Director: Makoto Shinkai Starring: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi Running Time: 107 minutes
After a year with two Disney films and a Pixar sequel, it’s going to be difficult for other animated features to distinguish themselves either in the hearts of the viewing public or in the ballots of voters during the busy awards season. Your Name, an anime film by Makoto Shinkai, does not boast the wide audience of Zootropolis or Moana or even the street-cred of Laika’s Kubo and the Two Strings. What it does have though is emotion in abundance, more than enough to connect with viewers. The film received a tiny release here in Ireland, with a small handful of screenings. Worth noting though, is that were Your Name was shown, more screenings were added by demand. Those that saw it were talking about it, recommending it. And so they should. Beautiful in both story and animation, Your Name is one of the year’s hidden gems, a mind (and body) bending romance that’s deeply rewarding.
The film opens from the perspective of Mitsuha, a teenage girl living in the quiet mountain village of Itomori. Mitsuha is a typical teen in the general details but not the specifics; she’s eternally embarrassed and wants to be someone else. It’s just that what she wants, as she cries on the steps of the town’s temple, is to be a handsome Tokyo boy. And the source of her perpetual morto-status is her family duties performing traditional Shinto rituals, such as kuchikami, the art of making sake from spitting out chewed-up rice. Her very specific desires appear to be playing out in her dreams, where she lives another life as Taki, a moody pretty boy juggling a preppy school life with a busy job in a restaurant (no spit involved). Her more reserved, feminine sensibilities improve Taki’s life, even getting him in the good books of Ms. Okudera, the restaurant manager and everybody’s crush. As it turns out though, Taki is not just a dream, he’s very real, and on the days where she’s living his life in Tokyo, he’s over in her body back in Itomori.
As Mitsuha and Taki realise what’s going on, ground rules are quickly established by the two leaving messages for each other in their phones. For a while, Your Name acts as a charming comedy as the pair navigate inhabiting the life and gender of another person (Mitsuha is suddenly fondling her own breasts every other morning), but then the meteor shower that opened the film returns and it’s revealed that body-swapping isn’t the only high concept that’s in play as these two teens who have never met, or even spoken in real-time, grow closer. It’s easy to buy into the gender-flip, especially since series such as Ranma 1/2 have made it a long established trope of manga and anime, but Mitsuha and Taki don’t quite have all the facts of their situation.
Makoto Shinkai is already being dubbed the new Miyazaki for his work on this and other films. Yet with Your Name balancing body-swap comedy with elements of disaster films, time travel, teen melancholy and romance, another anime legend comes to mind; Satoshi Kon, the director of Perfect Blue and Paprika, who sadly died of pancreatic cancer long before his time in 2010. Like Kon’s work, Shinkai’s film is intricately designed, managing a potentially complicated plot as a gradually unfurling wonder and exploring themes of longing and emptiness with a sense of drama befitting its young adult leads. There is less assurance that it’s all going to work out alright. This is not to diminish Miyazaki in any way, who has shown many times over decades that he’s capable of both emotional depth and grand ambition in his storytelling, but the stakes here are different, especially as love stories have never been a massive part of the Studio Ghibli wheelhouse. Your Name gets an emotional romance from two characters who are hardly on screen at the same time.
Where the Miyazaki comparisons are apt though, is in the animation. The bustling big city of Tokyo and the still, reverent nature of Mitsuha’s home town contrast exceptionally, feeling not just lived-in, but appealing. Much like the best Ghibli settings, Itomori is a place you want to visit, or perhaps more pertinently, to protect from an oncoming meteor disaster. As the timelines distort and the film approaches the twilight of kateware doki, the use of trippy chalk pastels is as effectively other-wordly as it is beautiful to look at. Being mostly modern in its animated style yet timeless in others, the visuals by Shinkai and his animation team at CoMix Wave Films reflect the story’s themes, where different worlds come together wonderfully.
With complex ideas about the old world creeping into the new, timeline complications and otherworldly concerns, a story like this needs a solid grounding from its characters and Mitsuha and Taki successfully offer that. The film manages to provide enough time to the two of them in each other’s bodies and their own to get a good sense of their identities. It allows investment both in their development-Taki growing more relaxed, Mitsuha more confident and willing to confront her strict father-as well as in them finally crossing paths. Although it uses many familiar elements, the unique way these characters grow their relationship makes Your Name unique viewing. Though the characters in the film struggle to hold on to the memories of their ‘dreams’, it’s hard to imagine anyone watching them doing the same.(4.5 / 5)