YOUR NAME is a Japanese animated film that was the biggest hit in Japan last year and has now opened at about 300 theaters in the U.S., including several in the New York area, where it can be seen in English-dubbed and English-subtitled versions. It earned $1.6 million this past weekend, which is pretty damned good for that number of theaters. The Japanese title is KIMI NO NA WA, which might be more accurately translated as YOUR NAME IS… I actually prefer the Japanese title to the more prosaic one chosen for the English version or even the Japanese title with the English one in parentheses, like this: KIMI NO NA WA (YOUR NAME), although that might get a bit unwieldy for multiplex marquees. In any event, it’s a magnificent film by any name and it deserves credit for the simple fact that it doesn’t look like any other film that’s out in the marketplace right now. For one thing, it’s 2-D animation at a time when Hollywood seems to make only 3-D CGI animated films now. It’s also filled with light and color, two elements seemingly absent from just about every science fiction/fantasy film made by Hollywood these days. And YOUR NAME is indeed a science fiction-fantasy film, but, more importantly, it’s a contemporary romance.
One of the absolute highlights of my trip to Japan was the visit to Toei Kyoto Studio Park, in Kyoto, on Wed. March 30, 2016. This is a combination theme park, museum, and studio run by the Toei Company, one of the leading film, TV and animation studios in Japan. Since 1950, Toei has been turning out a steady array of Japanese pop culture staples, including samurai and yakuza movies, martial arts films, superhero TV shows, animated sci-fi and all sorts of other time-honored Japanese genres. The Toei Kyoto Studio Park offers a samurai village backlot that visitors can explore to their heart’s desire, as well as a visitors center filled with galleries devoted to Toei’s 60-year animation output, live-action tokusatsu and sentai TV series, Japanese film history in general, and the singer Hibari Misora. The backlot is in active use as a set for Toei TV shows, plenty of which I’ve seen, and I will share images from shows that were filmed there. It was an immersion in Japanese pop culture history like I’ve never experienced anywhere else.
Back in 2010, I participated in DVD Talk’s December Holiday Challenge, which propelled me to go through my collection and dig out Christmas-themed movies and TV episodes from all sorts of places. I was especially curious to locate Christmas-themed anime episodes and found quite a few. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
What’s been particularly gratifying about this challenge for me is the chance it gives me to go through my anime collection and find Christmas-themed films and TV episodes. I’ve screened 17 so far, from TOKYO GODFATHERS and Pokémon to episodes of “Little Women” and “The Trapp Family Singers.” The oldest so far is from 1981 and the newest is from 2003. The funniest is the “Urusei Yatsura” episode, “The House of Mendou – Summer X’mas,” where Ataru, Lum and the entire cast are motivated to climb this giant Christmas tree in Mendou’s massive mansion by specific rewards waiting at the top. The most unusual was “Mahoromatic Automatic Maiden,” which is about a high-tech female combat android who’s retired from active duty and serves as a maid to an orphaned high school boy, much to the jealous ire of his friends at school. (Kind of like Ataru and Lum in “Urusei Yatsura,” only the combat android is much nicer.)
The biggest challenge was watching the “Trapp Family” episodes in Japanese with no subtitles. I only figured out they had Christmas in them from pictures on the VHS case. They sing a number of familiar Christmas carols in Japanese, though. That was nice.
I’ve seen every Godzilla film, most of them multiple times. As a child I saw the first one in its English-dubbed version, GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, when it was first shown on TV 56 years ago. When I first heard about the new Hollywood version of GODZILLA, I was skeptical. We all know what the 1998 Hollywood version was like. What further damage could they do now? When I saw the first trailer where we got to see what he looked like, I was pleased that they kept the design of the original Japanese Godzilla, but they’d made him way too big. I started thinking about the physics of a creature like that. What did he eat? How did he stand up? How’d he have enough energy to propel himself? Wouldn’t he have gotten more easily tired or exhausted at that size? I’d never had questions like that when watching Japanese Godzilla movies. I knew what he ate. At lunchtime, Haruo Nakajima, the actor who put on the rubber suit to play Godzilla in the first ten Godzilla movies, would take off the Godzilla head and remove the Godzilla gloves and get a pair of chopsticks and eat a Bento box lunch like everyone else on the crew, followed by a cigarette, and then put the costume parts back on and go back to knocking down buildings in a miniature city on a Toho soundstage. The character was human-scaled. He moved like a living being because—guess what?—he was played by a living being.
Two of my last three entries were devoted to classic American TV shows, which means I’ve been neglecting one of my main interests—classic Japanese TV shows! There has been so much good stuff coming out on DVD in the last few years, both animated and live-action, that I’ve been building up an impossible backlog of shows. The big difference between my interests in classic American TV and Japanese TV is that the Japanese continue to turn out shows that engage me, so that the backlog includes shows from the 1960s to the 2010s! (My most recent American TV box set is probably “Police Story” Season One, from 1973!) The earliest Japanese TV show I have is the animated “Astro Boy,” which began its run in 1963, and the earliest live-action Japanese TV show I have is “Ultra Q,” which began its run in 1966. The latest in my collection is Volume 1 of “Ressha Sentai ToQger,” the latest sentai show in Japan, which began its run on Feb. 16 of this year, a month ago today! (More on sentai in a moment.) In between, I have dozens of shows, some complete and some in only a single volume of episodes, some on VHS, many on DVD, mostly animated, but many live-action as well. Most of the live-action shows in my collection fall into the tokusatsu category, a term for live-action special effects shows in the vein of “Ultraman” and “Kamen Rider.”