Director: Makoto Shinkai
Starring: Ryûnosuke Kamiki and Mone Kamishiraishi
Release Date: Out Now
When it comes to tired sub-genres, body swap comedy is the lowest hanging fruit there is. A constant subject of ridicule, their very existence suggests washed-out actors, inexperienced writing and heavy studio influence.
Swapping those notions out for thoughtful commentary and complex characters, Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name is a surprisingly sensational slice of cinematic gold.
The reason for body-swapping has never been explained satisfactorily in movies, so Shinkai makes a bold move in refusing to explain it at all. Teenagers Mitsuha (Kamishiraishi) and Taki (Kamiki), who have never met, simply find themselves switching bodies for one day at a time at random intervals.
It is suggested that this has something to do with a comet passing over in the night sky (bringing more than its fair share of symbolism), but this is never more than a suggestion.
This is very much a story in which the journey is more important than the mode of transport.
The most refreshing aspect of the film is how Mitsuha and Taki communicate. With Mitsuha living in a small, rural village and Taki in an apartment in Tokyo, they can’t simply meet up after third period.
Instead, they leave notes for each other, in school books or on their arms. They ask each other probing questions, leave reports about their day and berate each other about their behaviour.
When Taki first realises he is in Mitsuha’s body, he reacts as any teenage boy would. This leads to some side-achingly funny moments, which get funnier the more they recur because it isn’t simply lazy repetition.
Once both teens fully realise what is happening, we are treated (a most apt term here) to a perfectly choreographed montage sequence. It exhibits the differences in urban/rural lifestyles, the transgressive cultural similarities and diversity in Japan overall.
It’s beautifully shot, atmospherically exciting and culturally rich. It should also be acknowledged that, in an industry that often paints urban/industrial areas in a negative light, Shinkai masterfully manages to convey true beauty in the bustle of city life.
What is achieved here, and that which is so often lost in computer animation, is the creation of a world that feels truly lived in. Shinkai doesn’t rush the story and allows the setting to breathe.
The birds outside a window are given ample time to sing, and the audience is given time to both listen and reflect upon their song. Little details, such as the imprint left by a hammer or the reflection of street lights on a wet pavement, elevate the experience to something more serene.
This is work of art that has been painstakingly crafted, and it shows.
Balancing alongside that atmosphere is a story that is a pleasure to wallow in, untroubled for the most part to reach any sort of conclusion. Of course, without spoiling anything, this is exactly what the director is aiming for. Events eventually take a turn that is both seamless yet unexpected in this genre.
At one point, it leans dangerously far into melodramatic territory. However, this is a singular moment, drowned out by juicy developments, exciting implications and witty banter.
Your Name is a film that has less impact the more you try to explain it. It’s a pleasant and charming story, conveyed through hard-earned professionalism and artistic skill. It doesn’t rely on emotional impact to win the audience over, as one might expect from Ghibli or Pixar, but it isn’t lacking in warmth either.
It presents us with an utterly timeless story and a lived in world that feels far bigger than the screen you’re watching it on.
Written by Stephen Hill