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Your Name Demonstrates Love over Distance} ?> In a number of east Asian countries, there’s a concept known as the red string of fate. Frequently portrayed in anime and manga, it’s a red cord, invisible to the human eye, connecting two people, usually in a romantic sense. No matter how far apart they are or what obstacles stand in their way, the pair’s fingers (and hearts) are always linked. It’s a charming idea, but one that doesn’t seem to fit in this modern world. I wonder, what would happen if that antiquated string was traded for a digital thread? Would modern technology change the way we view love?
Your Name (Kimi no Na wa), the animated film from Makoto Shinkai that became one of Japan’s all-time highest grossing movies, explores the ideas of romance, fate, and digital technology. It features an unlikely pair: Mitsuha, the eldest daughter in a family tied to a rural community’s Shinto shrine, and Taki, a boy who lives in the megacity of Tokyo and works part-time as a waiter and bus boy. Tied together through a supernatural and cosmic phenomenon, the high schoolers begin switching bodies on a regular basis; the only way they can communicate with one another about the situation is by leaving messages on notepads, scribbling marks on their own bodies, and more typically, typing in a journaling app on their phones.
Their odd way of communication is played for laughs as they chronicle their days, often laying down ground rules and leaving snarky remarks, for each other. That surface-level conversation reminds me of my own smartphone habits. I’m frequently in dialogue with friends through Facebook, Twitter, and other apps, and though I communicate with more people than I would without technology, I have to wonder, are those talks meaningful? As with Mitsuha and Taki’s, so many of my discussions are surface-level, consisting of trivial quips or regurgitated information.
Any relationship involves that kind of surface-level discussion, but it’s when we spend time together and during the one-on-one interactions that we deepen our friendships. Liking a friend’s status on Facebook doesn’t make up for that, and, sadly, that is the only interaction I have with some of the people I used to be close to. It’s when I take the time to have deeper conversations, online or otherwise, that I maintain a solid relationship.
Mitsuha and Taki are more immediately fighting against distance and time in Your Name. The two discover that they can’t seem to meet face to face, even though they both desperately want to; they can only communicate from afar. And then, suddenly, they can’t. The cosmic events that put Mitsuha and Taki in each other’s lives now halt their communication in all ways, threatening to tear them apart, but the pair fight against it because they’ve come to care for one another, not because of their back-and-forth bickering, but because they’ve literally lived in each other’s shoes. Mitsuha knows the real Taki and he the real her, and that intimacy becomes something worth caring about and fighting for.
It takes work to build a relationship that’s intimate. For our protagonists, they involved themselves in each other’s lives, pushing one another to grow. What could have stayed at this cold, robotic sort of level grows into a warm relationship that sprouted through action. It reminds me of the times I’ve participated in my church’s discipleship program. I’ve often been paired with college students who are very different from me; our relationships don’t have a natural chemistry. But as we share about our lives and as I spend time with them and keep them accountable, our relationships flourish and become more genuine and significant.
I think the director of Your Name, Makoto Shinkai, also knows a considerable amount about developing warm relationships from something more naturally cold. His movies have always been noted for their incredible animation (he’s long been heralded as the successor to Hayao Miyazaki) and he loves to explore significant themes like separation and distance, but they are covered by an icy tone. His films have all too often lacked heart.
In Mitsuha and Taki, Shinkai found that heart by developing two characters who are genuine, who care about the people around them and about each other, and are willing to do what’s necessary to demonstrate that kind of love. I think that’s the point, the key to it all: love takes effort. Love takes work. And when that work is taken on, meaningful relationship can grow.
I can’t be a Mitsuha or Taki to everybody; I don’t have the time, energy, or ability (or if I’m being completely honest, desire) to cross substantial barriers and physically be with all the people in my life. Communicating online is sometimes the only reasonable way I can reach people. But even if digital messaging is a naturally unsympathetic medium, I can imbue our discussions with warmth. I can work to love those people in my life that are otherwise separated from me. And in doing so, I can demonstrate to my friends that my life is connected to theirs, neither through a string of fate or romance nor by a digital signal, but rather through the effort it takes to build intimacy and show them how much I really care.
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