Your Name: Finding Love Across Possible Worlds?
The premise of the anime feature film Your Name (2016) is simple enough. A love story between two worlds, one involving a disaster and a switch back and forth between worlds with the prospect of preventing the death of one of the two characters. In one world – the events have already happened, wherein the other – they are about to happen. Both characters switch back and forth in their sleep to the body of the other character.
Time-traveling movies like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) have used a similar dilemma like this before. Traveling time to change the events of the past. But Your Name does not get caught up in the ‘grandfather paradox’ like consequences of this. Instead, it skips over that problem, although taking the concept of changing events a step further. In certain respects, this movie represents the next natural step.
With that being said, a lot of dispute rests over whether this movie makes sense. The concept of possible worlds is not new to academics, particularly philosophers. David Lewis (1986) discusses their ramifications at length on logic which has led others to explore the ramifications of possible worlds. Physicists have also come up with multi-verse theories to pose similar questions. Audiences watch movies expecting a full explanation of how things occurred, happy endings or not.
Looking into this love story, and exploring the metaphysics of it all – Does this movie represent an impossible twist, or does that conclusion rest on a miss understanding of what is actually happening in the film? For those of you who have not seen the movie, and already feel I have said too much, this is your point to turn away. Is a love story between different worlds possible?
Back and Forth Between Worlds
During one scene of the movie, the Juliet of this movie named Mitsuha sits alongside her two friends Teshi and Sayaka talking about the day before. Mitsuha finds out that strange things happened the day earlier. She turned up to school in the wrong dress and was behaving like she was not herself. It is here that a clue is laid for the audience to explain the course of events about the take hold. Teshi mentions Everett’s multiverse theory.
Hugh Everett was a physicist who in 1954 came up with an interesting spin-off consequence of quantum mechanics. Each outcome, he proposed, entails a new universe. Each of these co-exists alongside each other and entails some of the strange phenomena linked to causality in particle physics. The idea did not go down well at the time amongst his colleagues. Ultimately, Everett was forced into writing a different version of the idea. Yet interestingly, the application of co-existing worlds wasn’t just seen as a spin-off of particle physics, but also an integral part of possible outcomes each involving possible worlds.
Years later, David Lewis posed an interesting challenge within philosophy to the idea that there is one world. Possible worlds, he suggested, result from different decisions made by the occupants as well as their metaphysical make up and the possible forms of these worlds occupants. For every world to be imagined, there is a possible world that looks exactly like it. However, Lewis considers these worlds separate from each other. Occupants of these worlds are only aware of the existence of these other possible worlds because they imagine them.
When it comes to the twist of Your Name, the Japanese religion Shinto and the supernatural are used to explain how the events of one world on a separate timeline can intertwine with another. Taki and his love interest Mitsuha are not just separated by the fact they are in different worlds. They are also separated by death. When Taki drinks the sake made by Mitsuha this is said to be the point where her spirit meets his and allows for the following scene where the two characters meet at twilight.
That seems the intended use of the spiritual theme of this movie paying off in the twist involving these two characters. Where the consequence of him telling her how to save herself and change her world meaning she goes off to stop the coming disaster from killing her and all the town’s occupants. So what about possible worlds? As well-intentioned as that explanation is, in my view the possible worlds one is actually better by itself without needing the mystical tie in, as beautiful and artful as it is.
The Role of the Red Ribbon
Later on in the film, Mitsuha goes to meet Taki. Catching several trains from her small town in the countryside to the city of Tokyo only to discover that Taki has no idea who she is. Taki asks who she is, and Mitsuha passes him a red ribbon before the train doors were closed. Yet the red ribbon is often used to indicate a stroke of destiny in their interactions. The fact that they meet on a train only reinforces the idea that their tracks are meant to intersect.
People often imagine their ideal partner before meeting them. The features of an imagined perfect partner can at times become what people use to find their actual partners. An Associate Professor at National University of Singapore, Neil Sinhababu explores the connection that possible worlds may well have to finding love across possible worlds in his paper Possible Girls. Not only is this paper brilliant but it raises another possible interpretation of the movie Your Name.
Using the groundwork laid out by Lewis, Sinhababu (2008) points out that if you can imagine your perfect girl, you can also imagine a world in which they receive your message. Imagining a girl in a possible world who imagines you as their perfect guy and the premise that for every possibility there is a world entails some interesting consequences. Why stop there though? If you write notes then imagine them reading it then you can surely write back and forth imagining their reactions and writing it in.
The tie-in with the movie Your Name is that exactly this process is happening through dreams. The messages they imagine for each other are what they end up remembering. In a critical scene in the movie, Taki discovers that Mitsuha is dead as a result of her town being hit by a comet. The messages Mitsuha left on his phone disappear and he is left with the feeling that perhaps he just dreamed all these experiences of being Mitsuha. Perhaps it is this point where he forces himself to go a step further. What if there is a possible world where Mitsuha knew her town was to be destroyed?
No Time Traveling Takes Place
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a movie about time traveling, and a really good one. It gets caught up on the puzzle of how time traveling means changing things that have an effect down the line on the present. The lead character travels time to steal food from the fridge only to mean her sister misses out. That happens across the story in different ways.
