki and Mitsuha would not have been able to meet were it not for their knowledge of this name, which was in turn passed down to them by Mitsuha’s literature teacher and Yotsuha. We thus see that the ability of names and their associated narratives to be shared between individuals allows for “collective thought”, which in turn sets the foundation for a “collective memory.”

As names condense events and objects into narratives, they also instruct the individual who comes into contact with them on how to view past events, and therefore on how to proceed with their own actions in the future. According to Peterson, this is because a narrative is not just a description of how things are, but rather a direction for “how to act” (Maps 9). Peterson explains that when a person recalls a memory, they “reduce a sequence of actions and conceptions of exceptional complexity to the gist, which is like the essential or the moral in some sense… and the other person is listening… because they might think they’ll garner some bit of information… that might aid them in some way” (Personality 0:07:09–0:07:37; emphasis added). Peterson uses the word “moral”, which is “a lesson that can be derived from a story or experience” (Moral n1). This supports the idea that narratives do not just inform, they also instruct those who hear them. In the movie, an example of a name imbibed with instruction is musubi. Musubi is a word ordinarily used to refer to the tying of a knot. However, Mitsuha’s grandmother explains to Taki that musubi is also the old name for Itomori’s local guardian deity. She states that in the Itomori tradition, musubi refers to connections between people, the consumption of food and drink, the making of Itomori’s traditional braided cords, and even the flow of time. We then see that the name musubi infuses these memories with imperative. The narrative contained in the name directs Taki to engage with its various facets and guides him to save Itomori. Upon recalling the term musubi through his braided cord, Taki realises that he must travel back to the shrine of the guardian deity musubi, for that is the place where the musubi of Mitsuha’s kuchikamizake is. In order to be bound to her, Taki drinks the wine in an act of musubi. In the subsequent dream sequence, their bond, musubi, turns back the flow of time —yet again, musubi—so they can save the town. From Taki’s experience, we can see that the deity, the cord, the wine, and the flow of time are all gathered under the name musubi by their significant feature of being components in Itomori’s salvation. This gathering is made possible by the viewing of events or objects from a particular viewpoint which is infused with an aim—in this case, the saving of the town. This viewpoint distils the event or object into a coherent narrative, which can then be represented in and recalled from memory with a name. Of course, the named thing loses some of its substance in the process but gains the direction and imperative that is characteristic of the narratives that we find in our memory. In fact, Halbwachs argues that the narrative contained in a name is what distinguishes a living collective memory from mere dead history. Whereas from a historical viewpoint, “every fact is as interesting as any other and merits as much to be brought forth and recorded” (Historical 83), a memory gives meaning and life to these facts by distilling each event into a narrative that highlights the key symbolic significance of the event. As we remember, we simultaneously take instruction from our memories, and live and re-live them as we continuously move into the future. We can thus conclude that names not only sustain our past in the form of narrative memory but inform our future in the form of narrative imperative.

In conclusion, I have argued that Kimi no Na Wa presents names as crucial components in sustaining memory. However, names alone are insufficient for sustaining memory as they must always be rooted in a relevant social context in order for the memory to be preserved. Given that names are at once crucial and yet insufficient for the preservation of memory, what exactly is the link between names and memory? I have argued that names give life to memory by sculpting the named thing into a communicable narrative, thus giving it meaning beyond a purely empirical existence. As each name contains memories, which are narratives, names also instruct those who engage with them on how to act. Having received the narratives passed down through the names of memories, the protagonists of Kimi no Na Wa were able to go back in time both metaphorically and physically. In doing so, they were able to change the course of their future. When Taki and Mitsuha ask for each other’s names at the end of the movie, we can only feel optimism that despite their loss, they will be able to rebuild and recover, as they, more than any others, can truly appreciate how names are “pregnant with all that has preceded them just as they are already pregnant with all that will follow” (Collective 61).

Notes

[1] These observations occur at pp. 45, 48, 58 and 64.

[2] A type of Japanese rice wine made by chewing rice and spitting it out, then letting the rice ferment from the enzymes in the saliva.

Works Cited

Coser, Lewis A. Introduction. On Collective Memory, by Maurice Halbwachs. The University of Chicago Press, 1992. pp. 1-34.

Halbwachs, Maurice. On Collective Memory. Translated by Lewis A. Coser, The University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Halbwachs, Maurice. “Historical Memory and Collective Memory.” Halbwachs, Maurice. The Collective Memory. Harper & Row Colophon Books, 1980. 50-87.

Halbwachs, Maurice. “Individual Memory and Collective Memory.” Halbwachs, Maurice. The Collective Memory. Harper & Row Colophon Books, 1980. 22-49.

Kimi no Na Wa. Directed by Makoto Shinkai. CoMix Wave Films, 2016.

“Moral, n1.” Oxford Dictionaries, 2019. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/moral.

Noh, Susan S. Nostalgia In Anime: Redefining Japanese Cultural Identity In Global Media Texts. M.A. Thesis Georgetown University, 2017.

Peterson, Jordan B. “Biblical Series IV: Adam and Eve: Self-Consciousness, Evil, and Death”.   University of Toronto Department of Psychology, 30 May 2017, Toronto. Youtube, uploaded by Jordan B. Peterson. www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ifi5KkXig3s.

Peterson, Jordan B. Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. Routledge, 1999.

Peterson, Jordan B. “2016 Personality Lecture 03: Mythological Elements of the Life Story — and Initiation”. University of Toronto Department of Psychology, 19 Jan 2016, Toronto. Youtube, uploaded by Jordan B. Peterson. www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ifi5KkXig3s.

 

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