It’s already one of the highest-grossing anime movies of all time, second only to Spirited Away. Just recently, the LA Film Critics Association named it Best Animated Film 2016, and as of writing, it’s angling for an animation Oscar. To say that Your Name is one of the most striking releases this year is to state the obvious. Its premise is a smart mix of Freaky Friday, Sense 8, and other stories of body/mind swapping, but it’s one of those rare fantasies that’s far more concerned with the humanity of its love story than the clever particulars of its high concept.
High schoolers Mitsuha and Taki are too far apart to even be called strangers. One’s a tech savy city mouse, the other’s a wistful country mouse. Separated by many miles, it’s unlikely for them to ever cross paths, let alone fall in love. A romance defined by culture shock and class tensions could be expected here–if the two were to ever actually meet. This “boy meets girl” story starts with the couple sharing an exceptionally intimate connection, even though the boy and girl haven’t actually met.
Confused? Their odd arrangement is very clear in the film itself; a bizarre twist of fate communicated with a breezy style of magical realism. Whenever the two go to sleep, they wake up the next day and find they’ve switched bodies. After adjusting to the existential predicament of suddenly having new private parts (and to great comedic effect), the two explore each other’s worlds, rather literally seeing how the other half lives. As the switcheroo keeps happening, though, Mitsuha and Taki become aware that they’re sharing bodies and start leaving notes, either by scrawling messages on paper, typing up smartphone memos, or even scrawling Memento-esque reminders on their arms.
What’s causing this? It may be destiny, quite literally tied into the stars. However, when the two finally try to meet, both time and fate impede them in a surprisingly tragic way. The couple’s connection coincides with the return of a spectacular comet that may threaten many more lives beyond theirs.
Director Makoto Shinkai has steadily earned acclaim through memorable titles like 5 Centimeters Per Second and Garden of Words. His hyper-real style is immediately recognizable. Every location, from a messy teenager’s apartment to a cavernous woodland shrine, is suffused with such detail that you quickly forget you’re watching animation. Realism is an ideal many anime aspire to, sure, but Makoto truly does direct each scene as if he’s working in live-action. There are none of the graphic shorthands so characteristic to anime. Rather, the frame moves as if every single set-up were shot under the best conditions, with plenty of time for the crew to set up the most interesting composition and design the most evocative lighting scheme.
At a recent press junket in Los Angeles, Makoto acknowledged Your Name is more accessible than his previous films. However, he stressed that was less a product of him consciously setting out to make a picture that could play wide, and more a result of him having refined his craft enough to finally realize his earliest and most consistent ambition–telling universal stories.
Makoto also writes novelizations of his own movies, and running Your Name‘s plots through an extra level of scrutiny made him even more critical about which plot details were essential on screen. The director also made the rock band Radwimp’s contributions quite important, showing the musicians an early draft of the script and then refining it to reflect the songs they came up with. As such, the soundtrack is even more organic and fundamental to the film. The end result is a romance that stays effortlessly accessible, even with its myriad twists of time and space; a fantasy that impacts with stirring music, piercing visuals, and deep emotions.
Will you be seeking Your Name out when it comes to theaters? What person in this world would you most want to swap bodies with? Share your thoughts in the talkback.
Image Credits: FUNimation