Directed by Makoto Shinkai
Starring Mone Kamishiraishi, Kamiki Ryusnosuke, Masami Nagasawa, Etsuko Ichihara, Ryo Narita, Aoi Yuuki, Nobunaga Shimazaki, Kaito ishikawa, Kanon Tani
Film Review by Jack Gibbs
One day, rural girl Mitsuha Miyamizu (Mone Kamishiraishi) and city kid Taki Tachibana (Kamiki Ryunosuke) find themselves inexplicably swapping bodies at random. At first, this sudden occurrence serves as a strange but amusing diversion, with the two kids using it to live each other’s lives, send each other messages and improve each other’s lives, but it doesn’t take long for something darker to seep through the cracks. News of a passing comet heralds a change, and the two find themselves in the midst of something monumental, all the while trying to preserve the connection and memories they have.
Your Name, the latest in Makoto Shinkai’s filmography and by far his most critically lauded, is a curious outlier in his library of work. It retains much of what its predecessors feature – smooth, eye-watering visuals, an emphasis on the subjects of connection and human bonds and, more often than not, a heaving dollop of bittersweetness. Here he aims to subvert that general mood, giving us perhaps the closest to a standard romantic drama he’s ever made, with a slight fantastic edge, an endeavour that yields mixed results.
Certainly, Shinkai and his crew bring their experience to the fore. The animation and art, especially when concerning the village of Itomori nestled among beautiful scenery, are nothing less than stunning. The intricacies of rural and urban environments and the sharp contrast between them are captured perfectly. There is nothing off-model to ruin the immersion, and the visual direction creates some utterly striking scenes. Shinkai makes the worlds he creates feel vibrant, weathered and lived-in all at ones, and CoMix Wave Films, who have frequently collaborated with him, help bring Your Name’s vision of Japan to live like never before, and the film includes perhaps the most beautifully animated comet in recent history.
The Japanese voice acting is also strong across the board, with both lead actors displaying an impressive degree of range as they alternate between bodies and convincingly portray the other’s mannerisms and personalities as time goes by. Kamishiraishi’s performance is particularly soulful, and joining her are a smattering of voice actors and actresses who mostly don’t have a massive deal of experience in the field, barring Ryunosuke and Aoi Yuuki who voices Mitsuha’s friend Sayaka. The relative newness of most of the remaining cast makes their performances that much more genuine, and there are some true standouts, particularly Kanon Tani as Mitsuha’s sister Yotsuha.
Additionally the film excels at simply making you feel good, while also having its share of punches to the emotional centre. It’s a film that tells us to cherish the memories we have, a creation brimming with a sense of hopeful positivity in stark contrast to a great deal of the director’s previous works. Given that Shinkai has often made a habit out of taking viewers of his films on unremitting emotional rollercoaster, and so to have something from him that is genuinely happy in tone that rewards the protagonists for their struggles is welcome indeed. The soundtrack – chiefly a number of insert songs from Japanese band Radwimps – intensifies this, and their music makes up some of the most memorable parts of the film as a whole.
The characters are given enough time to shine, and are probably among Shinkai’s most memorable. What the characters themselves do is oftentimes interesting or compelling enough, and through them we do learn intriguing things about them and the world around them. We have a look into things like Taki’s attempt at a love life, and Mitsuha honouring the traditions of her shrine, dealing with school, seeing her boredom towards rural life…but there is a disparity, and therein lies part of the problem.
On the issue of characters the film also ends up suffering, for all the colour the characters exhibit, by electing to focus chiefly on Mitsuha as opposed to Taki, with him only receiving proper focus after the story drops its first major bombshell. Even then it is only for a limited amount of time, and as a result of this focal disparity Mitsuha not only comes across as the infinitely more interesting lead, but one of the main thrusts of the entire film – the romantic angle pushed for these two characters – comes off as rushed and insincere on Taki’s part as a result.
As with the characters, so too do the mechanics that enable the film’s plot find themselves wanting. The idea of body-swapping, though a nifty gimmick, is what ends up dragging the film down the most in this regard. No real reason is given at any point in the film as to how the phenomenon occurs, barring one brief moment in the film where it’s mentioned that Mitsuha’s relatives had dreams of living other lives – but even then, that doesn’t account for Taki, which is odd because the other fantasy elements receive a sufficient explanation. Related to this mechanic, what is probably the most outstanding revelation in the film finds itself bogged down in a series of retroactive plot holes that unfortunately diminish the impact of the reveal and make the events that transpire in its wake less plausible. One cannot help but wonder if Shinkai ended up being somewhat carried away by the idea of swapping bodies to the detriment of the script.
However, the biggest problem is that, ultimately, compared to its predecessors, it’s just simply rather plain, even somewhat derivative. Strangely enough, it is in attempting to divorce itself from the director’s usual style of work that Your Name ends up damaging its own identity. It has a likeable cast, and it unquestionable has iconic moments and sequences filled with impeccable direction and raw emotion, but there’s nothing that’s narratively hard-hitting like the sheer distance involved in Voices of a Distant Star, the tragedy in Children Who Chase Lost Voices or the unflinching realism of Five Centimetres Per Second. It’s a relatively standard romantic drama with a hint of the fantastical, and while it’s a well-made feel-good feature, the simplicity of its scenario ends up hindering more than helping.
Does Your Name live up to the monumental hype? Not quite. It is worth a watch, is unquestionably a labour of love and is something that you turn to if you want to feel fuzzy. But from Shinkai himself – from the realm of animation itself – there are titles that simply do better.
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