The more I find myself going over the details, moments, and various emotions of the characters in a film, the more I’m assured of how good it is. Your Name, a body-swap/teen romance story from director Makoto Shinkai, is one of those movies- it’s been breaking box office records in its home country of Japan, earning Shinkai comparisons to animation icon Hayao Miyazaki.
Given how visually impressive many scenes are and the layered personalities of the cast, it’s easy to see why. Shinkai juggles several different concepts within one movie, with an arc that unfolds in a very non-linear fashion up until its final scene. And yet it all somehow blends well together, in a clever way that breathes new life into the “old switcheroo” trope.
Through a mysterious phenomenon that seems to occur every couple of days, a high schooler named Mitsuha Miyamizu is transported into the body of Taki Tachibana, a student and part-time waiter living in Tokyo. At first this appears to be fate granting her wish for an escape from her humdrum, small town life in the Hida area.
Her status as the mayor’s daughter does little to ease her discomfort, nor do the rituals she performs at the Shinto shrine of her family. When she takes control of Taki’s body, it’s initially an awkward and scary experience for her, but nevertheless, an exhilarating one simply because it’s actual big city living, something new.
Shinkai uses the swap as a tool for Taki and Mitsuha to gradually get to know each other, despite how annoyed they are by their foibles. They find leaving themselves messages via cell phone and writings- either on paper or their wrists- to remind the other of instructions and daily rituals. There’s some fun in the middle portion playing with gender roles, with “Taki’s” friends surprised by his newfound sensitive side and “Mitsuha’s” loved ones shocked by how aggressive she’s become.
When Taki takes it upon himself to find out why the body swaps are occurring, Your Name’s narrative becomes rather dramatic and fantasy-based, inserting what I can only describe as a disaster-movie element mixed with time travel. Luckily, the two leads have been built up well enough to where I was invested in their dilemma, and still willing to follow the oncoming twists and mood shifts without feeling frustrated.
I’ve seen some anime properties that have some rather jarring jumps between dark, dramatic tones to comedy that’s suddenly shoehorned in out of nowhere. In Your Name, the reactions always feel believable and real. Much of the humor, as well as the drama and tension, rings true to how real teenagers deal with insecurities about their developing bodies and identities, fitting in and trying to be taken seriously by their elders. Mitsuha and Taki’s relatability as characters- and as the film progress, their compassion and heroism- really elevate this movie.
The visuals, audio and music in the film, featuring a catchy theme performed by Japanese band Radwimps, are equally as well realized as the script. The animation gives all the characters good expressions without making them either extremely realistic or stylized, and the details in the background make Tokyo look even more impressive than it might appear in a live action film.
There’s a sequence involving Mitsuha hiking with her younger sister and grandmother with some impressive coloring, and a scene later in the film where Taki visits a shrine in Itomori, resulting in a sudden eye-popping vision that employs some stunning 2D animation. My theater was playing the dubbed version, and voice actors Stephanie Shen and Michael Sinterniklass deliver great performances as the two main characters.
The one minor issue for me is that I’d liked to have seen a bit more of Taki getting accustomed to Mitsuha’s life in Itomori. Both characters get a healthy amount of focus overall as the story progresses, but Mitsuha is generally the viewpoint character for most of it. Still, I should reiterate it is a minor complaint, as both leads are so likable and easy to get behind, making it more nerve-wracking- in a good way- when the plot gradually becomes more suspenseful.
A secret to creativity is taking various concepts and combining them into something new and wholly original, and the various pieces here have resulted in what I think is a damn good film. If you’re an anime fan or just like great cartoons period, I think it’s especially a must-see, but it’s entertaining in a variety of ways and I really feel it’s going to have serious crossover appeal over time. Teenagers and possibly even families will get a lot out of it, as it’s a dramedy that can deliver some raw, impactful moments without doing anything especially crude or graphic. Overall, I highly recommend Your Name and give it two thumbs up!