Makoto Shinkai’s initial concept for female lead Mitsuha would have rubbed audiences the wrong way, producer cautioned.
What with the tremendous critical and commercial success of anime film Your Name, one could argue that director and scriptwriter Makoto Shinkai got the film’s mix of elements just right. There’s romance, mystery, and magic, accompanied by Shinkai’s signature brilliant background art and a pair of relatable lead characters propelling the story forward.
But initially, one thing was going to be very different about the relationship between female lead Mitsuha and male lead Taki, as revealed in an interview with Shinkai and Genki Kawamura, one of Your Name’s producers. While Taki and Mitsuha switching bodies was always going to be part of the story, in early versions of the plot the two teens weren’t strangers. On the contrary, Mitsuha was going to have a one-sided crush on Taki before the body-swapping started.
“I wanted to make a film where the relationship between the characters’ changes through the process of them repeatedly switching bodies,” Shinkai says in the interview. “So in the beginning, I thought it’d be best for one of them to feel a one-sided attraction, and I gave that role to Mitsuha.”
However, when Kawamura found out about the specific scenario Shinkai was crafting, he advised against it. “He told me, ‘You know, if the female lead has a guy she’s into from the very start of the movie, the audience will lose interest.’”
In the interview, Kawamura goes on to explain that “Mitsuha is a Shinto shrine maiden, and she makes kuchikamizake [a traditional sake made by shrine maidens chewing and spitting out rice]. So I thought that depicting her as a sort of Virgin Mary-like person would be better. That’s a technique that’s been around since the days of the Bible, and Hayao Miyazaki did the same thing. Nausicaa and Sheeta aren’t into any other guys [when their stories begin].”
The combination of “being like the Virgin Mary” and “not having a guy she’s into when she first appears in the narrative” is a bit of a contradiction, seeing as how Jesus’ mom is already married to Joseph when she shows up in the Bible. The heroines of Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky Laputa, though, are completely without romantic aspirations at the start of the movies in which they take center stage (although both enter into adventuring partnerships with male characters they meet as the story unfolds).
Shinkai chose to follow Kawamura’s advice, though he didn’t want to scrap the one-sided love element entirely. So instead, he made Taki the one with an initially unrequited crush, and set the object of his affection as his cheerfully alluring older coworker, Miki Okudera.
It’s impossible to calculate what difference, if any, the change to Mitsuha’s character made in how Your Name has been received by audiences. Still, considering how happy fans around the world are with the finished film, it’s hard to argue with the choices the filmmakers ultimately made.