But Your Name is about finding love, not the consequences of changing things. This is why the possible world’s interpretation is so important. If Your Name does not involve possible worlds, it would entail a loop that Mitsuha and Taki would end up stuck in. If Taki does save Mistusha then he meets her when he travels to her town. The means he does not drink the sake up the mountain and save her. Not every grandfather paradox actually involves a grandfather.
In another paper written by Lewis, another problem looms over Your Name being a time-traveling movie. If the audience wants Mitsuha and Taki to have their happy ending together, one world that has contradictory events would not get you there. Instead, Lewis (1976) solves the grandfather paradox by suggesting that changes in events as a result of time mean the creation of a new possible world. This avoids the contradiction and the loop where events are done only to be undone. That would be really deflating for the audience invested in wanting Mitsuha and Taki together in the end.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time does have themes involving love, but that is not the main theme like it is with Your Name. Hence why Your Name is the next step alone rather than just a repeat of things done elsewhere. What separates Your Name from time-traveling movies is that it does not want to tie the audience in a knot with the story. It wants to create suspense by leaving the audience with the sense that actually maybe things will not work out in the end for Mitsuha and Taki. That brings the audience to the edge of their seat in a way that is really clever.
More Than Just a Dream
Mitsuha and Taki are dreaming about possible worlds. When Taki falls asleep only to have an experience in Mitsuha’s body in her small town, he has traveled to another possible world. But the thing about possible worlds is that they do not always end up necessarily being different from our own. The thing that makes a possible world different from the actual is really that the actual is the one that you happen to live in. Possible worlds can turn out to be the actual world when they involve future events.
Taki wants to meet Mitsuha so badly, and visa versa, that they both bring that experience into reality. It just so happens that there is a world where Mitsuha learned about her town being destroyed through her obsession with Taki rather than actually learning it from Taki. The movie is actually set in two possible worlds and broken between them. One where Taki meets Mitsuha only to go on and die and one where Mitsuha happened to survive the disaster that struck her town and go on to meet Taki at the end of the film. There was already a warning about spoilers.
That should not leave one with a deflated sense that the events of this movie were just a dream. Instead, the final encounter between these characters is rather one of circumstantial love. Both characters have been dreaming about each other all along, thinking that neither was actually in their world. But the final scene changes all that. As it just so happens that the person they have been thinking about or dreaming about in this case, also lives in their actual world. Finding love across possible worlds is possible.
But for this interpretation to work, a few things have to be overlooked. In particular, the fact that they recognize each other at certain points and have met out of circumstance. Whilst the twilight scene does also present a problem, it does seem to represent a dream. The two points in the film where the characters meet are the ribbon scene on the train in the beginning and the end outside the railway station.
Mitsuha’s and Taki’s dreams being of people who live in their world does not change that they are only dreams. Perhaps Mitusha and Taki know each other from before the train red ribbon scene and their dreams are a play on memories from their subconscious. The marks left on their hands were made by them. Perhaps the wonder built into this film is the result of what we are not shown in the film rather than what we are shown.
Excuse me, What is your Name?
People have pointed out problems with this movie. Outside of Shinto and the supernatural, the explanation of this movie does not work. Although the movie has been widely seen by audiences both in and outside of Japan, people have been still left wondering exactly how it all worked. Although some will scoff at the idea that another explanation is required, actually an explanation that uses possible worlds has a lot to offer.
For some people, explanations involving religion do not work. Some of the scenes of this movie force more of a buy-in to the mysterious results of the spiritual and supernatural world than some are willing to make. For them, the movie can come off as a bit strange even if you do want to see the two main characters find each other. Each to their own, but even if that is how one thinks, that should not make this movie anything less than great. That aspect can be overlooked.
We all long for that special person as Taki and Mitsuha do. Dreaming of someone that one has a crush on, wishing that one could be with a person for longer when death takes them away. This is a normal experience. That is what makes this movie special. It plays on the sense that love can be found in places people do not expect to find it. It also plays on how people find themselves connected in different ways.
Close to the end of the movie, Taki is given the chance to write on the hand of Mitsuha. She wakes up with the message on her hand. Had there been a chance that she knew then she would have written his name. But knowing that writing ‘I love you’ was more important, she chose to write that as his message instead. So that Mitsuha knew that, whatever was about to happen next. Is love between worlds possible? Yes, it is.
Everett, H. (1957). The Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. (Doctoral Dissertation) Princeton University. Retrieved from: https://www.p bs.org/wgbh/n ova/manyworlds/pdf/dissertation.pdf
Hooper, R. (2014 September 24) The Man Who Gave Us the Multiverse. New Scientist. Retrieved from: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn26261-hugh-everett-the-man-who-gave-us-the-multiverse/
Lewis, D. (1986). On the Plurality of Worlds. Blackwell: Oxford
Lewis, D. (1976). The Paradoxes of Time Travel. American Philosophical Quarterly 13(2), 145-152. DOI:10.1093/0195036468.003.0003
Sinhababu, N. (2008). Possible girls. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 89(2), 254-260. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0114.2008.00319.x
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