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When it comes to quality Japanese animation, Studio Ghibli is what most likely comes to mind, producing some of the most influential and important films in the medium. So naturally, much like many Western animated films find themselves forever in comparison with Disney, it is not surprising then that different Japanese animation studios finds their work judged against Ghibli. With Your Name (technically Your Name. with a period – Japanese: 君の名は), there is much that deserves comparing, but be assured, this is a remarkable work on its own and easily sets itself apart, taking the body-switching trope in a fresh direction, while feeling much more grounded.
We meet Mitshua, a teenage high school girl from the quiet lake-side town of Itomori. She has grown weary of her life in the boondocks, much to her friend’s and family’s dismay. She dreams of being a boy in the big city of Tokyo, even calling out in the night at her family shrine to make it so.
In Tokyo, a handsome high school boy named Taki wakes the next morning to discover that in fact, he is Mitshua, or rather that he has become transported into her body and she into his. They both believe it is only a vivid dream and so carry on as if that’s what is happening. Since they are different personalities occupying different people though, their actions have effect they don’t even realize until later when they fully understand that none of it is in fact a dream. They are switching bodies. But how, and why?
As a short time passes and their lives become entangled by the conflicts and consequences of their situation, they decide to communicate with each other through handwritten messages, journals in their smartphones, and sometimes just by scribbling on their own skin. These become a kind of ‘while you were away’ series of information that allow them to wake up in their own bodies again and catch up with what the other did. It’s all done with good humor and some interesting relationship challenges that have them working to help each while they are in each other’s bodies.
And then we learn about a comet named Tiamat. We see it in the sky above and are led to believe it might be the mysterious reason the two are connected, but that is only the beginning of a sharp turn for Taki and Mitshua, for there is much about what is falling from the sky that will have, literally and figuratively, great impact on both their lives.
Directed by Makoto Shinkai, for CoMix Wave Films, Your Name is, as expected, first and foremost, a visually captivating film, one that flourishes in the minor details that level great weight on the larger picture. The transitions from city to countryside reflect much about the culture and traditions of the people while filling the screen with vivid attention to the smallest elements, from a day-to-night time-lapse sequence in Tokyo to the way a pencil is lifted out of a tin of others on a desktop, it is the immersion that truly helps propel the story forward. Shinkai gives these two characters a breathlessly colorful word that is at times strikingly familiar and yet wonderfully exotic. We search the corners of every frame for surprises and we are never left with nothing to inspire our imaginations.
The film is decidedly Japanese, and revels in this throughout, yet for fans or otherwise, this will be its greatest strength. As Taki awakens in blossoming Mitshua’s body, he is fasciated with fondling her (his) breasts, something that curiously amuses Mitshua littler sister. In Taki’s body, Mitshua gives the hot-tempered boy a feminine side that wins over a girl in the Italian restaurant where he works, though dating is not so easy. There are other familiar Japanese animation flares that mark this as one with the genre, and yet the delicate and honest way the story plays out never gives these moments anything more than sweet authenticity. The voice work by Ryûnosuke Kamiki and Mone Kamishiraishi, even if you must read the subtitles, give Taki and Mitshua richly compelling personalities.
There are some musical choices that threaten to strip some moments of power, but Shinkai’s visuals and masterful storytelling always steer it straight. The shift in the second half to the coming meteor is one that offers a surprising challenge, and its potential to wholly derail the film cannot be ignored, yet quite the opposite happens as myriad themes emerge. The metaphorical lines that can be drawn from that rock in the sky to teen romance to the plight of Japan itself as a constantly tormented island under threats of natural disaster are short.
An ambitious, gloriously-rendered work that despite its minor flaws manages to do what this does, is cause enough to earn a place among the best ever in this genre.
Director(s): Makoto Shinkai
Actor(s): Ryûnosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi, Ryô Narita
Genre: Animation, Drama