Like many other fans, I was a bit skeptical when I heard the news that J.J. Abrams received the rights to create a live-action film for Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name (Kimi no Na wa), especially when the recent American adaptations of series like Death Note and Ghost in the Shell weren’t spectacular. However, my pessimism disappeared when I thought about whether or not it is possible for a live-action Your Name to be made. And, honestly, I think a live-action is indeed possible if some conditions are met. After reading about numerous fans’ worries and reactions to the news, I’ve compiled a list of concerns and possible solutions as to how I would go about making the live-action film.
Concern #1: A live-action adaptation will lose the Japanese aesthetic.
One of the reasons the anime film was a huge success was the amount of time and effort put into the background details. From every line of each leaf on a tree to the white sparkling dishes, the artists put thought and care so that each image aesthetically appeals to the viewer’s eyes.
This artistic beauty of the “everydayness” will be lost in the live-action as the background will not be as hyper-realistic as it was in the anime film. However, since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I think there are other ways that cinematography can capture the same kind of aesthetic; one of them is the sky. I have faith that Hollywood will make great use of CGI to create a spectacular night sky. J.J. Abrams is known for his sci-fi movies and that’s why I’m confident that he’s capable of creating a picturesque night sky similar to Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night.’
Concern #2: The main leads have to live in the same country.
On a surface level, the plot is simple: two individuals magically switch bodies and develop feelings for one another. This storyline can take place in any foreign country. I’ve heard some interesting fan theories of a possible adaptation based on Native American folklore if that’s possible. However, due to the strong Japanese cultural background, fans argue that both leads must live in the same country and in this case, it has to be Japan.
Not necessarily, though. Space isn’t an issue when you are dealing with a cosmological event that has supernatural consequences. In fact, our leads don’t need to be in the same country to see a comet. They could live in different countries while seeing it (I may be suspending belief but it could work). Or there could be a moment where they were both in the same country at the same time to witness the comet. For instance, Taki could have been visiting Japan at the time the comet was passing and then he returns back to his hometown, wherever that is (probably the United States?).
Yet, one problematic issue of this scenario is how the twilight scene in Your Name would play out. How would Taki meet Mitsuha at the shrine in the mountaintop during twilight if they live in different countries? Well, we have to consider that time plays a factor in this and it’s possible that they can meet at the same place and at the same time if planned accordingly.
Concern #3: Japanese culture and values are highly embedded in Your Name. By adapting it into a foreign live-action film, it will lose that cultural essence that the movie is known for.
The main worry that fans have with this live-action adaptation is the possibility of whitewashing the characters. In fact, Hollywood films have a track record of not representing Asian characters properly. I kind of agree that if the live-action ignores the Japanese culture factor in the original, the adaptation would be a disappointment since Your Name is known for its strong cultural roots.
However, this could be avoided if J.J. Abrams goes against the pattern. For this live-action, I envision Mitsuha residing in Japan. Her family is a representation of traditional Japan since they run a local shrine. I wouldn’t change anything about her character as she is someone that longs to live in the city and escape the traditional, countryside lifestyle she lives. As for Taki, he doesn’t necessarily have to live in Japan. In the animated film, he was a boy living in modern-day Tokyo. For the live-action, Taki could be a Japanese-American teenager living in an urban city like San Francisco or New York City. However, I would make Taki a second-generation child of Japanese immigrants. That could complicate his character as he might have an identity crisis: his parents are fixated in raising him in a more traditional Asian background but he is more Westernized and would rather spend his free time with his American friends (This is a major issue in many Asian-American households.)
This opens doors to interesting character development. Both characters will learn about life outside their own home countries as if they were studying abroad. Two individuals living in vastly different places and time zones will be able to learn about each other’s cultures and about their own personal identities in relation to another person’s culture. This is a great way for viewers to be more open-minded about the world around them and develop a sense of global citizenship.
Concern #4: If you were to keep Mitsuha’s character in Japan and have Taki live in another country wouldn’t this cause language barriers?
Not really. The language barrier is an easy fix. Like I said before, I would have Taki be born into a family of immigrants where he speaks his family’s native tongue, Japanese, at home but speaks English at school and when he spends time with his friends. In other words, Taki is bilingual, which brings about some interesting issues of identity, of ethnic and national background, and of how he sees himself in comparison to everyone else. As for Mitsuha, when she switches bodies with Taki, she can speak English as she probably is studying it at school, but gets a culture shock as she sees how drastically different American teenage life is from Japanese teenage life.
Concern #5: Fate is a major theme in Your Name. The live-action will lose the symbols that represent fate such as the red cords and kuchikamizake because of cultural barriers.
When it comes to the concept of fate and destiny, I think every culture has some way of representing in media and literature the fate of two lovers. Fate is a core theme in the film and it should remain as is. I wouldn’t change anything about how fate is depicted in the original Your Name. I think translating this concept of fate from Japanese to American audiences will be a great challenge, but I think some cultural knowledge like this would be very educational to foreigners and hopefully will also break some Asian stereotypes.
One issue that comes with this is that if Taki were a Japanese-American teenager, how would he know of the cultural customs of Japan? Well, my version of Taki probably would have visited Japan a few times. He is also raised by Japanese parents who might have shared a few stories of their own. Furthermore, when it comes to body swapping, Taki would probably be guided by Mitsuha’s grandmother, so Taki wouldn’t technically be ‘lost in translation.’ One example is the scene when Mitsuha (with Taki’s soul inside) and her family go to the mountain to put the kuchikamizake in the shrine. It is there that Taki learns about the idea of musubi.
Still Worried About The Remake?
These are just some of my suggestions and hopes for the Your Name live-action film. I know many fans are still (and will always be) upset because an adaptation can’t beat the original. However, whenever an adaptation is released for a movie or TV show, I always keep in mind that it is just one of many viewers’ or readers’ perspective on the medium. When this live-action gets released, I will probably watch it with that same mindset: this is just one individual’s reading of Your Name and it isn’t the end of the world if the film isn’t as great as it should be.
And a message to J.J. Abrams and company: you have an opportunity to redefine how the anime market is seen in mainstream American media. From what I’ve seen so far in American adaptations of Asian media, Hollywood has failed to represent Asian-Americans and Asian culture properly. However, this is a great chance for you to accurately (in the best of your ability) portray Japanese culture to others. From the suggestions that I made in this article, you also have a chance in your live-action version of Your Name to explore themes and concepts like immigration, the crossing of cultural boundaries, Asian-American youth culture, and the struggles of self-identity which can open up cultural discourse among viewers. I strongly urge you to change the Hollywood narrative on Asian-Americans and anime adaptations and create a live-action Your Name film that pleases current fans and brings in new fans. I will remain optimistic about this adaptation and I look forward to its theatrical release.