Return to Your Name film guide
Pre-Screening Discussion

The conceptual questions outlined above are complex and intended to help instructors introduce the film and lead class discussion after students have watched the film. In simplified form, they can also serve as pre-screening discussion questions that prime students to watch the film analytically:

  1. What national traumas have you experienced? How are these events referenced and depicted in the media that you consume? Directly? Indirectly? Something in between?
  2. What stories about time travel have you read/watched? Why are time travel narratives appealing? What does time travel allow us to do (about the past)?
  3. The movie identifies a vague desire for a missing “something,” perhaps a home, a sense of belonging, another person, etc. Why are such desires powerful? How do you understand nostalgia? Why do people living in a chaotic present indulge in nostalgic fantasies of a seemingly better past (e.g., MAGA)?
  4. Cell phones and network technologies are ways of staying in touch and documenting our own lives. What is your own relationship to your cell phone? Does it store who you are?
  5. Why are traditions, religious ceremonies, and even superstitions appealing? Consider, for example, how popular astrology has become in recent years. Can these practices provide a sense of order in an otherwise overwhelming reality?
  6. Even though Your Name ultimately resolves any implication of queerness by returning the characters to their bodies and joining them in a straight union, it plays with gender stereotypes, sometimes for laughs and sometimes more meaningfully. What gender stereotypes do you expect to see in a Japanese film?
  7. What is the relationship between the rural and the urban in the United States? How is the rural represented in popular media? What films and TV shows deal with this binary?
  8. The film pokes fun at commodified traditions that urban consumers eat up as “rural authenticity.” While Japanese traditions are necessarily distinct from American ones, what similar dynamics play out in the US (e.g., “cabin core”)?

After a brief discussion, students will be ready to watch the film critically. Noticing details that pertain to the questions above as they watch will further equip them to analyze the film in a post-screening discussion and any related writing assignments. Some things to watch for:

  • missing or forgetting something/someone
  • Examples of “tradition” and characters’ responses to it
  • How the city is represented (bustling, stylish) vs. the countryside (quaint)
  • Scenes of disaster and its aftermath (e.g., news reports)
  • Cell phones as devices that help characters navigate the body swaps
  • Taki’s drawings and his response to the photo exhibit
  • Thresholds, moments and places when characters can pass between realms

How to Write about Film: Your Name

The first step to writing (or talking) analytically about a film is watching the film attentively. The questions in the previous section are intended to focus students’ attention on “big ideas” that the film engages with, but it’s also important for students to notice details that pertain to these larger problematics. Rather than approaching a film with preconceived notions of what it will mean, students should watch (and later, write) critically, aware of their assumptions and attentive to moments that deviate from what they might expect.

David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephens’ Writing Analytically is an excellent textbook resource for writing about film and informs the approaches and exercises in this section. Though the authors don’t focus on film, the book works through multiple examples of visual analysis and provides clear, helpful advice for writing. My own craft improves every time I teach with it. The approach and exercises presented here are inspired by years of teaching with this book. One of the book’s most helpful distillations of what is means to think analytically is the simple framing: “Although X appears to account for Z, Y accounts for it better” (154). This approach adds tension to the argumentation, allowing students to develop a nuanced argument that can account for contradictions and anomalies in the film.

For example, if a student is interested Japanese folk traditions, they might write an essay about the film’s representation of Itomori’s local culture. It’s not hard to make the case that the film romanticizes the rural, but this essay will not be very interesting as a piece of analysis. We might add tension to this argument by considering how the film ironically undercuts romanticization. Rather than thinking about the film in terms of “either/or,” it’s most productive to consider such contradictory meanings in tension with each other. Tweaking the approach form Writing Analytically, we might say, “Although Your Name seems to indulge in rural nostalgia, its representation of folk traditions actually critically address the romanticization of Japanese folk culture by urban audience.”  Let’s see how we might analyze key scenes from the film in detail to make this case!

