Director: Makoto Shinkai
Screenplay: Makoto Shinkai
Producers: Noritaka Kawaguchi, Genki Kawamura
Starring: Mone Kamishiraishi, Ryonosuke Kamiki
Distributor: Toho, FUNimation Films
Hype is an interesting thing to analyze. It comes in many forms, it gets attached to many mediums, but the end goal is always the same: get as many people excited for your product and build to the release. Enter the film Your Name., Makoto Shinkai’s latest film, an innocent and beautiful tale of body-swapping teens from two very different aspects of life, and officially the highest-grossing anime film of all time, with over $330 million in global box office. But now that it’s finally made its way to American theaters, I made my trek to the cinema to take in this unique tale of a body-swapping happenstance of fate, discover what all the hype was truly about, and see firsthand how and why this became one of the most successful animated films of all time.
Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) is just a small town girl, living in a lonely world, trapped within the countryside of Itomori in a broken home. Her jaded father is the town mayor, she’s often ostracized from her classmates, and she’s not too happy about taking part in her family’s Shintō tradition of making saké. A world away, though, in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, Taki (Ryonosuke Kamiki) is just an average high school boy trying to get through his busy day to day life of studies, bussing tables, and making sure he catches the train home on time. But what if, one day, they both find themselves in the other’s shoes, as well as the other’s body? By a sudden chance of fate, both Mitsuha and Taki find themselves swapped in each other’s bodies, almost like a dream but far too real to be such a thing. It’s an unexplained phenomena, but they both catch on to what’s going on, so they decide to help each other out by way of some notes in each other’s phones, as well as on each other’s arms and faces. They both have always been searching for something, a place or a person, and with each other’s help, they can get closer to what it is that they’re looking for. That is, until one day, when a comet passes through the Earth and splits apart in orbit, where the body switching suddenly stops. There’s a deeper mystery at play to all of this, and Taki wants to know more about this mysterious girl, but what he will find may not be what he expected, and there might be something much larger worth fighting for, in the end.
If you’re familiar with the filmography of Makoto Shinkai, you’ll know that he is one to put the human element of character in the forefront of his stories, and more specifically, inter-personal and intra-personal relationships. Such is the case with Your Name., a film that centers around a teenage boy and a teenage girl swapping bodies by way of a mysterious phenomena, and learning more about each other, as well as helping each other out, as a result of it. Mitsuha isn’t the most sociable girl in her school, but when Taki is in her body, she’s a lot more outgoing and upfront about herself, even if a scene or two ends up happening in front of everyone. Meanwhile, Taki has a bit of a crush on one of his coworkers, a woman named Miki, so Mitsuha – while in his body – helps him act more warm and forward toward her, leading to a date being set up for them both. Interestingly enough, there’s an element of gender fluidity at play with the body-swapping going on. I’ll explain it like this: when Taki is in Mitsuha’s body, she acts more rugged and outgoing, so much so that one of her classmates develops a bit of a crush on her, all while he is in her body. And on the other side, when Mitsuha is in Taki’s body, he acts more warm and kind-hearted, with a side of femininity to him, leading to one of his classmates saying that he was rather cute. It’s not the most prominent feature of the film, but it was an element that I found to be rather interesting, even if the moments were sparse and limited to the first act of the film.
Of course, there are the moments of awe that Mitsuha experiences, going through the busy and large-scale Tokyo cityscapes; for a country bumpkin, the big city can feel like a different world entirely, and these feelings were encapsulated perfectly in the film, as were the feelings of Mitsuha’s familial and home life strife. The only real negative I have to give this film is that we don’t see that much about Taki’s home life, save for the times where he and Mitsuha switch bodies, but he does make up for that lack of screen time in the first half of the film well into the second half. Which, speaking of, there is a REALLY big twist that kicks off the second half, and because it’s super spoilery, I’ll avoid saying a whole lot about it, but trust me when I say that this twist kicks off the true meat of the film and serves as a really grand transition into the rising action. Don’t go into this film expecting some Freaky Friday body-swapping hijinks, you’ll find none of that and more of our two leads discovering what they want more out of life, and more of who they want to bring into their lives.
