Your Name (2016) FUNimation Entertainment/Drama-Fantasy RT: 106 minutes Rated PG (thematic elements, suggestive content, brief language) Director: Makoto Shinkai Screenplay: Makoto Shinkai Music: Radwimps Cinematography: Makoto Shinkai Release date: April 7, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA) Cast: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi, Masami Nagasawa, Etsuko Ichihara, Ryo Narita, Aoi Yuki, Nobunaga Shimazaki, Kaito Ishikawa, Kanon Tani, Masaki Terasoma, Sayaka Ohara, Kana Hanazawa. Spoken in Japanese w/English subtitles
It’s amazing how differently filmmakers from different cultures interpret the same concept. Take the “body switch” movie. Give it to an American and you get Freaky Friday, All of Me, Big and 13 Going on 30. Worst case scenario, you get Like Father, Like Son or The Change-Up. Any way you slice it, it’ll be a silly comedy filled with wacky hijinks and comic confusion as the respective parties get used to their new bodies. On the other hand, give the same concept to the Japanese and you get Your Name, a beautiful anime piece from writer-director Makoto Shinkai (Journey to Agartha). It starts off with two teens switching bodies and turns into something quite unexpected and profoundly moving. It transcends its premise to encompass bigger ideas like time, tradition, fate and destiny. Let’s see the makers of the inevitable Boss Baby sequel try and top that!
In real life, Mitsuha (Kamishiraishi) and Taki (Kamiki) would never have met. They wouldn’t even have any mutual friends on FaceBook. She’s a shy high school student from Itomori, a town so small and isolated it doesn’t even have a café (yet there are two bars, go figure). He’s an awkward teen from Tokyo with a crush on an attractive co-worker Okudera (Nagasawa). One day, they start switching bodies. It’s intermittent and when they wake up back in their own bodies, their memories of each other fade quickly as though it was all a dream. They start leaving notes for each other (she on his phone; he in her notebook) about what happened when they switched places. In the process, Taki helps Mitsuha to come out of her shell and become more popular. Mitsuha helps Taki to ask Okudera out on a date, a very awkward one at that since he has no idea what he’s doing. Then, without explanation, it stops, leaving them both with vague memories of something, they’re not sure what. They can’t even remember each other’s names. I won’t say where Your Name goes from here but it packs an emotional punch so powerful, it won’t fade from memory any time soon.
Lest you think Your Name is entirely humorless, I assure you nothing could be further from the truth. It is funny at times but it doesn’t go for cheap laughs involving poop or puke. That’s strictly the domain of American filmmakers. There’s a running joke about Taki fondling Mitsuha’s breasts when he inhabits her body bit it can hardly be considered gratuitous since it’s what any teen boy would likely do if he found himself in a similar situation. Shinkai has a great understanding of the differences between genders but wisely chooses to emphasize emotional over physical thus avoiding the pitfall of making Your Name feel clichéd.
Also, it makes the characters feel more real; it gives them depth and dimension. Mitsuha lives with her grandmother (Ichihara) and little sister (Tani) while her strict father (Terasoma) runs for mayor. He’s been distant from his daughters since their mother passed away several years earlier. He constantly criticizes Mitsuha which does a real number on her confidence. She longs to leave Itomori to live a more fulfilling life in Tokyo. Taki, on the other hand, is looking for something. He’s not sure what. He goes to school, works in a restaurant and hangs out with his friends. He wants more from life too. Maybe it’s this commonality that brought the two together in such a way. Or it could be the comet passing overhead. Either way, both their lives change as a result of their cosmic encounter. But back to my original point, Taki and Mitsuha feel more like real people than any given character in any given computer-animated film. Yes Boss Baby, I’m looking at you!
The animation in Your Name is stunningly gorgeous. It’s colorful and positively brimming with life whether it depicts a remote village or a big bustling city. The watercolor landscapes often dominate scenes, overwhelming the characters’ cartoonish forms much in the same way that certain seemingly unimportant details (e.g. a special kind of sake made by the two sisters) become an integral part of the story. This is the kind of animation I’d like to see more of. One can only take so much of the 3D hyperactivity that’s come to define the CA movies that families flock to en masse. I’m still looking at you, Boss Baby!
Okay, so I picked on Boss Baby a lot in this review and for that I apologize. It’s a good movie for what it is. But Your Name exists on an entirely different plane. While you can take the kids (it’s inoffensive), it’s aimed more at teens and adults. It has a sad, melancholy tone to it. It takes a more serious approach to material previously covered (three times, in fact) by Disney. It gives you believable characters and puts them in an unbelievable situation that miraculously does NOT feel entirely unbelievable even though it is. It all leads to a deeply affecting ending that makes clear the meaning of the title. It’s one of the season’s most rewarding films.