Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, otherwise known as Kimi No Na Wa, is the biggest Japanese film from 2016, animated or otherwise.
It currently has a limited theatrical run in the United States, including debut screenings of Funimation’s English dub.
Within the anime community, there is an incredible amount of hype surrounding this film, with many considering it to be one of the greatest anime movies ever made. Though I hesitate to give Your Name such high praise, it certainly is a remarkable achievement from Makoto Shinkai and the natural culmination of his career thus far.
For those in the dark, Makoto Shinkai is an animator and storyteller who specializes in quiet, somber tales of long-distance relationships and lost loves. This particular characteristic extends back to his very first work Voices From A Distant Star, which centers on a young couple who are separated by war. It also applies to my personal favorite of Shinkai’s films 5 Centimeters Per Second, a story that chronicles the relationship between two star-crossed lovers, whose feelings for one another gradually erode with time.
Your Name deals with similar themes, but it is ultimately more upbeat and accessible compared to many of Shinkai’s previous efforts.
Whereas much of his prior work dealt with couples who are separated through circumstance, Your Name instead focuses on a pair of strangers who become familiar with each other in an unusual way: by inhabiting one another’s bodies.
In the American context, body swapping stories typically reside in the realm of comedy or farce. Many of these stories are formulaic to a fault: they usually involve two people who are well acquainted, unknowingly envious of one another, and who dislike each other for this very reason. After experiencing life in the other’s shoes, they learn to appreciate the other person and to accept themselves as they are.
Your Name bends this formula with its protagonists, Mitsuha and Taki, who differ not only in gender but also in their lifestyles.
These two experience what many travelers can only hope to achieve: the ability to gain real insight into the everyday lives of people leading an entirely different existence from one’s own. Mitsuha is a teenaged girl born and raised in a small provincial community, whereas Taki is a teenaged boy living with his father in an apartment in Tokyo. In sharing each other’s experiences, they not only learn of the other’s mundane, everyday problems but also of the inherent differences between rural versus urban life in Japan.
For the most part, the issue of gender is handled in a surprisingly respectful way. Yes, there is the obligatory “freak out over their new body parts” sequence, and Taki does get a little too handsy when inhabiting Mitsuha’s body. But otherwise, there is an unexpected lack of gender-related hijinks; if anything, the protagonists’ friends and family generally perceive their newfound feminine or masculine traits as positive changes.
Your Name also differs from typical body swapping stories in that there is a greater importance placed on teamwork, communication, and ultimately, romance. Mitsuha and Taki bodyswap at random and are only able to communicate via the messages they leave for each other. They are necessarily forced to depend on and trust one another in managing their lives, which makes the feelings that eventually blossom between them all the more believable.
That said, this movie is not completely devoid of overused story beats. For instance, when body swapping, the protagonists occasionally embarrass one another with behavior that is inappropriate or out of character. Mitsuha also feels somewhat envious of Taki’s living situation at the onset of the movie, but the reality of his life ultimately falls somewhat short of her expectations.
However, Your Name doesn’t linger in familiar territory for too long and never allows itself to fully slip into the realm of the cliché.
This is particularly true of the film’s latter half, in which the story takes a sharp turn. After a certain revelation, the plot adopts a more overtly supernatural tone and takes on the trappings of an adventure story, in which one character must rescue the other from certain peril. It’s an ambitious move, although one that comes with certain risks. As the movie’s plot grows more complex, logical inconsistencies crop up that are a bit too severe to shrug off. Moreover, those who prefer the quiet slice-of-life story of the film’s first half (myself included) might find the more action-oriented second half to be less satisfying.
But in the end, the overall quality of the film far outweighs any of its flaws. Your Name is gorgeously colored and animated, so much so that it is well worth a recommendation just for visuals alone. Compared to Makoto Shinkai’s previous works, Mitsuha and Taki are his most lifelike and charismatic protagonists yet, and the much-needed dose of optimism and humor help to balance the film’s more somber moments.
Above all, Your Name is an unusual and unique film, one that is likely to appeal to anime fans and non-fans alike.
Image taken from the Funimation official website. Also posted to NerdyPOC.