By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A thousand-year-old Japanese poem inspired filmmaker Makoto Shinkai to create "Your Name," an animated story that weaves love and time travel into what he called a message of hope for Japanese millennials.
"Your Name" (Kimi No Na Wa) follows Mitsuha, a young girl fed up with living in an idyllic rural Japanese village, and Taki, a teenage boy in Tokyo. The two find themselves waking up randomly in each other's bodies.
Shinkai, speaking in Japanese, told Reuters that he drew from poet Ono no Komachi's words written centuries ago in which she described meeting a lover in a dream and waking up feeling sad.
In "Your Name," Taki and Mitsuha live each other's lives, leaving notes on their cell phones of their experiences, but when Taki tries to find Mitsuha, his fate takes a fantastical turn as time bends into alternate realities.
The film opens in U.S. theaters on Friday after topping the Japanese box office in 2016 with nearly $215 million, according to film tracker BoxOfficeMojo.com.
Shinkai, 44, the filmmaker behind 2013's "The Garden of Words," said he wanted to make a movie aimed at younger Japanese audiences in which "they can believe in their future."
"I created this movie hoping that younger audiences would believe that ‘maybe there is the one in my life I might have not met yet but hopefully will see tomorrow or in the future,’" he said.
The juxtaposition of Mitsuha's rural, traditional lifestyle with Taki's modern city life was something Shinkai said he drew from his own life, growing up in a small village and later moving to Tokyo, a city that he said "feels like almost a different country" within Japan.
"I think it is one of the common themes for many Japanese people to choose where to live, Tokyo or their hometown," he said.
Shinkai has been hailed as the successor to animator Hayao Miyazaki, the Studio Ghibli co-founder behind films such as "Howl's Moving Castle" and "Spirited Away." But Shinkai said that while he was "honored and flattered" by the comparison, "people are overestimating me."
"Miyazaki has a great talent, but I really struggle every time I create a new film and am far from Miyazaki," he said.
"At the same time, I’m younger than him so I intend to make more animation films, which cannot be the same as his but created in a different way for my audience."
(The story was refiled to correct the spelling in paragraph 5 to boxofficemojo.com instead of boxofficermojo.com)
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Leslie Adler)