The most effective way to get to a more complex argument is to shift from “what” (content) questions to “how” (form) questions. Writing about film works most effectively when visual analysis supports an original argument about film form. Writing about film form demands attentive, analytical viewing and facility with film terminology. First, let’s deal with attentive, analytical viewing. Close attention to specific moments in the film allows students to tease out tensions and complexities rather than regurgitate generalizations. It’s very unlikely that a film congeals exactly as expected and careful viewing will reward us with curious anomalies ripe for analysis. The goal is to observe details and figure how they work together in the film to make meaning. Writing Analytically calls the practice of organizing evidence into patterns and contrasts “The Method.” Collecting “data points” and thinking about how they relate to each other (as patterns or contrasts), allows students to “induce” what the film means. Inductive reasoning relies on details to develop a general argument (deductive reasoning begins with a general argument). Shifting from deductive to inductive reasoning when writing about a film will help students avoid producing argumentation that is repetitive and predictable. If students begin with an obvious claim, “Wandering Earth is a propagandistic story about China’s future role in the world,” they can come up with a relatively straightforward and boring essay that proves this claim multiple times. In this situation, we can push students to think about how China’s future is imagined in relation to its past.

In the following section, we will work through the steps of formulating an argument about Your Name’s representation of folk culture. First, we will consider several exercises that can help students organize their observations about the film and begin developing arguments. Each exercise can be performed in class as a group activity or assigned as homework. In either case, I have found it helpful for students to maintain an online text document in which they keep a record of notes pertaining to each exercise. As the student’s thinking about the film evolves, this “journal” maintains a record of their work and helps them scaffold more complex arguments, and ultimately, essays. While throughout this module, I will refer to the final product of film analysis as an “essay,” it’s important to note that the exercises and analytical approaches presented here are foundational to multiple modes of intellectual expression. Producing engaging podcast episodes, videos, presentations, posters, etc. about a film relies also on watching critically and thinking analytically.

Key film terms will be marked in bold—a glossary linked here (insert link) offers definitions of these terms with screenshots and clips from that illustrate them. The glossary is not exhaustive, but should be adequate for an introductory class. A more exhaustive list of film terms can be readily found on Yale’s Film Analysis website. David Bordwell’s Film Art is a classic textbook that defines terms and provides excellent examples of visual analysis.

  1. The analytical process begins before we watch the film!

The module includes a list of questions to consider with students before they watch the film. Instead of attending to each question exhaustively, I suggest that teachers choose questions based on their syllabus. Which questions resonate with themes you’ve already covered? Does the film present a complimentary or opposing (or both) viewpoint to materials that you’ve already covered? It’s likely that your class does not concern East Asian history, but there are many themes in Your Name that intersect with issues pertinent to life in contemporary America.

Have you screened nostalgic films or discussed the politics of nostalgia (e.g., MAGA)? Have you discussed the disparity between rural and urban areas? How does an urban audience “consume” rural America? What performances or heritage sites seem synonymous with the “folk”? How is the idea of the “folk” produced and what happens to it once it is commercialized?

Such an in-class discussion will allow students to approach the film with some personal/intellectual investment in its main issues. Upon watching, they can discover continuities between the material you’ve already covered and a new, initially unfamiliar, film.

  1. The analytical process continues as we watch the film!

For our purposes, watching a film consists of two things: the film itself and the experience of viewing the film. Watching the film itself analytically means students should pay attention to the film form, the how. The how includes both visual elements and narrative structure. When students think a detail is significant, they should note it down. For example, if we are interested in the role of the news media, we want to take note of scenes that represent reporters, newspapers, cameras, televisions, etc. What details do we notice? How do these scenes fit into the film? How do they read against each other?

Ask students to take note of four or five scenes that catch their attention. What stands out as significant? What doesn’t make sense? An anomaly can be very productive for analysis, because it invites us to think more deeply about what is going on in the film. Students should make note of the scene’s context and jot down some details that they notice.

The environment in which we watch the film is also important, especially since all three films considered in our modules are box office hits that are now accessible in the US mainly as streaming titles. It’s not always possible to watch a film together in a cinematic screening. Nevertheless, I encourage in-class film screenings because they offer a unique, communal experience of a film. The audience in a cinema is rarely entirely silent. We emote, sometimes verbally, as we watch a film. A film screening is not only a great way to focus attention on the film, but also a way of “sensing” the audience response to the film and feeling oneself as part of that audience. Wandering Earth is a thrilling, tense film that many, many people watched in the cinema. What kind of knowledge can students glean by paying attention to the “vibe” in the room? By contrast, if students watch alone, how do they experience the film? Where can they turn to validate/express their emotions and reactions to the film? When does their attention drift? Considering these questions might not always explicitly contribute to writing an essay, but it should get students thinking about how the circumstances of watching a film might alter their relationship to the piece of media they are consuming.

