As a big fan of anime, I was very excited when I found out that the movie Kimi No Na Wa, alternatively known as Your Name in English, won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for best animated film of the year. As the highest grossing animated film in Japan, upsetting Spirited Away which has held the title since 2001 and having won numerous awards as well as earning worldwide acclaim, it seemed that this movie was well on its way to being nominated for, if not winning, the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Much to my disappointment, not only did Your Name not win, it was not even nominated. I believe the reason that Your Name was not nominated was not due to its inadequacies but rather it being too “Asian.” Despite being an event that is viewed by people of all races and cultures, the Academy Awards and the organization that hosts it are guilty of the same racism that permeates mainstream media culture that inherently creates obstacles to success for Asian films.
When it comes to the Academy Awards, typically the films nominated for Best Animated Feature are movies created for American audiences. As a result, the 75th Academy Awards which took place in 2003 was perhaps one of the most radical in that the film that won the Best Animated Feature was none other than Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away.
This was the first and only time in history where an animated film from Japan won. Spirited Away in its own right is a masterpiece. It was the highest grossing animated film in Japan and the twelfth highest grossing traditionally animated films in the world, but all of these record were shattered by Your Name, which has quickly become the highest grossing animated film in Japan as well as the eighth highest grossing traditionally animated film in the world, beating out Disney classics such as Lilo & Stitch and Bambi. Despite all of these accolades, Your Name wasn’t even mentioned during the 89th Academy Awards.
If Your Name was so critically acclaimed, why was it that it wasn’t even mentioned during the 89th Academy Awards? It is simply because there are barriers put in place by the institution that make it extremely difficult for Asian films to get the same recognition as American films. The film industry’s primary goal is to make money. As a result, the industry will try and cater to the dominant demographic, which are white Americans, to earn the most money. Despite its international success, there are several barriers that Your Name faced which had a role in preventing its nomination.
First and foremost is the language barrier. Your Name is entirely in Japanese. Unless the viewer is fluent in Japanese, he/she must rely on English subtitles to understand the film. While this does not diminish the understanding of the film, being forced to focus on a line of text at the bottom of the screen does take away from the overall enjoyment of the film and makes the film slightly harder to watch. Secondly, the setting of the film makes it more alien to white Americans. While the general premise of the film is about a boy from Tokyo and a girl from a small town in rural Japan somehow switching bodies and living the other’s life, most of the plot takes place in the rural town. Because of this, the film is filled with Japanese culture, religion and architecture, all of which are fairly different than what we are used to seeing in America.
That is not to say that there are no hints of American culture present in Your Name. In fact viewers can see a lot of American influences when the movie takes the viewers to Tokyo where we can see the student eating American foods and going to places like American cafes and simply enjoying life as teenagers rather than perpetuating the model minority stereotype and just going back home to study.
However since most of the film takes place in the rural town filled with Japanese culture, the American aspects of the film are overshadowed by the Asian ones. This combined with the fact that the film is entirely in Japanese ends up transporting the white viewers to a rather alien world that they are not familiar with.
Even though the Academy Awards is an event that is watched by people of all nationalities, it ultimately caters to viewers of the white demographic. As a result, the films that would be nominated would be the ones that suit the tastes of white people more. As a result, it is not surprising that Zootopia, a movie that caters very much to white tastes, won. However, that is not to say that the 89th Academy Awards was completely racist. The fact that Kubo and the Two Strings was nominated shows that movies with predominantly Asian themes can still be nominated for the Academy Awards. Unfortunately, Your Name simply had too many foreign aspects to it that ultimately barred it from being nominated. However had it been nominated, the 89th Academy Awards would have been just as radical as the 75th Academy Awards. It would show that Asian films directed by Asian directors can win a prestigious award such as an Academy Award, and show that despite all of the difficulties placed before them by the institution, Asian directors and films can be just as successful as American ones.