East Meets West #12: Your Name .vs. 17 Again

This week I continue my next batch of posts for the East Meets West series, dedicated to comparing/contrasting anime and Western media of similar premises, and, based on a specific set of criteria, decide which of the two is, in my fallible opinion, the superior version. As the year wraps up, for the second month in a row I’ve decided to make an anime film the topic of comparison. This time we explore the body swap genre, where a character switches minds with someone else and attempt to live their life. It can either take the form of a school-kid who wants to know what it’s like to be an adult, two friends who want to know what it’s like to live as the other person, or estranged family members. The most popular anime that involves this is Makoto Shinkai’s widely successful 2016 hit, Your Name. Western media has more famous examples of this through Freaky Friday or It’s A Boy/Girl Thing. However, the one I’m most familiar with, and enjoyed the most is Zac Efron’s 2009 high school flick 17 Again.

EASTERN COMPETITOR #12: YOUR NAME

For one thing, these “star-crossed lovers” are nothing like “Romeo and Juliet”

Your Name follows the story of Taki Tachibana, a boy living amidst the hustle-and-bustle of Tokyo, and Mitsuha Miyamizu, a small-town girl living in Itomori. One day, for no reason at all, their minds end up being placed in each others’ bodies, forcing them to live the other person in an awkward fashion: Taki fails at adjusting to Mitsuha’s school and religious duties to the family, while Mitsuha succeeds in winning over the friendship of Taki’s boss at work. This charade continues until one day, Taki notices the swapping has ceased, and becomes more engrossed with who Mitsuha is after a phone call to her number goes unnoticed. With his friends he travels in search of her using a detailed drawing of (unknown to him) Itomori as his guide, only to be devastated to realize that the town, and all its inhabitants, Mitsuha included, were killed as a result of a comet crashing three years ago. This is the part where it gets good. He travels to a rooftop shrine that Mitsuha’s family took care of, consumes a magical time-travelling drink known as kuchikamisake, lands in her body on the day of the comet’s impact, mystically meets her on the same mountaintop he travelled to, switch back to their bodies and proceeds to avert many casualties in the greatest sequence of events ever. The film ends with them meeting each other in Tokyo several years after the incident to the film’s famous last words, “Your name is…”

In my opinion, this is the second-greatest anime film ever, behind End of Evangelion; and my opinion is shared by a vast majority of film critics who have hailed it as director Makoto Shinkai’s crowning achievement – and that’s saying a lot considering how similar most of his works are. Winning 9 awards from 2016 to 2018, grossing over $100 million USD in the Japanese theatrical market (the only non-Miyazaki film to do this as of now), and garnering a wide release in every continent except Africa, Your Name is the pinnacle of anime movies from the 2010s.

WESTERN COMPETITOR #12: 17 AGAIN

This movie is the epitome of Bowling For Soup’s “High School Never Ends”

What happens when you combine a washed-up high school basketball star, teen pregnancy, and a 20-year tenure at a dead-end salesman job? You get 37-year-old Mike O’Donnell (played by Matthew Perry from Friends), who is upset with the way adulthood has turned out for him. Divorced from his wife Scarlet and his two kids Alex and Maggie taking no delight in being around him, a trip to his former high school (also his kids’ current place of learning) allows him to contemplate his high school days, and meet with a janitor who he shares a desire to relive them. To his shock, he wakes up the next day as his 17-year-old self (portrayed by High School Musical‘s Zac Efron), and at his millionaire best friend Ned’s suggestion, re-enrolls back in high school to discover what the true purpose of this incident is. That comes in the form of rescuing his kids from bad influences: namely, his daughter’s aggressive boyfriend, and his son’s social awkwardness and lack of confidence, and fixing the trust that was broken thanks to his current mistakes.

