Sometimes it seems like everyone in the world loves Makoto Shinkai’s hit anime, but the Academy is apparently not so impressed.
Despite having its initial Japanese release back in August, anime phenomenon Your Name was recently back at the top of Japan’s weekly box office rankings. But while director Makoto Shinkai’s latest film isn’t running out of steam, it is slowly running out of achievements to add to its impressive list of accomplishments.
The tale of body-swapping teens Taki and Mitsuha was not only the highest-earning movie of any kind in Japan during 2016, it’s already set records for Japanese-produced theatrical features overseas as well. With its overwhelming popular and critical success, fans started dreaming of one more mountain to climb: winning an Academy Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
That’s an honor that the Academy has bestowed only once before upon an anime, when it gave the Oscar for Best Animated Feature to Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away in 2002. Your Name’s handlers seemed to think the film had a chance, though, quickly putting together a Los Angeles-area theatrical run to qualify for consideration for this year’s awards.
But alas, Shinkai isn’t going to need to press his tux, unless he’s got some other fancy plans for the night of the Oscars’ presentation ceremony. The Academy has officially released the five nominations for the Best Animated Feature category, and Your Name isn’t one of them.
Instead, the nods went to Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life as a Zucchini, The Red Turtle, and Zootopia.
It’s a disappointing development for fans of Japanese animation, especially considering that anime films received nominations in both 2016 and 2015. So why is Your Name being left out of this year’s festivities?
The easy answer is “the Academy Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn’t like/respect/understand anime,” and it’s a theory that probably has some truth behind it. But in more concrete terms, Your Name probably wasn’t seen as being technically or thematically challenging enough. Moana and Zootopia, as lavish CG productions, can easily dazzle by virtue of obviously pushing the envelope of technology-intensive animation techniques, making them seem more “realistic” in their depictions of their on-screen worlds and less “cartoony.” Live-action cinema is, after all, the Academy’s primary area of interest.
Kubo and the Two Strings and My Life as a Zucchini, meanwhile, give the immediate impression of being artistic due to their stop-motion visuals that lie outside the realm of what audiences see in most contemporary animated movies. Finally, The Red Turtle stands out with its nearly dialogue-free approach to story-telling, in stark contrast to noisy, talky kids’ cartoons.
Your Name, meanwhile, is a conventionally animated teen romance film with fantasy elements. It’s a gorgeous, amazingly emotional one, but if you’re a cinema organization which puts animation into a separate category, one to which you give far less fanfare and attention than the several categories for live-action films, Your Name may not jump up and grab your attention for going beyond what you see as the limited potential of animation. Your Name’s mirror-sheen level of polish might go over your head, and in the end you might just lump it in with all those other big-eyed cartoons from Japan.
Anime still has a shot at some indirect recognition at the Oscars, since Studio Ghibli lent a hand to the production of The Red Turtle. Your Name, though, will just have to hope that American audiences give it a warmer reception than the Academy when the film’s official U.S. release comes in April.