“I feel like I’m always searching for something, someone” is a thought or idea that I’m sure many people have had at one point or another in their life. We all go through times where we feel lost and if we could only find that something or some special person, things would work out, especially when we are teenagers. That idea sits at the very core of Your Name, a truly enjoyable and amazing film out of Japan. Directed and written by Makoto Shinkai, this movie has become a force of nature in Japan, where it is has become one of the highest grossing movies in the history of that country; I’m unsure if it has passed Spirited Away, but it very well might have.
Set more or less in the present day, Your Name tells the story of Tachibana Taki and Miyamizu Mitsuha, two young teenagers who are growing up in Japan. Taki lives in Tokyo while Mitsuha lives out in the countryside in a fictional town around a lake. Their lives would not be in any way connected except for the fact that they switch body’s a couple of times a week. Neither knows why, and frankly we don’t get much of an explanation either. Their memory of what they did in the others body fades quickly, so they slowly get to know each other through notes left in notebooks and entries into a digital diary. They grow to rely and annoy each other in equal measure as they settle into their new life. Eventually, things come to a head as the movie reaches its climax, but I’ll talk about that more spoiler type stuff later in the review.
This movie is almost endlessly charming and joyful to watch. The visuals are simply stunning to look at and have a vibrancy that animated films often lack. Tokyo hums with life while Mitsuha’s small village looks and feels as old and settled as it should; the woods and lake are embraced and melded into the town as only decades of quite village life could do. There are several scenes that revolve around a comet that showcase some of the most visually arresting images I have ever seen on screen; the hand drawn art has a lovely sense of life that most animated films are often missing. But even in the smaller scenes Your Name impresses; from subtle shifts in bodyweight, to expressions of laughter or joy, the movie never fails to impress with its visual storytelling and art.
The central hook of the movie, and the one that most people will know of walking into the film, is that Taki and Mitsuha switch bodies from time to time. Such a device might lead to disaster with most movies, being ripe for cruder sexual jokes and situations, but that is avoided for the most part here. The movie says a lot about what it means to inhabit a body and how that directly effects the person on the inside. Both Taki and Mitsuha adapt well to their off-day gender and body and even help the other one out with dates, sports and friendships; through this interplay we see a more well-rounded version of both of them form. There are some traditional gender rules at play here; for example, he exerts himself more and she proves to be a bit more sensitive and a better listener, but I don’t think that’s such a bad thing in this film. Since both characters learn from each other, they are essentially breaking out of the molds society has placed them in due to their gender. I’m not that familiar with gender politics in Japan, though I watch a fair amount of anime and can make some general outlines, but I found the way this movie handles this topic to be hopeful and sincere. I’m sure it’s responding to a host of things that are Japanese specific, but the humanistic qualities of the characters and story seem universal to me. It’s not that there is not differences in the sexes, but that there is so much more about being a human being that transcends what may or may not be in our pants. Taki and Mitsuha pursue each other, life and the challenges of living in ways that are common to everybody, male, female and in between.
That body swap hook however, is not the only hook and arguably isn’t even the best one. Somewhere in the middle of the movie they stop body swapping and Taki decides to go visit Mitsuha and realizes that she died in a natural disaster three years ago. He visits her family shrine in the area of her now destroyed village and is able to reconnect with her through not only space but now time as well; the scene where they finally meet is one of the best emotional payoffs I’ve had in quite some time, and is viciously undercut by the fact that they slowly forget each other as their body swapping days move behind them. The movie picks up the pace from after Taki realizes what happened and focuses on them and their friends attempts to save her village and her life.
None of this is explained in any real way, from the body swapping to the time travel, but I don’t think it needs to be. The magical realism aspect of this film allows for it all to just happen and we the audience go along with it all happily. Adding this twist in the middle shows just how good the movie is; it builds on itself in a way that is outlandish elsewhere, but makes sense within the movie itself. The genre mashing that happens also helps make the film feel a bit more energetic than it might otherwise have; I don’t mind slow movies or TV shows, but Your Name is definitely a more enjoyable experience because they heighten the stakes. The final scene of the movie is a small, gentle moment that brings the story to the nice, quiet ending that Taki and Mitsuha deserve.
Besides beautiful animation and a great story, I found the voice cast to be very enjoyable. I watched a dubbed version, and I thought it was quite good. Taki and Mitsuha’s voice actors especially capture the emotion and traits of teenagers just starting to deal with being young adults but really, there are not low points in the cast. While I don’t mind subtitles, they often are a bit better to be honest, the voice cast here is very good. Maybe watch both, but don’t be afraid of watching the dub version. I might have missed some things through the translation, it was nothing I noticed and didn’t detract from the movie at all.
For all the anime that I have watched over the years, I am far from an expert, but I’m confident in writing that Your Name is a classic. Not a modern classic, not an instant classic, but a classic, fully formed and bestowed upon us for our enjoyment. Every aspect of this film is masterfully done, from the visuals to the characters to the pacing (I didn’t even talk about the pacing, but it’s perfect!). It’s themes of love, memories and destiny are timeless, and the way it deals with gender and body swapping are sensitive and insightful.