I remember seeing trailers for this movie on YTV when it first came out, and initially brushed it off as too corny. It wasn’t until 2017 (no coincidence there) that I decided to check this film out after seeing a co-worker’s review of it, and to my surprise, it was actually pretty good. Still corny in some places, but the plot’s delivery, moral message, and my own love for films that play on a trip to nostalgia upped its reputation in my eyes. Like Your Name it managed to gross $100 million during its theatrical run, in part due to Zac Efron’s charisma and marketability, but didn’t get much recognition after that.

THE SHOWDOWN

To wrap up the first year of the East Meets West rendition of posts, I’ll be analyzing these two movies through the lens of seven categories, centered around character relationships and plot points, including:

  • Best Funny Moment
  • Best Romantic Duet
  • Best Side Plots
  • Best Dramatic Moment
  • Best Body Swap
  • Best Story
  • Best Purveyor Of Life Lessons

CATEGORY #1: BEST FUNNY MOMENT

I woke up in the morning and I found my best friend had reverted back to 17 years of age… so I had a Star Wars fight with him!

The funniest scenes from these movies came after the characters realized what went wrong with their bodies, each handled differently. In 17 Again, Mike returns home after falling into a watery vortex following the worst day of his life. He wakes up, prepares for another day of looking for work, when suddenly he sees in the mirror that he’s physically reverted to be 20 years younger! What follows is Mike trying to convince a surprised Ned of his true identity, while fending off his attacks that culminates in a lightsaber fight, using the traditional method of telling him secrets that only he knows, but the latter dismisses as either “Googlable”, “public record”, or “covered by the local news”. Despite the fact that this type of scene has been overdone for example in Big or Jack Frost, Ned’s ballistic freak-out made it memorably hilarious.

Your Name has Taki and Mitsuha living their daily lives as each other, all while RADWIMPS’ joyful soundtrack Zenzenzense covers the montage with an uplifting beat. No matter how much they try to regulate their lives, by leaving daily reports and setting guidelines on how they should act when the switch happens, they only end up getting each other into extremely awkward situations for our laughs, like Mitsuha becoming popular with boys and Taki using girly honorifics in front of his friends, that lead to them bickering with each other – all while trying to decipher why they’re switching bodies with each other. The good part is that it at least, for the time being, indicates Your Name‘s premise, which can’t be easily deciphered from the poster alone. Not to mention, they’re like brother and sister when they communicate despite being total strangers, whereas usually the switch happens between two people who know each other personally. Unique, exciting, and a good twist to what it’s about is what makes this funny sequence fun to watch.

This is about the only funny thing happening in Your Name

Nevertheless, I’m inclined to say that 17 Again had the better comedic moment, largely due to Ned’s reaction. From the first moment he mistakenly suspects a break-in, the way he reacts is so full of spontaneity that it eclipses what Your Name had to offer on its own.

17 AGAIN 1, YOUR NAME 0

CATEGORY #2: BEST ROMANTIC DUET

Oh yeah, I want to give a quick moment to discuss the romantic pairings of Taki/Mitsuha and Mike/Scarlet, with the former known as “Mark”, or Ned’s son in the second half. The first starts during an unexpected summer morning when they wake up in each other’s bodies, and for the first part they show irritation at each other. Gender aside, this is also in part due to their different personalities: Mitsuha is a boisterous, independent, and ambitious girl who detests her shrine maiden work, while Taki is content with his busy schedule and tends to act aloof on occasion. Their first meeting came a day before Mitsuha’s town is obliterated, and although Taki is confused to who she is, she leaves him a ribbon as a memento and a way of saying “Call me maybe”. It wouldn’t be until the final act that they meet face-to-face and promise not only to create history, but also find each other once everything’s settled, writing their names down on their palms to remind themselves of this day – but things don’t go as planned for another 8 years. Honestly, I don’t blame you if you’ve read this after seeing the movie and went “Huh?” because the movie makes it a lot more confusing than it actually is described here.

