She’s just a small town girl, living in a lonely world. And he’s just a city boy, born and raised in … modern Tokyo. And sometimes they switch bodies after they go to sleep and must soon work together in the light of an impending disaster. Wait, what?
OK, even by Japanese anime standards, the story of Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name) is a rather bizarre one. The movie, after all is many things: a coming of age love story, a gender-bender comedy, an semi-apocalyptic thriller and a philosophical rumination on fate, death and predestination.
With a lesser director, combining so many different genres would probably result in a disaster, meshing together into a stinking sukiyaki of awfulness.
Yet somehow, in the capable hands of Makoto Shinkai (5 Centimetres Per Second, The Garden Of Words), all these disparate elements blend together beautifully, resulting in a truly enjoyable movie experience.
Your Name is the story of Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi), a teenage girl living in a picturesque mountain village. Raised by her grandmother to be a ceremonial maiden at the local shrine, Mitsuha longs for a more exciting life, even loudly wishing she could be “a handsome Tokyo boy in her next life”.
Strange things happen to Mitsuha; soon, she discovers she sometimes wakes up as Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki), an urban Tokyo boy who works at a cafe after school to earn extra money.
Meanwhile, Taki is waking up in her body. Discounting this strangeness as weird dreams, the two go about as the other for a while, and even make positive changes to each other’s lives.
Having teenagers exchange bodies sounds like the perfect set-up for a raunchy comedy: indeed, a running joke in the movie is Taki feeling himself up every time a body swap happens! But Your Name wisely takes a different direction, sensitively using this strange anatomical trope to explore themes like empathy and the pangs of adolescence.
As Mitsuha and Taki grow accustomed to the occasional body-swapping, they also get to know each other better, leaving notes or memos on each other’s smartphones to communicate. It doesn’t take a genius to guess what happens next.
However, things are complicated by the appearance of a strange comet in the sky, which soon results in a dark fate, literally turning them into star-crossed lovers!
The appearance of the comet, which happens roughly in the middle, changes the film’s tone, shifting it from a light romance to a darker, more science fiction, fantastical story. By some celestial miracle, this actually makes the film BETTER, adding grand stakes to an otherwise run-of-the-mill love story. Throw in some stuff about Japanese rituals on the threads of fate and you’ve got yourself quite an epic drama on your hands.
Despite all this grand stuff, however, Your Name’s main focus is on its characters. Ample time is devoted to building up both Mitsuha and Taki, and their relationship is built up in such a cute manner that it’s hard not to become attached to both of them.
The film’s supporting cast is also interesting and well-fleshed out; particularly fun to watch are Yotsuha, Mitsuha’s younger sister who thinks Mitsuha is going crazy but loves her anyway, and Okudera (Masami Nagasawa), an older co-worker who Taki has a crush on.
This film has been doing very well; Your Name is currently the fifth highest-grossing movie of all time in Japan, having topped the box-office there for 12 non-consecutive weekends.
It is also the first anime not directed by legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki (of Studio Ghibli fame) to earn more than US$100mil at the Japanese box-office. Shinkai has often been called one of Miyazaki’s potential successors, and this film is excellent evidence of why that could be so.
Your Name is gorgeous – landscapes, whether they be the natural beauty of mountain towns in Gifu, or the bustling crowds of Tokyo’s Shinjuku station, are all animated realistically and are remarkably pleasing to the eye.
During one of the film’s more surreal scenes, events are depicted in a chalk-drawing animation style, which is just breathtaking.
The soundtrack is provided by J-rock band Radwimps, which is pretty good. Yes, it may be a bit typical for this sort of film, but seriously, what other music genre could better express the frustrated longings of youth?
The film is by no means perfect; the romance element can be a little overdone, and might be seen as too sappy by some. It also drags a little bit towards the end, and perhaps could have been trimmed. But overlook these minor flaws, and you will find yourself with a very unique film that will probably stay with you long after you leave the cinema.
Things build up to a memorable ending, that manages to be maddening, beautiful and also highly appropriate.
It doesn’t seem possible that a film can be both charmingly relatable and wonderfully fantastical at the same time. Your Name, however, accomplishes this. And with style too!
Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name)
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Voice cast: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi, Masami Nagasawa, Ryo Narita