Title: your name. aka Kimi no Na wa.
Company: CoMix Wave Films
Format: Movie, 106 minutes.
Dates: 26 August 2016
Her name is Mitsuha. His name is Taki. Mitsuha spends dreary days in rural Gunma Prefecture hundreds of miles from Tokyo, where Taki lives in a cramped apartment with his dad. One day, after Mitsuha wakes up in Taki’s body and Taki in hers, the two teenagers realize that they randomly transport into each other’s bodies. They begin meddling in each other’s lives: Mitsuha helps Taki arrange a date with a crush and Taki helps Mitsuha gain popularity in school. Despite initial trouble, things seem to be going well until one day, Taki finds that he can no longer communicate with Mitsuha. In order to find out more about her, Taki sets out on a journey that takes the two through space and time.
Bad marketing: Bills itself as a romantic drama, but is far more poetic than your typical adolescent romance.
Eclectic combination of styles: Familiar character design complimented by Shinkai’s gorgeous landscapes and RADWIMP’s surprisingly apt pop rock soundtrack.
Artistic vision: A testament to the potential of Japanese animation through the smart juxtaposition of the movie’s various elements.
In the opening minutes of the film, I found myself wondering if a few too many hands had been in the cookie jar when the film was made. On the surface, your name. appeared to be a polished yet typical high school romance filled with dubious artistic choices. Elements that felt like unabashed attempts to appeal to a wider Japanese audience, such as the stereotypically cute character designs and a pop-rock soundtrack, made the first few moments of the film feel disappointingly commercial. By the end of the film, however, it became clear that the movie is a labor of love from a team of talented Japanese animators who are unafraid to repackage trends in recent TV anime into an accessible and highly entertaining work of art.
What makes the film particularly accessible is the subtle way a seemingly uninspired romantic comedy gives way to poignant commentary on the bonds that connect people and things together. Take for example Mitsuha and Taki’s romance, which the film hooks us in with using a body swapping gimmick that sets up a few comedic situations. In the first body swap, we see scenes of Mitsuha spending Taki’s hard-earned money at a cafe eating sweets unavailable in her home town, or Taki inadvertently making Mitsuha stand out by expertly drawing a still life sketch in art class. This leads to some entertaining bickering between the two, but unsurprisingly the two come to realize how important each other had been in their lives and a budding romance takes shape.
Fortunately, in the latter half of the film we finally develop a stronger appreciation for how the body swapping has influenced the growth of the two characters. Taki, who is initially content with unrequited love for a coworker at his part-time job, eventually sets out on a journey to meet Mitsuha after she disappears from his life, despite not knowing who she is or where she lives. Even when he discovers that the two of them are separated by a monumental force, he brashly commits to finding a way to connect to Mitsuha’s world in a move uncharacteristic of his old, inert self. Likewise, we see Mitsuha as someone trapped by the stilted lifestyle of her family’s background as owners of a Shinto shrine, but thanks to the confidence she builds over the course of the film, grows into an assertive young adult who fights to save her loved ones in a way that brings her at odds with her father, the village mayor. Shinkai makes his point by focusing less on the romance itself and instead on the consequences the characters’ interactions have had for the their’ development in a way that provides unexpected meaning to the movie’s comedic first half.
This is perhaps the most important—and most subtle—success of the film. In the latter half, we realize the true meaning of why the body swap is even a part of the story in the first place: Mitsuha and Taki never directly talk to each other during the whole body swapping phenomenon. In fact, they only know about each other through indirect messages. Yet later on, when we see their heartfelt attempts to find each other, their connection feels genuine because, as viewers, we are given glimpses into the subtle ways that the two of them have changed each other’s lives. The mechanic paves the way for the movie to comment about the intangible connections that abound in our lives.
The relationship of the two main characters also elegantly parallels a connection between traditional Japan and modern Japan that is hinted throughout the movie. Mitsuha’s home town of Itomori stands in sharp contrast to Taki’s world in Tokyo, and their afterschool activities also couldn’t be more different: Mitsuha’s grandmother, the head priestess of a Shinto shrine, teaches Mitsuha traditional weaving techniques while Taki works a part time job at an Italian restaurant to support himself in his single father household. Thus, when Mitsuha gives Taki a red ribbon towards the climax of the film, the act not only fits within the story’s romantic plot but also elaborates on the film’s theme of connecting different notions of Japanese-ness that can be seen in the tension between traditional and modern. In a sense, Mitsuha and Taki are connected by inseparable bonds, much like how diverging lifestyles of rural and urban Japan are connected despite appearing to be worlds apart. Combined, the surface story and underlying symbolism together weave a tale that is uniquely Japanese, yet also thoroughly entertaining.
Visually, the film’s pop culture veneer hides an exercise in artistic versatility that mirrors how the film’s plot addresses themes far deeper than the adolescent romance bubbling on the surface. The movie combines crisp animation, solid voice acting, and pop-rock transitions to create a distinctly modern style of animation that feels similar to the eclectic, check-box requirements of modern anime yet remains artistically true to its theme of connecting disparate worlds together.
The hyper-cute character design, led by industry veteran Tanaka Masayoshi of Toradora and Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Shiranai (AnoHana) fame, is paired with Shinkai’s trademark painterly landscapes to provide stunning art that benefits from both artistic styles. Meanwhile, solid performances by recent newcomers to the live action drama scene—as opposed to traditional anime voice actors—provide a unique flavor of acting that brings the main characters to life while bridging the gap between anime and live action. Just as important is the movie’s music by RADWIMPS, who do a fantastic job of creating memorable orchestral pieces in addition to several new memorable rock tunes.
None of these elements would have come together were it not for the careful juxtaposition of seemingly contrasting styles. Shinkai and team celebrate a range of traditional and modern styles in successive montages throughout the film at key moments in the story. These montages almost separate the movie into a series of episodes as if the film were a TV anime, yet are coherent enough to provide an experimental and theatrical approach to storytelling. While one particular sequence at the beginning of the film feels inspired by slice-of-life anime openings, combining a rock song with crisp animated slices of each character’s everyday life, a montage during the film’s climax does away with the pop-rock completely and instead melds together dazzling computer-generated special affects with watercolor mosaics to music inspired by traditional Japanese instruments. Cute and painterly, pop-rock and classical, modern and traditional—these various elements feel jarring at first, but result in an animated experience that celebrates how freely the medium can connect styles new and old. The powerful use of juxtaposition results in a message that feels incredibly true to themes present in Shinkai‘s past works, which often seem to combine modern animation techniques with traditional Japanese aesthetics.
There is no doubt in my mind that Shinkai Makoto is the standard bearer of Japanese animated film a post-Ghibli world. More so than other contemporary animators, Shinkai is unafraid to embrace the aspects of Japanese culture that make anime so unique, while appealing effectively to modern tastes. In this sense, your name. is not only a fantastic film, but a passionate celebration of Japanese anime at its best: approachable and modern in character design, animation and music, yet inspired by the unique beauty of Japan. If you can sit and enjoy the comedic first half for what it is, you’ll be in for a treat by the end of the film.
The Rating: 9
Reviewed by: Kylaran