Art plays a pivotal role in the healing process in the wake of national disaster, channelling a country’s collective grief and creating something from the calamity. Director Makoto Shinkai said the success of Your Name is due in part to the natural disaster at the centre of its narrative, chiming with a country still processing the fallout of its most powerful earthquake, the tsunami it triggered, and the subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The film tentatively tries to make some sort of narrative sense of the disaster. Working in Tokyo at the time, Shinkai was forced to evacuate. According to The Ecologist, 2,000 people died from evacuating radiation exposure, with another 5,000 predicted to die from cancer. In the following years, a number of suicides have attributed to the event, and only now is Japan beginning to process what happened through art.
Speaking to The Guardian, Shinkai said: “People still have huge regret about 2011. Everybody was praying for everyone. It affected all of us, including me. So I really wanted to create something like a miracle. OK, it might be a fiction, it might be a lie, but we still want to have hope. That’s what I was thinking when I was making this film.”
Art, as both a reflection of the real and its abstract, plays a pivotal role in dealing with tragedy. On a personal level, it can help an individual work out their trauma, but on a national scale, it allows a country to heal its cultural wounds. This shared meditation is almost unspoken, automatic in the way a trauma takes on life and potency through media, providing catharsis for creators and for those that interact with it. Anime is no different, as it takes small steps towards exploring Fukushima in how it does (and doesn’t) approach Japan’s role in World War II.
Without declaration or provocation, Japanese forces attacked the US Pacific fleet moored at Pearl Harbour on Sunday 7th December 1941. The sky was filled with some 353 Japanese bombers, fighters and torpedo planes. While Japanese casualties numbered 100, the losses to the American forces were substantial, with more than 2,400 killed and another 1,200 injured.
The devastation is attributed to its complete surprise in the face of failure by US military intelligence. The US had previously deciphered Japanese radio codes, though in the case of Pearl Harbour, the raw data hadn’t been interpreted correctly. The root of the attack stemmed from heated rivalry between the two nations in the Pacific. Japan had made its intent clear as early as 1931 when it invaded Manchuria, strategically located in Northeast Asia. Tensions grew when Japan left the League of Nations in 1933 and deployed aggressive foreign policy in a bid to create the ‘Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere’ – an empire the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the European models of the 19th century.
Japan was now seen as a serious antagonistic power to the respective US and European forces in Asia. By 1937, with Japan engaged in all-out war with China, US President Theodore Roosevelt imposed economic sanctions on Japan who turned instead to Axis powers, and signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in September 1940.
The Japanese spent a year rehearsing the Pearl Harbour attack, practicing with a model until they achieved an 80 per cent hit rate. After hearing news of its success, Hitler is quoted as saying: “Now we can’t lose the war! We have an ally that has not been defeated in 3,000 years of history.”