"Once in a while when I wake up, I find myself crying. The dream I must have had, I can never recall. But... but... the sensation that I've lost something lingers for a long time after I wake up. I'm always searching for something, for someone." - Taki and Mitsuha, Kimi no Na wa
This must be one of the most haunting refrains I've ever heard in a film.
I know that feeling myself. But calling it a "feeling" feels unjustifiably flat. It's much more than that. A gripping sense of lack, so deep and multidimensional that it's hard to even come to terms with. It took an elaborate fantasy for Kimi no Na wa to expound on it, and even so, I still dwelled on that feeling for days, trying to comprehend it.
Watching Kimi no Na wa and feeling this way reminded me of C.S. Lewis's writing. He sought to expound on that very same longing. He called it sehnsucht, a German word with no satisfactory English equivalent. It means something along the lines of nostalgia and deep yearning. In his words, it was “the inconsolable longing in the heart for we know not what”—a perfect description of Taki and Mitsuha’s constant searching throughout the film. He described it further in The Pilgrim's Regress: “That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World’s End, the opening lines of Kubla Khan, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.”
In some seasons, sehnsucht saturates daily life. In others, it lets you get on without it, but comes up then and again—as you watch the sun set over the UL from Castle Mound, as you walk down a solitary Burrell's Walk on the way back from a late evening at Sidgwick, as the frosty wind brushes your face upon leaving Mainsbury's, as the pages of your textbook look dully back at you under a dim yellow desk lamp at 2AM. For Taki, the longing gripped him in moments as mundane as his daily commute. It also gripped him when he saw pictures of Itomori: “Why does the scenery of a town that no longer exists wring my heart so?”
In Lewis's autobiography Surprised by Joy, the thread running through his childhood years was the chasing after that thing or person—he knew not what—driven by sehnsucht. He was filled with awe at the prospect of that longing fulfilled, and whenever he felt any measure of that transcendent awe—whether by beholding a mighty mountain range or reading immersive Norse mythology—he called it Joy.
Yet for much of his childhood, that Joy was still indeterminate, as the longing—sehnsucht—was: “All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.” It makes you think of sand , slipping through your fingers when you try to hold it. As you try to understand it, it eludes your mind's eye. It insists on staying in the deepest chamber of your heart, hiding in the shadows, though glowing from time to time.
Taki was bound to Mitsuha from the cosmic accident of the past. But he knew nothing about her—not even her name, and perhaps not even who she was supposed to be to him (family? lover? angel?)—he simply knew he was on a search. And the resolution for him was standing face-to-face with Mitsuha at the top of that staircase, knowing his search was over.
This resolution acts out beautifully a point that Lewis made later in his autobiography, as he searched for the answer to his longing: “Joy itself [i.e. the transcendent search], considered simply as an event in my own mind, turned out to be of no value at all. All the value lay in that of which Joy was the desiring. And that object, quite clearly, was no state of my own mind or body at all. ... It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer.” However well acquainted you get with sehnsucht and Joy, coming to terms with it doesn't mean understanding it for itself. No, coming to terms with it means meeting that “other and outer” something or someone, at which point you know you've found that for which you were longing.
That is why for Taki and Mitsuha, even having lived in each other's bodies and seen everything through each other's eyes wasn't enough. You'd imagine that living another's life must be the closest you can get to knowing them. Yet, the culmination they were waiting for was to be in their own bodies and to see the other in the flesh: to relate to the other as a separate person; to be known and held.
In many ways though, Taki and Mitsuha hadn't merely found what they were looking for. Rather, in that finding, they were themselves found. It wasn't just the euphoria at the end of a treasure hunt. It was the euphoria of being no longer lacking, and no longer searching—the release from the grip of their sehnsucht.
For Lewis, this moment of finding and being found was when he came to know God. It was then that his longing was laid to rest, and the pangs of “Joy” he had known all his life made sense. His lingering remembrance of a nameless something or someone ended in meeting and knowing the God who made him. The dramatic arc of Kimi no Na wa reflects the arc in Lewis’s autobiography. I see this especially when I read expressions in the Bible of a longing like Lewis’s—to know and relate to another. But reading those expressions, I see that there are also differences.
A line in one prophetic poem reads (as from God), “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands”. At the climax of Kimi no Na wa, at the Itomori crater, Taki and Mitsuha had tried but failed to write their names on each other’s hands during the twilight hour. Because of this, they forgot each other’s names, and so lived as nameless silhouettes in each other’s longing heart. For Lewis, he knew how it felt to have such a nameless silhouette visit his thoughts every now and then, in a pang of Joy. There was no name on his hand by which he could know who or what it was. But the difference, for Lewis, was that God—at the far end of his Joy—knew Lewis by name, from the engravings on his hands. So unlike Taki and Mitsuha’s fumbling, blind search for one another, Lewis’s search was an asymmetrical one where God knew him and was wanting Lewis to know him too.
Lewis wrote that he often came close but backed away—for example, when he decided as a child to pray for his mother’s recovery. He wrote of this experimental prayer, “when [God] had done what was required of Him I supposed He would simply—well, go away. It never crossed my mind that the tremendous contact which I solicited should have any consequences beyond restoring the status quo.” He wanted no more than a quick favour—certainly not a meeting like Taki and Mitsuha’s, or anything like the one he ultimately had with God. But when he did reach the end of his search, he wrote that it was the result of “the steady, unrelenting, approach of Him”: not a serendipitous glance on a train, but a deliberate approach and encounter by this “other and outer” object of his longing.
Lewis wrote that this search was “the central story” of his life. And he wrote as if he assumed the reader would sympathise with him, drawing on their own experiences of Joy and profound longing. Kimi no Na wa’s deeply emotional impact on its audiences reminds me that Lewis wasn’t wrong to assume as such. There is indeed a universal search, a piercing sehnsucht for everyone: a lifetime arc to hopefully end in a long-awaited meeting.