UK Release Date: 18th November 2016
Runtime: 106 minutes
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Writer: Makoto Shinkai
Starring: Mone Kamishiraishi, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Masami Nagasawa, Ryo Narita, Aoi Yūki, Etsuko Ichihara, Masaki Terasoma
Synopsis: A young man and woman find themselves switching bodies at random and embark on a tentative romance, despite the fact they live many miles apart and have no control over the switches.
Animated cinema at the box office is pretty much dominated by the big American studios. Disney, and its subsidiary Pixar, have something of a monopoly and are free to churn out as many Cars sequels and spin-offs as they can stomach – which is loads. Japan, however, has always been a presence in the background through Studio Ghibli and particularly the work of Hayao Miyazaki. After Miyazaki’s retirement, though, the stage is set for a new voice in anime. With the outstanding body swap romance Your Name, Makoto Shinkai has planted a sizeable flag in the ground.
Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) is a girl living in rural Japan, who dreams of a life in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. One day, she wakes up in the body of privileged city boy Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki) and the two begin to frequently switch bodies, helping each other with their lives and communicating by leaving each other notes. Mitsuha secures Taki a date with coworker Miki (Masami Nagasawa) and Taki helps Mitsuha become more popular at school. When their switching seems to stop abruptly one day, Taki vows to travel into the countryside, track down Mitsuha and meet her in person.
Your Name is, first and foremost, a compelling romantic story featuring two well-drawn, likeable characters. Mitsuha is a savvy youngster with her head full of dreams of city life, whilst Taki is stalling in life as he fades into the background. They need each other and the body swap mechanic allows them to subtly improve each other whilst glimpsing into each other’s lives for days at a time in what is perhaps the most intimate first date imaginable. It’s an intriguing dynamic that Shinkai wisely avoids swerving into cheap melodrama, preferring to mine mischievous, wry humour from the premise instead.
The two central performances from Mone Kamishiraishi and Ryunosuke Kamiki capture the tricky tone very well, allowing the jokes to come and the inherent ridiculousness of the concept create natural laughs, whilst also encouraging the audience to care deeply about the two characters. Kamiki, in particular, manages a lot of the heavy lifting in the film’s final third as emotional revelations pile up. There are moments in Your Name that are utterly emotionally devastating and others that are incredibly touching and the potency of all of these moments comes from the two central voice roles.
It’s also a film of remarkable visual invention. Shinkai’s world is a beautiful blend of animation techniques, from almost photorealistic landscapes and natural features to sequences of wild, impressionistic flourishes that convey the cosmic sense of wonder at the centre of the story. There are breath-taking, evocative shots throughout the film that could be picked out as individual works of art and the characters themselves are given plenty of visual emotion to sell the film’s more powerful story beats.
Shinkai’s biggest achievement, though, is in crafting a story that is entirely unpredictable. Tales of romance, star-crossed lovers and even body swaps are littered throughout the history of cinema and their tropes are ingrained in the psyche of cinephiles. It is remarkable, therefore, that Your Name takes the audience with it as it swerves and twists through its dramatic plot. It’s never quite clear where the story is going, but what is completely clear is that you are completely on board throughout and determined to see these two lovers get together. A final note of ambiguity also provides Shinkai’s near-masterpiece with that most elusive of romance movie elements – a satisfying pay-off.
Pop or Poop?
Japanese auteur Makoto Shinkai has crafted one of the year’s best movies with Your Name, which is an emotionally formidable anime romance that makes the heart soar and tears flow. Shinkai’s nimble storytelling weaves a tale of heartbreak, romance and hope that keeps the audience guessing from the first frame to the last.
It’s a gripping story told with some of the most beautiful animation ever committed to film. For anime experts or newcomers to the art form, this is a truly special film.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
The Popcorn Muncher is competing in two categories at the UK Blog Awards 2017. If you liked this post, I would really appreciate if you could vote for the blog and tell all of your friends about us as well. Share the voting link on Twitter using @Popcorn_Muncher and the hashtag #UKBA17.