This is Makoto Shinkai’s interview from the Kimi no Na wa (Your Name) Visual Guide Book, released in August 2016.
Kimi no Na wa was given the catchphrase “a story of love and miracles.” As the director, at what point did you realize you were creating a love story?
At first I didn’t intend on drawing a love story. Rather, the motif was simply a story about two people who are fated to meet, but who haven’t met yet. Without knowing each other, the two would go about their lives until meeting at some point in the future — I wanted to explore how they would feel before they met. When I put it that way, it’s like an odd take on the classic “boy meets girl” story. Putting aside whether they fall in love, I wanted to describe the meeting of a boy and a girl. It’s a universal story, and I thought I’d portray it straightforwardly as an entertaining anime. But I didn’t have the resources to do this on my own, so I turned the project into a film and rounded up funds and staff.
Some motifs that emerge from the film are “dreams” and the “Torikaebaya”-esque  premise of a boy and girl swapping places.
I always thought about dreams as a motif, but I was especially attracted to Ono no Komachi’s  “Yume to Shiriseba Samezaramashi wo” Waka poem (which means “had I known it was a dream, I wouldn’t have woken up”) . Twisting that idea a little bit, it became “meeting someone in a dream,” and then “dreaming as another person who is not themselves, and therefore meeting them indirectly.”
Once I settled on the premise of swapping bodies in their dreams, I realized it fit my own visual style perfectly. Imagine a country girl seeing Tokyo for the first time: I felt our team had already experienced something like this by fastidiously drawing scenery and making it feel alive up until now. If we could wrap that visual imagery into a storybook-like project, we thought it’d be a hit.
The idea of swapping bodies and meeting — yet not quite meeting — one another is very prominent. They are incredibly close, yet incredibly far. As the director, would you say there is a specific reason why it had to be Taki and Mitsuha who swapped?
There’s no reason. Why did Mitsuha extend her arm and meet with Taki? Why did Mitsuha get wrapped up in Taki’s dreams? These questions came up when planning the script, but we concluded it just wasn’t important. Even in reality, why do people meet, and why do people fall in love? You can’t explain a precise reason for it, right? It feels as if you’ve met and fallen in love before you realize it.
If you think about it, swapping places in a dream is similar. It’s just a device for them to meet in the end, which is the story’s hook. I wanted to draw those tiny exchanges of the heart on a huge, cosmic scale, so I introduced both the “braid” and “comet” devices as well.
How did you come up with the braid motif?
It was from the sci-fi concept that all consciousness is connected by strings on the quantum level. That also led me to the idea of having the whole town vanish. I was wondering how a string could reveal some unique characteristic of the town, and I arrived at the legend of the braid. The pattern on Mitsuha’s braid isn’t shown clearly in the movie, but when it’s untied, you can see that it’s a sunset in the middle of a lake. That design was based on Itomori and Katawaredoki.
The comet is also an impactful motif, isn’t it?
First and foremost, I thought of the comet as powerful visual symbol, in terms of animation. For example, in Garden of Words, it was rain that I focused on. This time, I thought I would emphasize natural and celestial phenomena. They’re both such strong visual features, and they’re beautiful to look at. After, when I got the idea of the legend that’s been passed down since ancient times, I thought, “what’s a celestial phenomenon that occurs in cycles?” And I arrived at the comet. This idea also led me to portray Mitsuha as a miko.
The topic was prompted by natural disasters in recent years. Some natural disasters are both cyclic and regional; for example, they say that in places that were struck by tsunami long ago, you can find the remnants of stone monuments with warnings inscribed. But most of the time, those warnings are forgotten with time. The folklore, the miko dance, the braid, even the formation of Itomori itself, they all contain traces of the comet.
Please tell us the origins of the name “Kimi no Na wa.”
At first I wanted to leave it as the title of Ono no Komachi’s poem, “Yume to Shiriseba.” It didn’t really describe the story of the film, but I thought it had a nice ring to it. Later, I came up with the slogan for Crossroad  — “Kimi wa Kono Sekai no, Hanbun” (You Are Half of This World) — from the idea that each person is half of the other. Along those lines, I gave the movie a tentative title that would simply describe it: “Katawaredoki no Koi”.
Still, that name wasn’t too catchy, and I wasn’t sure what to do. One day I was talking to Producer Koichiro Ito , and he suggested “Kimi no Na wa.” I had thought of that idea too, but there was already a famous work by that name , so I hesitated. But thinking about it now, I’m glad we chose this title in the end.
This project’s staffing was like a miracle encounter, huh? Much like the film itself.
Yes, it was miraculous timing that brought miraculous people together. I just so happened to reach out to RADWIMPS on their 10-year anniversary since their major debut, while the famed Masashi Ando was ready to work on a film production and Masayoshi Tanaka decided to participate despite being busy. It’s a lineup that’ll probably never happen again. I really took that thought to heart.
So you asked for RADWIMPS specifically?
If I were simply asked to name an artist I like, I would have never expected there’d be a chance to work with them (laughs). But Genki Kawamura (Producer) and Yojiro Noda (RADWIMPS) became acquainted, and we ended up asking them to do the background music too. This was an amazing turn of events, but I wasn’t sure how fitting them into the production process would affect things, because there were parts of the film that weren’t clear yet. However, I had them record one song based on the script, and the moment I heard it, my worries washed away. It was amazing work. The situation turned into, “how can I maximize the effectiveness of this music through visuals?”
