'Your Name': How the Japanese Animated Feature Became an Oscar Contender

'Your Name' still - H 2016
Courtesy of Toho

With 27 animated features submitted for Oscar consideration, it’s a competitive year in the category, and a number of independents, in addition to the studio films, are generating buzz.

One is Your Name, a Japanese anime feature from director Makoto Shinkai (Voices of a Distant Star), which got a boost this week when it was named best animated film by the L.A. Film Critics.

It also had success when the Annie Award nominations for animation were announced recently. It earned nominations for best independent animated feature and best direction. In the directing category, Shinkai, 43, is nominated alongside the directors of Zootopia, Kubo and the Two Strings, My Life as a Zucchini and The Red Turtle.

Your Name — which dominated the Chinese box office last weekend with $41.3 million — also looks poised to do sizable global business. In the U.S., it just completed its Oscar-qualifying run, and its North American distributor, Funimation Films, is now planning a 2017 release.

The hand-drawn film starts with an unusual boy-meets-girl narrative. It follows two teenagers, Mitsuha and Taki, who mysteriously and randomly swap bodies. They are strangers, but they build a strong connection as their lives become intertwined. As they try to meet, they also aim to use their power to prevent a disaster.

Shinkai says the story, which he wrote in 2014, was inspired by an Ono no Komachi’s poem that he quoted: “Before I slept I thought of him, and into dream he strayed. Had I known it was a dream, in dream I would have stayed.” He also found inspiration from the changeling, or swapped child, in folklore. Also, the 2011 earthquake in Japan made him think about natural disasters and ask the question: “What if?”

Animated at Shinkai’s CoMix Wave Films in Tokyo, the story switches back and forth between Taki’s life in Tokyo — a look inspired by the director’s own neighborhood — and a fictitious countryside, where Mitsuha resides. In addition to photo-real environments, the director also wanted to bring to the story the sort of "dynamic" camerawork that one normally would see in live-action production.