  1. After watching, students should return to their notes and begin “unpacking” the moments in the film they consider to be intriguing.

It’s ok if it’s not initially entirely clear why a given moment is striking. Conversely, it’s important not to write off a moment because it’s “obviously” significant. To figure out precisely what is happening in a given sequence, we need to return to it and watch it again, carefully. What makes this moment significant? How does it relate to the rest of the film? Does it stand out because it clashes with what we have seen, is it an amplification of something that occurred in an earlier moment?

To begin, students can choose two to three moments in the film from their notes. To watch these scenes again, they will need access to the film, ideally, the entire film. If that is not possible, you can provide students with a selection of clips from the film that they can choose from.

Writing Analytically suggests a “10 on 1” approach (103-108) that asks students to choose one example from the “whole” (in this case, a single scene from the film) that is representative of the argument they are beginning to formulate. As the authors note, “10” is an arbitrary figure that simply denotes multiple observations about a single example (103).

In a film class, students would be asked to conduct a shot by shot “sequence analysis” of the significant scene. Such an assignment, the bedrock of film analysis, calls for students to identify each shot, describing its length, mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing, sound, and what happens in the shot. This can be a time-consuming exercise, because the average shot length in a contemporary film is only a few seconds. The benefit of recording this information about each shot, however, is that students will notice many details. The sheer amount of time necessary to complete a sequence analysis (potentially hours of work for minutes of film) is a testament to the amount of information that is jam packed into a film. Watching closely focuses attention on the way the film is put together.

For a more approachable exercise for beginners, let’s combine some aspects of sequence analysis and the “10 on 1” approach to analyze a sequence that takes place when the film’s earthbound protagonists reach the ruins of Shanghai.

CLIP @ 14:37 to 17:20


  • Low angle shot of the stage, Mitsuha and her sister are dancing, clad in traditional clothing
  • Medium shot of of an electronic boombox and a torch—the boombox emits “traditional music while the torch crackles
  • Cut back to the stage, where the camera frames Mitsuha’s dancing body, following her movements in close-up shots
  • Cut to a long shot of an area on the right of the stage where people look on the performance, Mitusha and her sister dance in the background, the dancing sisters are in focus while the foreground is not, but we hear a conversation going on in the audience
  • Cut to a shot facing the onlookers, now framing Sayaka and Tessie in a medium shot
  • Cut to a point of high angle view shot, presumably from Tessie’s perspective, looking down at the dancing Mitsuha, as before, the camera follows her moves, but her body is framed less tightly, medium shot
  • Next few shots show rice in a close-up and then Mitsuha chewing the rice in a medium close-up
  • Another cut back to the side where Sayaka and Tessie look onto the scene, with Sayaka wondering about the relevance of this ritual
  • As soon as Sayaka questions the ritual, a group of bullies from school shows up, we see them join the audience as they walk into a low angle long shot of the shrine
  • Medium close-up of Mitsuha spitting out chewed rice
  • Bullies look on in disgust in a high angle medium shot (Mitsuha’s POV?)
  • Another low angle shot shows the stage, only now the bully’s comment that Mitsuha is chewing and spitting out rice “in front of everybody” further highlights that she is on display
  • Pink, very feminine “advertisement” that pictures Mitsuha selling her sake to make lots of money and move to Tokyo

The list of observations above does not include all of the shots in this three minute sequence (there are ), but it does give us a sense of the sequence’s complex presentation of the former metropolis.

Having gathered these observations, students should notice patterns and contrasts that appear in the scene. For example:

  • The sequence features multiple acts of looking, from in front and the side of the stage
  • Mitsuha and her sister are reverently performing the ceremony, and the grandmother looks on seriously, but the townsfolk, though watching, seem a little indifferent to the sacredness of the ceremony
  • Mitusha’s contemporaries also seem alienated by the ritual, though only the bullies maliciously so
  • Contrast between modern technology and “ancient” aura
  • Contrast between sacred ritual and commodified product

The next exercise calls for students to pick several of the most significant observations they have made and keep pushing deeper. For example, let’s focus on the following points and consider how they represent Mitsuha’s performance.