What kind of changes did you make, specifically?
Zenzenzense captured the feeling of the first script, but we had to rewrite the lyrics for the movie version. The part that goes, “Watashitachi koereru ka na? / kono saki no mirai, kazoekirenu konnan wo / Ittarou? Futari nara / waratte kaeriuchi ni kitto dekiru sa” . These lines are very universal. They somewhat express Taki and Mitsuha’s feelings, but they also describe youth as a whole. In order to make sure viewers heard the lyrics, I cut the dialogue from that section .
Usually when I’m working on a project, the plan is already laid out. But this time, we were blessed with shooting star-like talent far beyond the scope of the original proposal, and we went past the plan I had laid out. The project was layered with contributions from everyone. It was a fortunate miscalculation.
Ryunosuke Kamiki and Mone Kamishiraishi’s voices work very well together.
I was always a fan of Kamiki as an actor, but I was surprised he was also talented as a voice actor. He’s an expert. Meanwhile, Kamishiraishi is modest about her performance, but to me, her and Mitsuha are one and the same. Plus, she is an expert actress as well. She was able to grasp the nuance in her early performances based on video storyboards. This was a huge plus that I didn’t expect.
And as for Tanaka and Ando whom you mentioned earlier, could you introduce their work for us?
Tanaka’s characters are cute yet cool. They’re protagonists that anyone could empathize with and enjoy from the heart. Meanwhile, Ando works with those characters with ease. Put simply, he lives up to his name. There’s the notion that you have to approach filmmaking with earnestness and the right kind of effort; you can’t fight against the movie itself. Ando proved this to us once again in his work. I tip my hat to both of them.
As the director, did you have the sense that you were taking on something new, thematically?
I would say the themes are the logical conclusion of my previous works. Taki says, “I’m always searching for something, or someone,” but I figured people would associate it with 5 Centimeters Per Second, so I thought I’d bring back the idea of “communicating without meeting” from Voices of a Distant Star. However, I wanted to change the way the story was told.
There are many fans who compare this film to The Place Promised In Our Early Days. Compared to 5cm/s, the ending feels very different.
At the world premier in Los Angeles, I was thinking during the screening that this was the ending that the whole audience was waiting for. There were guests in the audience who had been fans of mine for the past 10 years. For them, the question of whether Taki and Mitsuha would meet again seemed like a big concern. Everyone let out a cry of despair when the two crossed paths on the bridge near the end (laughs). Like, “it’s just going to end here?” From that scene on, everyone’s feelings went through ups and downs. The music was playing, the Tokyo scenery was in the background, and finally Taki and Mitsuha appeared — the excitement was palpable. Then they crossed paths on the train and the audience cheered out loud. I think everyone kept mentally cheering after that (laughs).
So that was your goal.
I also intended Garden of Words to make viewers happy in the end. However, I’ve heard that some people felt gloomy by the end. This time, Okudera says to Taki, “you’ll become happy too, someday.” That might be a vague statement, but it’s what I personally want to convey to viewers.
It’s both Okudera’s message to Taki and your message to viewers?
I thought it’d be nice to make a movie that wishes for the happiness of others. But depending on your perspective, you can see the ending as nothing but a new beginning — there’s no promise about what will happen after. I always imbue my endings with this semi-conclusive feeling. All of my past works share that trait. If asked why, I could only say that it’s because this is a reflection of reality.
That said, in the epilogue when RADWIMPS sings Nandemonaiya and the lyrics go “just a little bit more, let’s stick a little bit closer,” the feeling is absolutely perfect. When Taki is job hunting in the end, I made him say, “I wonder if Tokyo will disappear someday.” It’s the feeling that everyday life might one day vanish, and everyone will keep carrying on, day by day. Even so, we’d want to keep living on. We’d want to be with the person we love.
For the first time, I realized that happiness dwells within that very desire. I wanted to do a movie like this since my previous works, but I was finally able to put it into a form that I was happy with.
 Classical Japanese story about two imperial siblings with the mannerisms of the opposite sex https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torikaebaya_Monogatari
 Classical Japanese poet https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ono_no_Komachi
 Full poem at the bottom of this blog post, TL included https://akitahaiku.com/2009/11/28/haiku-by-professor-alexander-dolin-part-3/
 A cute cram school commercial by Shinkai https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfbNS_GKhPw
 Related https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/feature/2017-04-28/interview-comix-wave-koichiro-ito/.115324
 He doesn’t specify, but maybe it was this? https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/君の名は
 Rough TL: “Can we cross them? / The countless troubles that lie ahead? / You said it, right? If it’s the two of us / we’ll keep laughing and fight through it”
 This confused me for a long time, but the “前前前世 (Movie Ver.)” in the soundtrack is NOT the version he’s talking about. If you watch the montage in the movie, you’ll hear those lines added in. The movie version shifts things around and cuts the bridge that you hear in both 前前前世 (Movie Ver.) and 前前前世 (Original Ver.).