Mike and Scarlet’s relationship was quite rough, but it only becomes awkward once Zac Efron steps into the scene

The second is more straightforward, featuring a husband and wife going through a civil divorce as a result of the former entering a mid-life crisis. Mike blames Scarlet for his problems, though it was him who chose to abandon his shot at a college scholarship in favor of starting a family with her, and this is seen by the stagnant nature of his backyard projects, as outlined in their first meeting. Once he turns into “Mark”, their relationship becomes at best platonic – she chats about her marital issues, they dance under the stars, and comment on how well their children have grown. At the end of the movie, they reconcile with each other, with Mike realizing that he had missed out on his family as the best thing that has ever happened to him, and vows to make it up to her as Scarlet cancels the divorce. All things considered, it’s straightforward, comes off as awe-inspiring at times, and would be my pick, if it weren’t for the cliché ending and the fact that Mike woos her as his 17-year-old self.

So yeah, I’m just going to give Your Name the stars for this; in spite of its finnicky lead-up and the confusing timeline, it’s adorable, realistic and heartwarming to see blossom – even better when you consider what follows after their first-ever in-person encounter on that mountain.

In before one of the greatest anime scenes ever concocted, Taki gives Mitsuha the equivalent of his phone number

YOUR NAME 1, 17 AGAIN 1

CATEGORY #3: BEST SIDE PLOTS

By “side plots” I’m referring to the different situations the characters experience with the world around them, of which 17 Again is a mixed bag of these. On one side, you can see him teach an entire class to rightfully reject premarital sex and contraception, much to the chagrin of Maggie’s boyfriend Sam; rebuffs three girls who are infatuated with him and briefly teaches them self-respect; and helps Alex get better at basketball and build enough confidence to ask his crush out; then he goes off and starts a party at his friend Ned’s house without his consent – keep in mind this guy’s 37 years old in reality and that kind of stuff is way past his age. When he tries to make amends with Alex and Maggie, it’s heartwarming, nice to watch and contributes to a positive message, while also being tantamount to his character development. There’s also the one where Ned tries to win over the school principal through extravagant dresses and gifts, to the point of stalking her when she leaves school, and thanks to quoting The Lord Of The Rings, gets her in the end.

Your Name explores Taki and Mitsuha’s life in Tokyo and Itomori respectively. Taki’s side plot briefly explores the connection with his friends and most especially, his boss, Ms. Okudera, who ends up dating temporarily. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work out well because he’s spaced out due to pondering about recent events. It’s Mitsuha’s side plot arc that is more developed, since it goes out of the way to explore her family’s religious connections: her father was a Shinto priest who married and later rejected it for a secular role, much to her grandmother’s chagrin; and now she’s expected to carry on the family traditions of preparing kuchikamisake and weaving braided cords (symbolizing the flow of time – an important feature, mind you). This timeline is explored vividly when Taki travels back to Mitsuha’s body on the day of the comet crash, while he narrates his desire to change the future for her sake. Even her friends get some time in the spotlight, and are seen playing an important role in the film’s conclusion, which is cool.

I’m honestly inclined to say that Your Name had better side plots, and the one thing that’s making me say this is the delivery. Sure, 17 Again has plenty of side plots thanks to Mike; where he goes right, like with Alex and Maggie, it’s admirable to root for him. But I can’t help how uninteresting his life is besides that. You never see him make time for himself or try to fit in, and that’s where Your Name excels in this diversification of roles. Mitsuha longs for a life where she isn’t viewed as weird for what she does, and one can sympathize with Taki trying to find his path in this world in the first half, and with friends who support them to the end, ultimately their experiences were more refreshing to see.

YOUR NAME 2, 17 AGAIN 1

CATEGORY #4: BEST DRAMATIC MOMENT

“Our only chance to repair the present is in the past, at the point where the timeline skewed into this tangent.”
– Mitsuha Miyamizu, 2013

Nothing beats the last 30 minutes of Your Name. Taki and Mitsuha’s surreal meet-up, the affirmation of their feelings for each other, and all that, followed by – I’ll say it again: the part where it gets good – off goes Mitsuha down the mountain, and back to her village, with her friends, aware of the impending doom, carrying off the plan to disrupt the town and get them to safety. It’s a race against time, with the comet above her ready to make its fatal impact. Suddenly, her friends are caught in the supposed act of mischief, while she goes to confront her father and remedy him to the dangerous future, and try, somehow to save as many people as she can. She doesn’t stop the comet from making its violent descent, but a majority of the village’s residents are saved by taking shelter at the high school: Mitsuha and her family included, setting the stage for the final part where a now-adult Taki and Mitsuha reunite in a quiet Tokyo neighborhood. I cannot tell you how elated I was when the two finally made their first greeting in 8 years to that iconic line.