  • Low angle shot of the stage, Mitsuha and her sister are dancing, clad in traditional clothing
    • The low angle framing suggests a reverent gaze
    • Well lit stage highlights the performers as they dance, they are the subject of everyone’s gaze
    • But the “traditional” vibe here is undercut by the presence of a sound system, visible next to the stage (and show in a closer framing in the next shot)
    • Tension between “authenticity” and “artifice”?
  • Next few shots show rice in a close-up and then Mitsuha chewing the rice in a medium close-up
    • The ritual gets a lot of visual attention, fetishization of the ceremony
    • We see Mitsuha chew and then spit the rice back out, which feels very suggestive
    • Unclear how the audience is supposed to feel—Tessie (enamored of Mitsuha) defends the strange custom while bullies who arrive on scene are grossed out
    • Mitsuha herself notices them and is chagrined, “breaking character” on stage to wince at the insults
  • Pink, very feminine “advertisement” that pictures Mitsuha selling her sake to make lots of money and move to Tokyo
    • Cutaway to what Mitusha imagines an advertisement of her selling Shrine Maiden Sake would look like
    • The ad is suggestive, underscoring that the alcohol is “prepared by a current female high school student,” which is both a comical contrast with the “tradition” implied in the practice and a sexualization of the young woman
    • “picture included” further underscores the sexualized nature of the ad, since the buyers are consuming not only the drink, but also visually consuming Mitsuha

This is a lot of information. How can we narrow it down and focus in on an argument? At this point, drafting an analytical description of the scene is a good exercise. When students use the details that they have observed and organized to write a description of what happens in the scene, they are already writing analytically.

Analytical Description

Although Your Name indulges in showing local Japanese traditions, it also ironically undercuts this nostalgic tone. In a sequence early in the film, Mitsuha and her younger sister perform on stage at their Shinto temple. The dance is presented in reverent way: an initial high angle shot looks up at the stage where Mitsuha and her sister dance, positioning the viewer among the audience. The film then cuts to a medium shot of a tape player next to a brightly lit torch. The torch crackles loudly, lending the scene a sense of earthliness, a connection to the past when fire, not electricity provided warmth and light. The fire’s crackle, however, is accompanied by traditional music played back on a modern device. The absence of live music here underscores that tradition can only be brought back partially, with the help of modern technological devices that provide the right ambiance.

The scene is explicitly about display: the two sisters are the subjected to the gaze of townspeople. They appear on stage and an audience gathers below them. There are more onlookers to the side of the stage as well. The film shows both a random couple and then Mitsuha’s friends looking onto the stage from this position while commenting on the performance. A love-struck Tessie even gets a point -of-view shot that follows Mitsuha’s form as she dances on stage. To bring even more attention to the strangeness of the ritual, the film details the process of chewing sake in close-up shots that bring the film’s viewers closer to the ritual than the audience who is there in person. What begins as a reverent sequence, however, soon turns embarrassing. When school bullies arrive beneath the stage and look up at Mitsuha, they express disgust and cringe that she is “in front of everyone.” A cut to Mitsuha’s face as she flinches in a medium close-up shot alerts us that she noticed this slight. Her focused performance, a performance during which she seemed not to notice being watched, is interrupted as she becomes hyper aware that “everyone” is in fact looking at her.

Indeed, she is terribly embarrassed. Later, when the two sisters are going home after the performance, the younger girl suggests that instead of worrying about the bullies, Mitsuha should market their tradition by selling their ritual sake in Tokyo, packing the traditional liquor with photos and videos of herself. Mitsuha considers the possibility and imagines what an ad of her “Shrine Maiden Sake” might look like. The film cuts to the imagined ad. The sake ad proclaims that the beverage was “prepared by a current female high school student” and that a “real photo is included.” Mitsuha is suddenly embarrassed and dismisses the idea. The moment is a parody of various “traditional” products which appeal nostalgically to urban consumers who buy “authenticity,” in a bottle, so to speak. Yet the film ultimately redeems this strange beverage, derived from very old brewing practices unknown to most modern Japanese people. When the Tokyo urbanite Taki drinks the sake later in the film, it allows him to travel through time and body swap one last time to save Mitsuha and her village. Tradition is thus both embraced as a cosmic solution that alleviates guilt about 3/11 by allowing a rescue and presented parodically as a commodity that sells well to urban audiences.

How can these paragraph be enriched and expanded with details and close analysis?

