Director: Makoto Shinkai
Screenplay: Makoto Shinkai
Based on a Novel by Makoto Shinkai
Voice Cast: Ryunosuke Kamiki (as Taki Tachibana), Mone Kamishiraishi (as Mitsuha Miyamizu); Masami Nagasawa (as Miki Okudera); Etsuko Ichihara (as Hitoha Miyamizu); Ryo Narita (as Katsuhiko Teshigawara); Aoi Yūki (as Sayaka Natori)
It's a wonderful feeling how successful Your Name has been, an incredible hit in Japan that's also growing in box office in countries like South Korea and even the US. Knowing Makoto Shinkai was once making waves with a short film he made as an outsider of the anime industry by his own, Voices of a Distant Star (2002), and gained a career as a result of that short's own success and his hard work adds to that wonderful feeling. And brilliantly, a decade on starting with a sci-fi story about time travel and giant robots which was actually about human relationships and communication across an impossible distance, Your Name is tackling the same subject in fantasy and folklore trappings about a young boy and girl communicating over their own vast distance separate from each other, instead Shinkai using this much larger budgeted, longer canvas to flesh out the subject matter further.
It has to be stressed that Your Name is a very mainstream feel-good movie,in which, after a meteor shower, a young high school girl Mitsuha, living in a rural town as the daughter of the late shrine priestess, finds herself randomly switching bodies some days with an urban schoolboy Taki living in Tokyo before the morning after returning to their original places. As they start to exchange notes to each other during the changes, of how not to behave in the other's body and offering diary snippets of what they've done in that time, a relationship at a distance begins. At first Your Name takes on a surprising amount of the tone of television anime in its speediness and snap in pace only brought to a monstrously higher budget with great animation, an opening credit sequence closer to a TV series in its montage of flashy animation and pop rock by Noda Yojiro, the humour juggling near slapstick and light sexual comedy between Mitsuha's thought bubbles or how neither she and Taki are prepared, even after multiple times, to find themselves in the body of someone of the opposite sex let alone in an entirely different environment between urban Tokyo and a rural mountain town. After a while Your Name, to its credit, does start to get more weight to it beyond this light humour.
For starters, it's clear Makoto Shinkai, writing a script based on a novel he wrote himself, has an incredible ear for personalities that feel realistic and an interest in humdrum life that's drastically different from the imaginary, exaggerated fantasy of high school that prevails in a lot of anime stereotypes, a naturalist not only in his realistic character designs and the painstaking detail in all the environments, but how even in a fantasy story with light comedy is grounded with realism that feels more sincere than in other stories, such as Mitsuha's father being disconnected from his shrine heritage after his wife's death playing an incredible part in the friction between father and daughter, or even how the effect of a boy inside a girl's body, and a girl inside a male's body, isn't just played for cheap humour but includes subtle personality changes alongside bouts of inadvertent amnesia and drastic behavioural changes. The contrast between the small town in the county that's difficult to find by train without knowing it's name, and has very little in terms of activity there for the youths baring the yearly cultural festival, and the urban metropolis of Tokyo, with Taki doing part time work in an Italian restaurant and its crowded trains, provides a visible interest between the Japan of tradition and lore against Japanese modernity, never stressed or made clear in a portentous way but a sub current the divide playing the two central characters away from each other takes advantage of. The explicitness of the folklore of Mitsuha's community plays out behind the body swapping is significant too, where the traditional form of sake made from chewed up rice and alcohol kuchikamizake is an important plot point, and a certain time in twilight at dusk allows people from different realities to stand and talk to each other.
The best thing Your Name does is to suddenly plough through the expected comedy for this premise in a giant montage, when it would be savoured over time in other films, and turn into a much more serious story, taking a tragic plot twist involving the initial comet and purposely play with time and reality in a tone that's between a pulp weird tale and romantic drama. It's a little flaw that Taki is the real protagonist, when Mitsuha's own life is fascinating and the side characters around her like her younger sister and the conspiracy obsessed Katsuhiko are the most fun to follow, but thankfully neither side is more important than the other in terms of emphasis, the duo allowed through the metaphysical distortions in the plot able to be on screen in various forms, including as each other, in very unconventional ways. It's still a populist, mainstream film in terms of the ending, but Shinkai has a foot firmly in the metaphysical and folklore which brings a better sense of the fantastical, allowing it to dodge countless clichés that would've made the ending resolution a chore, and a better sense of the drama where the real emotional concern is whether Mitsuha and Taki will ever have any form of romance that's consummated to each other even if just through saying a few words. The growing romantic angle resonates more when the film plays with tropes like destiny and the Japanese notion of the red string of fate against their more prickly, humorous interactions beforehand.
The quality of the production is also vital for it to work as, whilst the music by Noda Yojiro and his band Radwimps is frankly too saccharine for me, it's an incredible visual achievement where the background details - the colours of the sky at morning or night, clouds - are incredibly detailed and colourful, having a sensual impact to the material as well as a dramatic weight, the story especially when it's in Mitsuha's town and its mountain setting having an important emphasise on the local gods which play an important role in her life and the plot. In fact Your Name goes one further, with a scene in motion that may have tipped it's hat to the late anime director Osamu Dezaki's "postcard memories", still images that suddenly intercut into scenes with incredible detail, with witnessing Mitsuha's life from her birth to the present in watercolour that's breathtaking and nearly psychedelic.
Plus, and the factor you sadly don't get in a lot of mainstream cinema, the story is full of life and humour which adds to its emotion, from the running gag of Mitsuha's younger sister being freaked out every time Taki possesses her body and acts in strange ways, or the sweet and emotionally adult subplot about an older female colleague at Taki's Italian restaurant job who Mitsuha helps draw him close to. The later in particular, while not radical as a film on the subject, does give some complexity to how Your Name deals with the gender portrayals, quite brilliantly beyond the obvious jokes, found especially in how this female colleague, university student Miki, find herself bonding with Taki when he's showing more empathy because of Mitsuha being the person behind the eyes. Even though I've barely seen anything by Shinkai, with a large gap between The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004) to Your Name in my viewing, it's amazing how that even when it's scored to light fluffy J-rock and a mainstream box office smash, he's decided to expand on the same obsessions he had from his first ever work on a much higher budget, still within the confines of genre storytelling, and expand upon his concerns about human interaction and distance in a larger scale without feeling he's compromised at all.