This scene is about as epic as Your Name gets. The time travel part was awesome; the near-apocalyptic context of Itomori’s impending fate made this moment full of suspenseful energy; and all this was made possible thanks to Taki and Mitsuha’s moment just prior to it, as well as a good dose of my favourite song from the soundtrack, Sparkle once again by RADWIMPS. The closest thing we get to dramatic in 17 Again is when Mike dramatically reads a “letter”, actually a blank page with directions to the courtroom where Scarlet’s divorce proceedings are starting, where he tries to salvage what’s left of his crumbling marriage. Even then it’s only a brief moment compared to the aforementioned sequence in Your Name – itself a very surprising turn of events that secures this plus moment in my book.

YOUR NAME 3, 17 AGAIN 1

CATEGORY #5: BEST BODY SWAP

In contrast, 17 Again has the better body swap sequence. After losing his job and insulting his manager in the process, Mike travels to pick up his kids from high school. He finds his way inside the building, and sees a trophy case containing a picture of his younger self with the basketball team. His nostalgic reminiscing of those happier days shifts into an encounter with a janitor who claims to have known him for a long time, and discusses with him whether or not he would like to re-live that part of his life. To which Mike wistfully replies: “Of course I want to live in the past again. Everything was so much better then… I’d do it all over again if I could.” The janitor approvingly nods, and on his way home on a dark evening (after another falling out with his wife and kids) he sees the same individual perched atop a bridge, and is dragged into a watery vortex which triggers his physical reversion.

It’s not every day you meet a friendly janitor and chat about your high school achievements like it’s no big deal

To be honest, the reason why this segment trumps whatever Your Name did is because reminiscing about the past is something that I’ve labored on a lot ever since the Covfefe-19 farce started, something that was unthinkable prior to this. Compared to Your Name, the body swap is never really explained outside of a really confusing set of events which I can only attribute to an extraordinary act of God. Despite the attempts made by fans to explain this away, usually involving Mitsuha’s family background and the thread of life I’m still not satisfied with it. So in short, the contextual background behind Mike’s body swap with his younger self stung deep with me, and gets this point down.

17 AGAIN 2, YOUR NAME 3

CATEGORY #6: BEST STORY

So far, the two films have been neck-and-neck when it comes to what’s likable about them from the above categories. 17 Again shines with its humor and body swapping setup, while Your Name had an adorable romantic duo, extra-plot things and superior drama. All that’s left is to see what their overall impact on the story is like. Your Name does this first by keeping the viewer in the dark – firstly, through its ambiguous title. What’s this going to be about, you might ask? Is it going to be about pen pals, or amnesia given the wording? Actually, as the viewer will find out, it’s more than just that – it goes from Freaky Friday to Romeo and Juliet and then ends as Back To The Future. Watching this film is like a roller-coaster ride, with all its bumps, thrills and turns which make the long time waiting in the lineup worth it.

When it comes to 17 Again, you’re thrown into the plot almost immediately, by showing Mike and Scarlet embracing each other and promising to start a family together. Compared to the other movie you’ll have an easier time navigating through the body swap, categorizing characters’ allegiances, or the overall message (more on that next), and there’s a simplistic beauty in how direct Western body swap films are with setting up the background of events and letting it flow as expected. Laudable as it is, the story is pretty meager with all the recognizable tropes embedded to it, that it could be easily mistaken for another high school themed comedy. In addition, this whole scenario could have been avoided 20 years prior – all Mike had to do was talk to Scarlet during halftime/after the game/fake a bathroom break to talk to Scarlet, address the issue with a college counsellor, and there you have it, or so I believe; no more mid-life crisis, no more bad future!

