‘Your Name’ opens Boston Japanese film festival

‘Your Name’ opens Boston Japanese film festival
Attendees view the “Kawaii - Vacanies” painting in Takashi Murakami’s “Lineage of Eccentrics” exhibit. / Photo by Kiana Jones

By Kiana Jones and Samuel Kim, news staff

The inaugural Boston Festival of Films from Japan, or BFFJ, opened Feb. 1 with a sold-out screening of the highest-grossing anime film to date, “Your Name,” written by Japanese director Makoto Shinkai.

The event, held at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, was co-presented with Anime Boston, the largest fan-run anime convention in the Northeast. Before and after the film, attendees were able to view Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami’s “Lineage of Eccentrics” exhibit in the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery.

The festival will run until Feb. 28 and will feature several other films from Japan including “Blade of the Immortal,” directed by Takashi Miike, “Over the Fence,” directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita and “Jellyfish Eyes,” directed by Murakami.

Hundreds of attendees waited in the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art as they waited to enter the adjacent Remis Auditorium. A DJ blared funky Japanese pop on his mixer as attendees snacked on Japanese sweets and drinks like Ramune, a carbonated drink, and mochi, sticky rice cake.

The DJ was Ian Condry, a professor of Japanese cultural studies at MIT. Condry specializes on cultural anthropology with concentrations in media, popular culture and globalization in contemporary Japan and the United States. He’s also published a book titled “Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization” examining the ethnography of the Japanese rap music scene.

“I’ve been a fan of Japanese pop for 24 years,” Condry said. “It’s so special because it sounds like other global forms of music, but has its own unique style. It’s amazing how music around the world influences each other, and how music genres constantly evolve as a result of this.”

Erin O’Connell, a volunteer with Anime Boston, said that films like “Your Name” are widely popular because the audience is able to connect to the characters, though they are just animations.

“All sorts of storylines are possible in anime,” O’Connell said. “That is why anime has such a great and loyal following because different fans can relate to different storylines.”

Two decades ago, it would take several years for films to reach the United States after its native release date. However, quick streaming services such as Crunchyroll, Hidive, and FunimationNow provide content to consumers instantly, changing how films are seen today.

“What’s popular in Japan now is instantly popular in the U.S. Where before, 10-15 years ago, it wasn’t like that,” said Chris O’Connell, director of public relations at Anime Boston and president of New England Anime Society. “We’ve had world premieres where we’ve premiered shows before they premiere in Japan and people love that.”

The rise in popularity of anime in the United States over the years is evident in Anime Boston’s exponential growth rate, starting at only 3,000 people in attendance to today’s whopping 25,000.

“We [the volunteers of Anime Boston] love it so much. We put so many hours to it but the best part is seeing all the fans enjoying it and meeting others who share the same interests.”

After mingling for more than an hour, attendees trickled into Remis. In less than ten minutes, nearly all 375 of the seats were filled. Another large group made their way to the 150-seat Alfond Auditorium located in the lower level of the American Wing to view the screening.

Before the film started, Chris O’Connell announced that Anime Boston would give out two tickets to one person for their convention that will run from Mar. 30 – April 1. O’Connell noted that in Japan, one of the most popular ways to decide upon things is to play rock, paper and scissors. He thus selected two people from the crowd to vie for the grand prize, and a local, Sarah Bither, won the tickets.

“I’m ecstatic,” Bither said. “I’m a huge fan of Japanese culture, history and anime.”

Bither, who resided in the Kyoto Prefecture, taught English to elementary and middle school students with the JET Program USA (Japan Exchange and Teaching) for several years.

“It’s unreal [living in Japan], it’s like going to another planet. If you go to Europe, you can exist and it’s pretty much the same, but [in] Japan, everything is different.”

The visually stunning film “Your Name” encompasses the values of friendship and loyalty and the magic of love and destiny. This thought-provoking and humorous film follows the journey of Mitsuha and Taki who exchange bodies after witnessing a comet in the night sky.

Artistically-inclined Taki, who studies in Tokyo, dreams of becoming an architect while Mitsuha dreams of escaping her small rural town for the big city. The following morning the two high-school students wake up in each other’s bodies, believing it is the most realistic dream they’ve ever experienced. However, upon returning to their normal life every other day, they realize the reactions from others means something unexplainable is occurring. This bond leads them to help each through hardships. They become true soulmates when Taki strives to prevent the obliteration of Mitsuha’s world from a meteor shower.

People had mixed reactions to the film. Many could be heard saying “That was really good,” but some did not enjoy the dubbed version as much.

“The film lost its meaning because it wasn’t in Japanese, especially the songs,” said Boston University student Spencer Tai. “Some of the original Japanese songs from the film were changed to American songs.”

Richard Nguyen, another BU student, had similar views of the screening.

“They added extra words and took away some words because it didn’t fit with the screen time of  [the characters] talking. So they have to [make this adjustment] to synchronize it,” Nguyen said.

Afterwards, dozens including BU student Adam Martinez headed toward the Murakami exhibit.

“It was a really good movie and [Shinkai] is one of the best directors in anime,” Martinez said. “The color of the exhibit was also incredible. It was beautiful – I loved the art.”

The MFA credited UNIQLO USA, Japanese casual wear fashion retailer, for making this film festival possible through their newly established 10-year partnership and thanked them for their ongoing support toward new programs highlighting Japanese art and culture.

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