NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS.
Shinkai Makoto has been extolled as something of a new Hayao Miyazaki in terms of animated film making, and, despite his films being sublime in technical pulchritude, and my mad weeb-trash tendencies, I’ve never quite been able to concur with that plaudit. Whilst nothing could ever truly compare to the inimitable Miyazaki, I considered Shinkai scarcely homologous, especially in terms of his narratives, seemingly a perfunctory afterthought compared to the exquisite mise en scène and shot composition on display. Furthermore, as aesthetically pleasing as the events unfolding ponderously on the screen were, Shinkai’s characters felt like superficial effigies, whose presence was interesting enough but sorely lacking in investing characteristics.
That is, until now.
In a superlative amalgam of his exemplary visual prowess, more intimate and compelling characterization, decent pacing and narrativisation, Your Name manages to transcend Shinkai’s antecedent works, employing its 107 minute run time to considerable aplomb. Whilst the narrative premise of the film is hardly anything new, and the body-swapping plot device is never sufficiently explained, the unequivocally charming rapport between the characters offers a more immersive experience that attenuates any peccadilloes.
Protagonists Miyamizu Mitsuha and Tachibana Taki are a delight to watch, and their droll perceptions of the events that begin to unfold around them are compelling without being bogged down by adolescent angst. Mistuha is a reserved, ennui-afflicted high schooler living in rural Itomori, who serves as a miko, making kuchikamizake for rituals, and kumihimo worn in her hair. Embarrassed by her prosaic life, Mitsuha craves the more urbane life of her cosmopolitan city counterparts, wishing she could reincarnate as a teenage boy residing in Tokyo. Conversely, Taki seemingly embodies everything that Mitsuha yearns for; being a more impulsive, assertive young man, living and attending school in Tokyo whilst working part-time at an Italian restaurant. The two begin waking up to trepidatious friends and family, who express bewilderment at the juxtaposition between their behavior one day and the next. With fleeting memories of the prior day, Mitsuha and Taki realise that they are inadvertently swapping bodies, and begin implementing a system to ensure that they are not disassociated completely from their altered states of consciousness.
It’s their amiable ineptitude and brashness with which they embrace their anomalous scenario, and the nuance with which they have been crafted that make the two protagonists so very, very enjoyable. Mitsuha is kind, and deferential to her authoritarian father and matriarchal grandmother, but somewhat scatterbrained and lazy. Taki affects as much macho bravado as any teenage boy, but possesses a curiosity and a sensitivity. The manner in which they come to edify each other’s lives vicariously is as hilarious as it is subtly touching. Throughout her time as Taki, Mitsuha endears him to others more, evokes a more fastidious diplomatic side to him, and sets him up on a date with a colleague. Taki elicits a bolder, more bellicose Mitsuha, going braless and restyling her hair in a bid to make her be perceived as more confident and independent. Through leaving each other text messages and diary notes detailing their capers, together they come to terms with every facet of each other, the crescendoing intimacy of their bond contrasted with their distance.
The revelation that Mitsuha and Taki’s timelines are not concurrent, whilst hardly a revolutionary narrative device, remains thunderous; a subversion of the banal optimism tinged with despondence characterizing the latter half of Shinkai’s films, and especially in regards to casualties. Coinciding with the advent of a passing comet, Mitsuha and Taki abruptly stop hijacking the others’ faculties, and Taki’s fondness for his erstwhile confidante begets a journey to find her in person. What Taki uncovers is a recondite and eerie tragedy, where Mitsuha and Itomori perished as a fragment of comet obliterated the area, and Mitsuha commuted to Tokyo in an attempt to profess her love to the Taki who was tantamount to a stranger, three years previously. However, as Taki discovers, blessedly, not all of Itomori was decimated, as the subterranean shrine housing Mitsuha’s kuchikamizake survived. Realising that he reciprocates her feelings, Taki downs the questionable alchohol in an attempt to reconnect with Mitsuha in the past, and preclude her death.
The tension that is evinced in the final half of the film is unprecedented for a Shinkai film, and the ensuing stakes are more than welcome considering how cogent all the elements in Your Name are. Even as Mitsuha’s grandmother offhandly reveals to a Taki-possessed Mitsuha that such projection is characteristic of their family, it feels trivial in comparison to the leverage every other element has over the film. The punctilious constituents of each and every other facet resonate and augment, from the reaction of Mitsuha’s younger sister to the sight of her sister fondling her own breasts, to the snapshots Taki captures of the gorgeous dishes he dines on with friends, to the polychromatic trails of the comet shooting through the sky. Shinkai may be revisiting familiar motifs of love and distance in Your Name, but never has been able to make audiences indubitably hold their collective breath over the potential fates of two of his protagonists more.
All this is coupled to compositions of an upbeat, rock and contemporary edge; an apt counterpoint to the youth and verdance transpiring onscreen. The composers, RADWIMPS were a band I had never heard of until Your Name, and every waking moment since then has made me regret such an ignominious folly. All 27 tracks are fantastic, but the standout is obviously the meteoric Zenzenzense, with its staggering propensity to etch itself indelibly in the head for days and still remain enjoyable.
As a longtime Shinkai fan, it has been a gratifying experience to watch Your Name ascend to so many exalted heights in its native Japan and abroad. It is now the 2nd highest grossing Japanese film of all time, the highest grossing anime film of all time globally, and the 8th highest grossing traditionally animated film, beating all but six of Disney’s traditionally animated canon. Monumental feats for a animation director who has a humble four previous films in his CV, and is only entering the peak of his career at a mere 44 years of age.
Whilst the hype may put some off, Shinkai truly deserves every commendation for Your Name. It is a sublime testament to the longevity of traditionally animated films in defiance of a global conglomerate of computer animated excess.
Your Name has finished screening in Australia for now, but is currently screening (subbed and dubbed) in selected U.S theatres.
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