But what made Your Name special was the mystique behind the story’s embodiment and how it soared over these tropes to make something unique – something 17 Again lacked. So I’ll have to draw a line sooner and give Your Name the benefit of the doubt in having the better storyline.

YOUR NAME 4, 17 AGAIN 2

CATEGORY #7: BEST PURVEYOR OF LIFE LESSONS

Both films aren’t entertainment for the sake of entertainment alone. Rather, the movies have their own set of morals to exude. 17 Again has at its principal core the Biblical proverb “Remember not former things, and look not on things of old.” (Isaiah 43:18) Mike learns this the hard way by being withdrawn from his kids at the beginning; as “Mark” he successfully reconnects with them, learns about and resolves their problems, and helps them to discover themselves. Through this, he realizes the stupidity of his pent-up anger, and vows to make things up by handing the ball over to his son during a pivotal basketball game, telling him “It’s your time to shine now”, reconciling with Scarlet and promising to enjoy their life and put his family’s prerogatives first. It teaches that there are no reset buttons for us, but rather a “Continue” screen which we can choose to accept to set forth a new path for ourselves, and those we love.

Shortly before the divorce proceedings, Mike reads a “letter” to Scarlet to apologize for the mistkaes he’s made, and how much dwelling on the past ruined him

With regards to Your Name I would say the message is transcendental – “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6). At the beginning of the body-swap incident, both of our characters are confused as to why this is happening. They complain to each other, castigate their faults, and get into plenty of sticky situations due to the other’s interference. Underlying it, however, is a deeper message: all this happened for a reason, which becomes clearer as the film goes on. Mitsuha begins to realize the value of her life and learns not to hate that her life isn’t that exciting, and to cherish the people that matter the most to her; hence why she rejects that selfish attitude from before, and goes to save her town at the end. Taki, on the other hand, is able to make friends who he still talks to by the time he graduates from university, and acquires a broadened worldview because he learns about life from Mitsuha’s lens.

You might say that this equally applies to the former flick. True, but unlike 17 Again where it’s clear from the start, Your Name keeps things abstract but slowly builds up on things as the minutes pass. It starts by making the body swap seem mysterious, builds up the tension and progresses the storyline and characters before ending with a wham on why it all happened – just like a slice of reality. God’s Divine Providence therefore, is more beautifully architected here, shedding color to the film’s ever-growing acclaim. It can’t be helped –Your Name‘s lesson is better handled and more approachable to embrace. With all facts considered, it has my pick as the better telling of the body swap story.

FINAL SCORE: YOUR NAME 5, 17 AGAIN 2

The scene that made schoolboys, hopeless romantics and film critics act like they’ve won the Stanley Cup

CONCLUSION

Whenever I look at a list of the best body swap films, most will include 17 Again and/or Your Name being on it, and I can understand that. Regardless of this analysis’ outcome, I want to say that both of these films, beneath the charming cast, memorable quotes and the fun adventures had gripping tales that far exceeded my initial expectations. The idea of someone regressing to their high school self as a journey of self-discovery, or two kids swapping bodies as a means of getting them together ended up being more than another high school coming-of-age story or tired Makoto Shinkai romance, and how it was carried out still has a profound effect on my thoughts and ponderings to this day. Consequently, I wouldn’t mind watching either one of these films again, and think to myself: “If I woke up to myself 7 years ago, how would things have been if I acted differently?” or “What if that magical kuchikamisake was real, and I replaced Pope John XXIII with Cardinal Ottaviani?”

ROUNDUP FOR THE 2021 EAST MEETS WEST SERIES
East Winners: 8 (Steins; Gate, Boku No Hero Academia, Sonic X, One Punch Man, Konosuba, Nichijou, My Neighbor Totoro, Your Name)

West Winners: 4 (The Mighty Ducks, Father Ted, The Last Airbender, Spongebob Squarepants)

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