  • How does Mitsuha relate to her own role in preserving tradition? She is embarrassed to be making the sake—why?
  • How is tradition gendered? How is it sexualized? On one hand, Mitsuha is embarrassed because her classmates think the chewed sake is gross, but the “high school” “shrine maiden” advertisement might also embarrass her for more unsettling reasons.
  • What does tradition “do” here? How does the town relate to the performance? What irony do you see in the younger sister’s suggestion that Mitsuha use the sake to make money to leave Itomori and move to Tokyo?
  1. Once an argument begins emerging from these details, students can get to the work of producing a compelling and original “evolving” argument (per Writing Analytically).

Where else does “tradition” appear in the film? How is it presented and what is its significance to the plot? What is Taki’s relationship to folk culture? For that matter, how do the rural folks feel about these Shinto rituals? We started with the general claim that: “Although Your Name seems to indulge in rural nostalgia, its representation of folk traditions actually critically address the romanticization of Japanese folk culture by urban audience.”

We might now narrow in on: “Your Name both indulges in nostalgia and continually ironically deflates the ‘charm’ of the rural. Mitsuha’s role as a shrine maiden is particularly contradictory since it is at once reverently as an exotic performance for the film’s viewers and mocked as a cringey practice by the film’s other characters. Moreover, the ritual’s commodification is explicitly satirized as a saleable commodity that can be packaged (like a film) for sale in the city.”

Notice that all three films covered in these modules struggle to overcome contradictions related to their status as entertainment cinema!

General Tips

  • Ask students to start by choosing a detail in the film that is significant to them, ideally a moment that they don’t quite know what to make of. The process of writing a film analysis is more (personally) rewarding when a student both generates a question and answers it with evidence that they have identified in the film.
  • Ask students to provide screenshots of the scenes they are writing about. While streaming services sometimes prevent taking screenshots, it is legal to capture a still image from an online video.
  • Film analysis demands careful attention and precise use of film terminology, but it’s a fulfilling and fun activity. Students should choose moments that excite them and learn how to explain what it is them that fascinates them about a give sequence. 

Your Name in Comparative Perspective

  • Korean Pork Belly Rhapsody, a recent Netflix show about Korea’s pork belly gastronomic tradition, gives another perspective on the rural/urban binary. Like the Japanese local traditions in Your Name, pork belly is presented as both a Korean “essence” and a commodity in contemporary cities.
  • Li Ziqi is a content creator who rose to fame in China in recent years. Her YouTube Channel features short videos in which Li performs various types of rural activities in a highly nostalgic setting. These videos are not representative of actual rural life in China. They create a nostalgic atmosphere for the enjoyment of urban viewers. There is relatively little dialogue, so the videos can be watched without knowledge of Chinese.
  • The 2021 Chinese romantic television show Meet Yourself, available on the streaming site Viki, is another recent Chinese media production that imagines the countryside as a place personal renewal and of escape from the stress of living in China’s cities.
  • Suzume, Shinkai’s most recent film, was just released theatrically but will soon be available online. Like Your Name, Suzume uses Japanese “tradition” to prevent catastrophes. Unlike Your Name, the film’s plot directly references 3/11. Almost all of the themes discussed above can relate to Suzume as well as they do to Your Name.
  • Shin Godzilla, a 2016 film by Anno Hideaki, is a retelling of the Godzilla story for a post 3/11 Japan. It is available to rent online. By extension, the 2006 Korean film The Host by Bong Joon-ho of Parasite fame, imagines a Godzilla type monster who ravished Seoul before being vanquished by an ordinary family.
  • Tim Shao-Hung Teng argues that Your Name belongs to the so-called sekai-kei genre in which “romance between a heroine and male protagonist unfolds against an ongoing apocalyptic crisis” (462). Teng cites the television show Neon Genesis Evangelion as an example of the genre. Students who watch anime may be familiar with the program.

Supplementary Materials

  • Tamaki Mihic’s Re-Imagining Japan after Fukushima is available Open Access on JSTOR. Chapter 4 addresses Your Name specifically.
  • The University of Chicago Center for East Asian Studies provides this pdf of resources on 3/11.
  • Kazuoko Stone and Laurel Singleton of the Program for Teaching East Asia at the University of Colorado prepared a lesson plan on 3/11 available here.
  • Tim Graf & Jakob Montrasio’s 2012 The Soul of Zen is a documentary about Buddhist responses to the disaster. It is available on Vimeo in a version edited specifically for educators. Remember that Your Name is about Shinto traditions, which differ from Buddhist practices. Shinto practices predate Buddhism, which arrived in Japan by transmission from the Asian mainland. The two religions are not adversarial but co-exist, often complementing each other.