So how did this film come to be? Well, Your Name. was originally written and published as a novel (coming in May from Yen Press) which was also penned by Makoto Shinkai himself, before the film had its grand premiere in July 2016 at Anime Expo in Los Angeles. After which, the film was released in theaters in Japan, where it remained atop the Japanese box office for, and get ready for this… TWELVE TOTAL WEEKENDS. NINE of which were consecutive. Not even big budget Hollywood films in America are #1 for that long an amount of time. Plenty of inspirations were taken during the creation of this story, such as Greg Egan’s short story The Safe-Deposit Box, the anime Ranma 1/2, and the manga Inside Mari. The entire body-swapping trope is nothing truly new or groundbreaking, especially in anime, but taking that trope and using it as a strong storytelling device, to this extent? I feel no regret in saying that the execution of this within the film is as perfect as perfect can be. And if you’re wondering if Your Name. ends like the rest of Makoto Shinkai’s films do, I can safely say that, for once, there is a heartwarming ending on both sides for everyone to bawl their eyes out to. You just have to go see it for yourself and find out what it is.
The theater I went to only had the subtitled version playing at a decent hour, so for my experience, I watched the Japanese version of the film, which may have been for the best. From start to finish, this film is very Japanese, from the scenery shots of the southern forestries to the large Tokyo skyline, to the allegory of the “red string of fate” with Mitsuha’s hair ribbon, to the usage and importance of Shintō traditions, with creating kuchikamizake, to even more subtle moments with Mitsuha, in Taki’s body, trying to use the right pronoun to use to describe himself. It’s a charming moment that would have otherwise been lost in translation, but from what I’ve heard from theatergoers, the English dub performance is just as excellent as it is in Japanese – I’ll make a note to update this review when the film gets a home video release, and add in my thoughts on the English dub. The animation production, courtesy of CoMix Wave Films, supplies some of the most beautiful and gorgeous animation I’ve seen in any animated film, bar none. The attention to detail in the backgrounds and transition shots is absolutely incredible, and the thing is, this has become par for the course for Makoto Shinkai’s films. And that’s a very high par to uphold, so good on the production staff for going above and beyond with this film.
The music is supplied by J-rock group RADWIMPS, bringing a very bright guitar-centric rock soundtrack to the film, presented most prominently in the opening, insert, and closing songs. The music is very modern and grooving, and it fits right in with the film at large. To note, the band actually supplied the North American English dub screenings with English-language versions of the songs included; again, stay tuned for an update on that. One song from the OST, “Sparkle,” is a perfect encapsulation of the film’s hills and valleys as a serendipitous guitar and piano ballad, and then there’s the guitar ballad ending song, “Nandemonaiya,” as fitting an ending theme as a movie as this could ever ask for. The OST for Your Name. is up for streaming on Apple Music and Spotify, I highly recommend giving it a listen or two or five.
Suffice it to say, this film became the standout success for Makoto Shinkai, so much so that he’s developed a bit of “creator backlash” towards it; I think he’s just being modest, rare successes like this are few and far between, but also completely earned. Shinkai has also stated in an interview that there could have been more to the film, stating, quote, “for me it’s incomplete, unbalanced. The plot is fine but the film is not at all perfect. Two years was not enough.” Despite the claims, the film became a critical and box office success, and for better or not so better, this film will undoubtedly be forever linked to Makoto Shinkai’s legacy. But the question still remains: HOW did this film grow to be such a giant runaway success? Well, there can be many answers from many people, but if you ask me, it’s a combination of Japanese youth really resonating with the story at hand, as well as serving as a great escape from the endless melancholy that was the year of 2016. At least, that’s my take on it.
Like I said at the start, hype is an interesting thing to analyze, and it can’t really be judged until after you experience the subject in question, which in this case was this film. I can safely say that the hype was WELL worth it, and that the film more than delivered upon it all. Your Name. is one of the most charming films I have ever seen, animated or otherwise. From the start of the film, where the audience is introduced to Mitsuha and Taki, to the very end, where their star-crossed path goes through so many leaps and bounds, their dynamic and relationship are equal parts engaging, heartwarming, heartbreaking, and even romantic, and completely gripping from the opening sequence to the ending credits. At 107 minutes, it borders on crossing over into “too long” territory, but the way the film spaces out its three-act structure, especially with how the final act begins, it never feels like it’s dragging its feet. The visuals and animation are breathtakingly gorgeous, the music is on point throughout, the story is incredibly captivating with several excellent twists and turns to be found, and the movie, as a whole, is well deserving of all of the accolades and success it has earned. It’s playing in select theaters across North America until Thursday, April 20, so if you haven’t seen it yet, go to a screening near you and take in the majesty of this beautifully heart-wrenching opus of a film.
There’s one last question to ask, though: is Your Name. Makoto Shinkai’s best film?
Maybe. But I certainly won’t argue against that claim.
Verdict: See it in theaters, see it twice if you can, then buy it on Blu-ray when it comes out.